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The Truth about Being a Freelancer in Kenya – And Why You Should Try It

My name is Priscilla. I’m a normal Kenyan girl who decided the 9 to 5 world of suits and heels wasn’t for me.

When most people hear anything about freelancing, they think about some guy in a third-world country doing homework for some lazy American kids. While there might be some truth to that, it doesn’t represent the whole broad spectrum that is the freelancing world.

There are people today who survive financially solely because of online gigs. The freelancer’s world is vibrant and exciting, but also quite challenging. It also doesn’t help that there are so many myths and preconceived notions surrounding it from people who really don’t know what they’re talking about.

So, are you thinking about becoming a freelancer in Kenya? Here is everything you need to know about it, and why this might be a great option for you:

Freelancing – An Insider’s View

My own journey with freelancing started very randomly. I was a second-year student at a local university. Although I was pursuing a very challenging course, I had a lot of time on my hands. And, as a typical college student, I was obviously very broke!

So what’s a college girl with no powerful connections supposed to do to make money legally? Luckily, one of my classmates was involved in the freelance writing world and offered me some jobs. As they say, the rest is history.

Many people get into freelancing for various reasons. Some do it because they need another stream of income, while others sign on because they don’t like the whole nine to five grind. For me, it was because my stint at a corporate job taught me that I had no desire to work for someone. I wanted to be my own boss, and freelancing makes sense as the perfect starting point.

How do Freelancers Get Work?

When it comes to freelancing, there’s a general misconception that all we do is write. While that’s a big part of the industry (so it has the most number of jobs), there is much more to it. For example, there are many freelancers who work as web and app developers, graphic designers, transcribers, virtual assistants –the list goes on and on.

You can go online today and find a freelancer to write your blog articles, design your business cards, and even run your PR and social media campaigns. This is great for you because it means that the possibilities are truly endless. If you know where to start, you could make a lot of money doing something that you truly love.

The first thing you should know is where freelancers go to get work. The Internet is an amazing thing. It has opened up a whole new world of earning potential that is accessible to literally anyone. You can go online today and find any type of work one of many popular sites such as Upwork, We Work Remotely, and even Fiverr.

If you’re a techie,  one of the best options for you is Guru. And if academic writing is more your speed, you may have to do a little research to find the best one for you. That’s because these kinds of sites usually have pretty weird rules and payment options. It might be a good idea to take your time and find the right one.

But also keep in mind that there’s a whole grey area when it comes to academic writing. I won’t even try to get into that! That said, there are certain sites that most of my freelancer buddies swear by.  These include UvoCorp, WriterBay, and Academia-Research. Read this to give you a brief rundown of the best sites for this kind of work.

While I have nothing against academic writing, I personally prefer not to do it. This field takes a lot of hard work and discipline. These are the folks who are usually up at all hours of the night racing to complete a rush order. They also have to keep things like APA, MLA, and Harvard in mind. (If you don’t know what these are, then you really need to do your research!)

Ajira Digital

Ajira Digital is a Kenyan government program that was launched earlier this year. Its main goal is to enlighten millions of jobless youth in Kenya about online work.

Ajira Digital takes it a step further and offers training and resources to help you start your freelancing career strong. With all this information at your fingertips, you really have no more excuses to avoid diving into the online job market.

Pros and Cons of Freelancing in Kenya

As a freelancer, you are a self-employed person that offers a particular service to a business or multiple clients at the same time. This is great because it gives you a sense of freedom that many people don’t get with a regular day job.

For example, you can choose to work either full-time or part-time, set your own hours, and choose which jobs to take or reject. You can also control how the work is completed and set your own price, which is pretty awesome in my opinion. There’s an amazing feeling that comes with such flexibility, which could explain why so many people choose to get into freelancing in the first place.

But freelancing also has its own set of unique challenges. For many, the unpredictable job flow can be a real kicker. There will be some months that you’ll be working for hours – or even days – at a time, while the flow of work dries up in others.

