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While a significant number of young Kenyans are freelancers for lack of ‘proper’ jobs, there are those who choose this route due to the flexibility, the freedom and the wide range of opportunities that come with this option.
This discerning group of young professionals we have interviewed work exclusively on the cyberspace, capitalising on the ever-increasing opportunities online. They tell us just how ‘cosy’ it is to work from the couch, in the comfort of their homes.
Susan Mukami, 25
Education: Environmental Studies and Community Development (Kenyatta University), Public Relations (Nairobi Institute of Business Studies)
In primary and high school, Susan would write letters for classmates to their friends and family, with time, she graduated to drafting and editing scripts for plays. This is how she started writing.
I’ve had a long-running passion for words, and freelancing allowed me to practice what I like. Before this, I worked as a projects coordinator in a government ministry. The role was taxing, I hardly had any time for myself, and I had to wait an entire month for my pay. I needed flexibility, so I quit and went into freelancing.
Share with us your experience so far…
Freelancing helps one to grow pretty fast because you are in charge of the growth of your career and income. I write for Potentash, a blog that publishes fiction, technology, finance, entertainment, lifestyle features and product reviews. Since joining the platform in 2016, I have grown in my writing and editing skills and in the general process of content creation. The experience has been nothing short of amazing.
What are some of the advantages of online freelance writing?
Today, the largest audience that consumes written material is found online. Writing online has therefore given me a wider audience. Secondly, being a lifestyle blogger has exposed me to a large network of people in various industries. I have previously been contracted as a copywriter or a content creator by the government, an NGO and an events-organising company. Additionally, online freelance writing has an element of freedom to it. I am fully in charge of my schedule. I only take assignments that I am able to finish, and have time to engage in my hobbies. The pay is also decent if you are consistent and have built a good clientele base. Most online writing jobs pay from Sh2,000 for a 150-words piece of work. With a significant number of Kenyan graduates unable to get jobs, online writing jobs have become an attractive alternative. All you need is a laptop, a strong Internet connection and willingness to learn and grow. With the right freelancing sites, it is possible to make as much as Sh100,000 in a week. Determination and patience are key in this job. Many may not consider online freelance writing a worthwhile job, but it is, it builds your resume, cultivates your discipline and work ethics and pays your bills just like a ‘regular’ job would.
Oketch Austine, 29
Education: Biochemistry, Kenyatta University
After graduating in 2010, Oketch got a job as a medical representative for a pharmaceutical company. It is his then roommate that introduced him to working online. While the remuneration at the company he worked for was modest, working online seemed more rewarding, and so he resigned to become an online freelance writer.
In what three ways have you benefitted from your job?
Firstly, working as a writer is an intellectually rewarding experience since it involves lots of research on a wide array of subjects. Since I am often online, I keep abreast of current local and global occurrences. Financially speaking, I would describe myself as stable - I live in my own home and drive my own car.
From experience, what are some of the challenges of freelance online writing?
Nearly all the tasks will require you to scour the web for information. In other instances, you have to watch several video clips before embarking on the work. A reliable Internet connection with a consistent bandwidth is therefore critical. Using Internet bundles from mobile service providers is costly. I have found that home-based Internet connection is a more suitable alternative, though to bear in mind is the cost of installation and the monthly premiums one has to pay to stay connected.
Due to the different time zones between clients and writers, you are forced to work odd hours, sometimes late into the night. You also risk having your account shut down if you perform poorly; this is more or less like retrenchment. There are also clients who do not pay for work done. Also, too much exposure to computer light is irritating to the eyes, and there is work burn-out, especially when you take on many assignments. I also have to mention that finding clients is becoming harder due to the growing number of companies that have come up to offer these services; stiff competition forces sites to lower fees charged for work in an effort to establish a niche and lure more clients, which consequently affects the writers’ pay.
Have Kenyan youth satisfactorily utilised the host of opportunities on the digital front, in your view?
No. Most young people use the Internet mostly for social media connectivity as opposed to engaging in income-generating ventures. Many graduates still hold the traditional viewpoint that 9am-5pm office jobs are more satisfying. Despite their knowledge of the immense digital opportunities, many would only utilise them as a side-engagement.
The government recently launched the Ajira Digital Programme targeting youth interested in making a living online. How do you think the programme could be packaged to lure more young people?
It is a worthy and timely initiative, but there is need for modifications for it to fully achieve its intended purpose. First, the timetable of online classes should be diversified to include evening classes to cater for students and interns who are unable to attend daytime classes. Secondly, the website needs to be more appealing and easier to navigate. Perhaps the government should advertise the programme more, because, surprisingly, eight months after it was rolled out, thousands of youths remain oblivious to its existence, role and benefits.
Do you intend to look for ‘formal’ employment at some point?