Well, that’s normal. Every job has different challenges that you have to get over. The trick is knowing the ins and outs of a field before deciding whether or not it’s worth it. So, here are the pros and cons of freelancing to keep in mind:

Pros of Freelancing

There are several perks to working as a freelancer. These include:

1. You Can Start Easily

Getting started as a freelancer is a really easy thing to do. As long as you know the skill you want to offer, all you have to do is find your first client.

And even this has been simplified for you. As long as you have a laptop (or cyber café) and a steady internet connection, you can register on a freelancing site or job board to start landing clients.

Alternatively, you could simply join a freelancing team. This is where the team leader – who already has an extensive portfolio and a large client list – gives you jobs to do every so often. This is the route I took and I have no regrets so far.

2. You Don’t Need any Capital

Freelancing is the best kind of at-home “business” because you don’t need any capital to start. Odds are, if you already have the skills to provide a particular service, then you already have whatever hardware and software you need to deliver it. And if you don’t, you have the means to access it.

I’ll use my case as an example. When I first started out, I didn’t even have a working laptop. But if you’re really determined to succeed in something, you’ll find a way to get it done. So, I used what I already had – my smartphone.

As a writer, I then found an app that could let me type my jobs and edit them. Within one month, I was able to buy a great laptop to use for my work. So you really don’t have an excuse! Just start today.

It’s also very easy to market yourself. You can use LinkedIn (which is free) to create a great resume online and start attracting clients. There’s also a very vibrant community of freelancers on social media, especially on Facebook. Find the right one to help you connect with your peers and start bidding for jobs.

With time, you may need to invest in a website and other tools to build and market your growing business.

3. Growing Demand for Freelancers

If you have been in the game for a while now, then you know how competitive the freelancer marketplace can be. But there is a growing demand for reliable, professional freelancers to work for various businesses.

That’s because companies today are trying to cut down their overheads and salary obligations. The Internet just gives them the perfect way to do this. In fact, many businesses today have a team of freelancers on hand, instead of hiring employees. So the need for remote work isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

4.  It’s Very Flexible

As I’ve already stated, freelancing lets you work whenever and wherever you want. That, by itself, is more than enough for me.

You also get to pick and choose your own clients. While you’re just starting out, this definitely won’t be the case. You may have to take on any client that is willing to give you the job. But as you grow, you can choose who you want to work with. How does “no more working for difficult clients” sound?

Cons of Freelancing

Where there’s so much good stuff, the universe just has to balance it out with the bad. Here are some challenges that you’ll face as a freelancer:

  1. It can take time to build up a steady flow of clients. If you want to depend on freelancing as your sole source of income, it can take quite a while to get there.

So don’t quit your day job just yet, if you have it. And if you don’t, you’ll have to be patient and tighten the purse strings until you make it big.

  1. The flow of work can be irregular. A lot of freelancers experience seasons where they get lots of work and others where the flow is a little erratic.

So, it’s important to plan for the lean times. You should also be ready to work hard and deliver jobs on time when there’s a lot of work coming your way.

  1. Also, it can be a challenge to juggle multiple clients and projects at the same time. I know, I know – what a problem to have? Who complains about too much work (which means lots of money), right?

Many freelancers like working on a wide variety of projects. This can be a great way to learn new things and break the monotony. But they might also struggle with pacing themselves and keeping track of deadlines.

As you’ll soon learn, deadlines are sacred in freelancing. You’ll just have to be organized and manage your time well to keep up. Learning how to manage my time was a bit of a hit-or-miss affair for me, but you’ll find your stride eventually.

  1. Finally, don’t expect to rake in mounds of cash at the start. In this digital economy, a lot of potential clients expect to pay less for work form a newbie freelancer. And that’s okay. After all, you still haven’t proven your worth yet.

So work on building an impressive portfolio of satisfied customers first. You may have to charge lower fees at the start but a good track record will help you soon start charging what you’re worth.

What Can You Do to Succeed as a Freelancer?