I considered it when I was starting out, but now I am fully contented working as a freelance writer. I don’t see myself working offline. With the ever-increasing online opportunities, things can only get better.
David Kiriinya, 25
Writer and transcriber
Education: Linguistics, Media and Communication (Moi University)
What areas have you specialised in? Is the pay attractive?
I am mainly involved in web content writing. I write blog posts for ebooks, AboutUs and Why US pages as well as articles on technology, business, agribusiness and health for other sites. Besides writing, I do German language transcription, since I am proficient in the German language. The pay varies considerably from site to site, and from task to task. I am however able to comfortably provide for my needs.
How do you find your clients? What should a newbie expect?
I have registered as a writer on Upwork and iWriter. I have accounts with these two sites. This is where I find clients. Clients post their jobs, and writers bid for them. That said, some websites don’t require one to bid for a job. Jobs are posted and writers pick them up on the panel as soon as they are posted. Sometimes, clients specify who they want to perform the tasks.
A person just starting out may be frustrated since it may take long to get a job, which can be demoralising, so persistence is key. Usually after submitting your job to a client, they will rate you, so the more quality jobs you have completed, the higher your rating, hence the more the jobs you are likely to get.
Working from home can be distracting, how do you ensure that you meet deadlines?
The tasks usually have a time limit. I refrain from anything else until I have completed the task at hand, lest the client withdraws the offer, or the job gets automatically cancelled. This means that I dedicate a number of hours bidding for the jobs and upon getting them, I settle down to work on them within the specified time. Most sites have a timer that starts ticking immediately the job is picked. This keeps you on your toes.
Share some tips with people reading this and who may wish to engage in freelance writing...
Focus on an area that you are good at. While some perform best in academic writing, others are good in article writing for, say, magazines. You must also improve on your typing speed, research skills, and search engine optimisation (SEO) skills. Good communication skills are essential for a freelance writer as they are in any other profession. To transcribe, you must understand the language in question. For instance, I am proficient in the German language. Networking with other writers is also important – you learn about new stuff in the industry. Obediently following a client’s instructions and handling their work professionally helps to build trust with them; they may contract you for other tasks in future. You should also prepare for spells when there are no jobs.
Irene Wanjiru Gichuki, 28
Education: Graffins College, Front Office Management and Social Media Management
Why did you choose to work online as opposed to getting a regular office job?
I am a mother of three, and felt that I needed to spend more time with my children. A 9am -5pm job would not have made this possible, I needed a freelance job. I began as a transcriber.
What does work as a virtual assistant entail?
Normally abbreviated as VA, a virtual assistant executes administrative roles remotely, as opposed to working from an office setting. My job involves technical activities, from coding to creating websites and creative work such as branding and graphic design. I also work as a personal assistant, planning meetings, making travel arrangements, booking appointments and managing diaries for my clients.
How did you get your current job?
I stumbled upon a Kenyan Facebook group called Awesome Transcribers Kenya, which I joined. I had transcription skills, but lacked the knowhow to bid for jobs. I eventually learnt how to. I currently work for New Kajabi, an online course creation platform. I am tasked with front-end work such as creating and updating blog posts, creating landing pages or sales pages and setting up products. I was introduced to this skill by my current client, a US-based Nigerian businesswoman.
How much do you make on average in a month?
I make an average of between Sh50,000 and Sh60,000 in a month. My hourly rates range between Sh3,000 -Sh10,000. Some project-based jobs could fetch as much Sh10,000 - Sh30,000.
How is work paid for by overseas clients?
Most clients pay through PayPal, and in dollars. All you do is create an account on PayPal, and when your client credits money into your account, you then transfer it to your local bank account, using a PayPal-registered debit or credit card. There is also direct deposit, in which a client simply wires money into your account. In addition, there are platforms such as Wave, Skrill and Payoneer, all involved in cross-border transfer of money.
How do your relatives view your job?
They find it strange that I spend almost 40 hours a week on my laptop and yet make a living from that - some still insist that I get an office job…
Billy Muyeka Muchesia, 25
Education: Fifth year student, Civil and Structural Engineering, Moi University
Billy has been involved in online research for two years now. Apart from earning an income for his upkeep in school, he says the research work has broadened his scope of knowledge, often applying skills he has gathered in his engineering course.
What are some of the ethical issues in online research writing?
Plagiarism is a universal and punishable offence, whether in academia or professional circles. Content delivered to clients must be original, and where ideas are borrowed, acknowledgement should be given. A researcher should deliver work in the language the client understands. Clients from non-English speaking countries for instance prefer easy-to-read and simple English. A client is looking for quality work without grammatical or factual errors. In research, factual errors cause a misrepresentation of phenomena.
How do you juggle the bulk of your academic work with research endeavours?
As an engineering student, I have so much research work of my own to undertake. I have however managed to set and follow a strict timetable that leaves no time to waste. Sometimes I enlist the assistance of friends, who I pay a small fee.