I’ve been working as a full-time freelancer for about seven months now. I feel like I’m still finding my footing, but I’ve managed to rack up some experience along the way that could help you on your own journey.

Here are 6 tips that may also help you become a successful freelancer:

1. Be Persistent

There are no shortcuts in freelancing. As you start out, you have to be persistent in going after what you want. Do you want to land some new clients? Then start pitching to as many people as you can.

When reaching out to potential clients, show them that you’ve taken the time to learn about their needs and challenges. Focus on how you can help them solve a problem they may be facing. This is called providing value, and it’ll work wonders for you.

It might seem like a lot of work – and it is. But succeeding as a new freelancer takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. Everyone has different experiences, but the most common trait in successful freelancers is persistence.

2. Pick Jobs that Interest You

There will be a lot of temptation to accept every project that comes your way – I get it. Everyone works with a budget and every job completed only adds to your target. But this approach can make you feel stressed and burnt out in very little time.

So, your best move is to try and strike a balance. As with any other job, you don’t just get to do the things that you want to. There’ll be times when you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and just do the jobs that come your way.

But try and balance it out with projects that make you happy too. You might be struggling to get clients, but it’s really important to still pick jobs that interest you. This is the best way to keep your sanity in the long run.

3. Always Ensure You Understand the Client’s Expectations

Before you start working on anything, always – ALWAYS – make sure that you understand the client’s instructions and expectations fully.

You won’t always work with good clients. In fact, some of them just plain suck. They will have bad communication skills, give you poor instructions, and have unreasonable expectations.

But the task of understanding just what they need ultimately falls on you. Otherwise, you’ll submit work that will be subjected to tons of corrections and comments. Some clients may even refuse to pay you! So, be very careful about this to avoid anger and frustration.

4. Get Ready to Work Harder at Freelancing than an Office Job

So many people believe freelancers get to frolic in their pajamas, watch cat videos on YouTube, have a ton of pizza, then spend one or two hours of their day on work. Uhm…no.

The truth is that most freelance jobs pay per hour or for every job that you submit. So, if you work less, you get paid less. And when this is your main source of income, you have to make sure that you’re churning out results consistently.

This is completely different from a regular job. There’s no chatting with a co-worker at the water cooler or surfing the net on your company’s dime. From the time you wake up, you will most likely be on work-mode till you’re done for the day.

5. Talk to Other Freelancers in your Field

For most people, other freelancers are just the competition. But it’s more than that; they are your community. So take the time to introduce yourself and create some rapport with a few freelancers in your field. Not only will you get some new friends to help tide you over on the long days, you’ll get an instant ‘in’ to access more jobs.

6. Ignore the Advice

As Kenyans, we live in a society of people that make it their life’s mission to keep giving you “helpful” advice. It doesn’t help that people think freelancing is the thing you do when you can’t get a “real” job. For example, I still have relatives that keep sending me random job listings so that I can finally start “using” my degree.

It can get a little frustrating explaining to people why I’m happy with what I’m doing right now. So I just ignore it. And that’s the best advice I can give you if you’re facing this too – just ignore it. Full-time freelancing is kind of a millennial phenomenon, so it might take your friends and family a while to get it. But as you start succeeding with it, they’ll soon stop bugging you about it.

The Next Step…

Freelancing is an amazing experience. You learn a lot about yourself and the world we live in. Go on, ask any freelancer a random question about mouth guards or the best weight-loss foods. I bet they can give you an amazingly accurate answer!

But it does take a lot of time, effort, and hard work to succeed. You might have to spend a couple of sleepless nights building up a steady flow of clients. But that’s okay. If you really want to be your own boss, the sacrifice is just part of the process.

It’s also important to note that freelancing isn’t just something desperate people do. For example, I’m just one of many freelancers who is using their earnings to start businesses, buy cars, and even invest in real estate! Freelancing can open many doors for you, if only you are disciplined and determined enough to try.

Find more insights into the freelance world in this rich eye-opening article