How many assignments can you handle at a go?
Clients give different volumes of work - I can handle 10 assignments with medium-size workloads. I don’t turn down large workloads, instead, I distribute the tasks among fellow researchers.
Have you ever been conned in the course of your work?
Yes, it happened to me once. I did not follow up on the case though, because in come cases, the outcome may not be favourable. In cases of default on payment, the writer is advised to file a claim with the respective platform, such as Upwork or iWriter. The site will often block the client and report them to Google, who then block the client permanently from all Google platforms. This is crippling to the client, especially if they have a blog that has taken many years to build and attract traffic.
Besides writing research material, what else do you do for your clients?
Online work is broad, it does not only involve writing academic papers for foreign students. Creating software for companies, creating web content, writing books, eBooks, setting exams for students and even tutoring students online are some of the other areas one could venture into. When I’m not researching, I perform most of these tasks.
>> Most online job sites categorise experience at beginner, intermediate and pro levels, with pro specialists enjoying the highest rating and the best compensation rates.
>> According to Sean Mize, author of Anyone Can Coach, hiring workers online is preferred today due to the lower price tag attached – it is much cheaper than hiring personnel who work from a physical space.
>> Also, working online does not require a work permit, enabling professionals to work for overseas clients.
>> A global surge in the number of people who do not fancy to travel to the office daily, instead preferring to work from home, coupled with more freelancing sites coming into the picture, the previously stable freelancer-client balance has been altered, with competition shooting up.
>> Significantly, writers from countries that speak English as the Native Language, (ENL) for instance, have better remuneration rates than those that use English as a Second Language (ESL), among which Kenya belongs.
>> Worth noting however is that requirements for applying for online and traditional jobs are similar. One must provide academic credentials and certificates, scope of skills and experience, employment history and the title of the job.
I love writing.
I went to college, majoring in English, and never got anything below an A on my papers.
There’s something about writing that gives me joy.
Maybe it’s the fact that you learn so many new things through constant research.
Or, the variation in topics makes it impossible to ever get bored from writing.
I have a difficult time naming my favorite thing about writing because I love it all.
Which is why I have always known I wanted to be a writer.
But not for a newspaper or journalistic path.
I wanted to do it my own way, with freelance writing.
Several months ago, I left my job as a preschool teacher (a job I loved!) to become a full-time freelance writer.
I work from home, set my own schedule that works for my family, and write about things I love. It’s literally perfect.
I need to mention, though, that I’d been freelancing for a couple of years prior to quitting my job. Becoming a successful freelance writer doesn’t happen overnight.
As with most professional jobs, you have to start from the bottom and work your way up.
Once you get there, though, the view is awesome.
You don’t have to be the world’s best writer and know everything there is to know about grammar.
As long as you have a true passion for writing and the dedication to work hard, you’ll make it.
And these freelance online writing jobs for beginners with no experience will help you get there.
Get Started with Freelance Online Writing Jobs for Beginners with No Experience
Although I chose to get my degree in English, you don’t need a college degree to become a freelance writer.
In fact, I know many freelance writers with no college education at all.
I knew I wanted a college degree, and I chose to get one in a field that made sense for me and would contribute to my future career, so English it was.
But, don’t feel like you need to do that. It looks great on resumes, but it’s not a necessity.
However, you have to really love writing.
Because that’s what you’ll be doing every day. And you may not always get to write about topics you love in the beginning.
You may be stuck writing about vegetable gardening for a week straight. Seriously, I’ve done it.
But, like any other job you’re striving for, starting at the bottom is how you get your foot in the door and get to where you want to be.
Sometimes, this means working for a super low per-word rate just so you can gain some experience for your portfolio.
There are so many ways you can find online writing jobs, but they definitely are not all created equal. Content mills, for example, usually provide quick, easy work, but pay very little.
Some writing job boards have jobs with excellent pay rates, but the assignments are usually more involved.
Some writers praise content mills and continue to use them after years of freelance writing.
Others despise them and try to steer every freelancer away from them.
These freelancers usually swear by pitching article ideas to blogs and websites, which is a process that takes time and fine-tuning.
You won’t know what the best option is for you until you try them.
Content Mill Jobs
A content mill is basically a website where clients post work for freelance writers to write.
The client posts details about the writing assignment and, depending on the content mill, will place it up for bid, put it into a pool of writers, or assign it directly to a writer.
The content mill is what pays the writer for the work, and the client funds that work by paying the content mill first.
Usually, the content mill takes a cut of the funds, either before or after you complete the work. Most legit content mills are upfront about any commissions or fees they take.
As much as some freelance writers swear they will never touch a content mill, they’re where many writers, like myself, start their careers.
They aren’t the greatest for helping you build your portfolio (most content mill work won’t give you a byline), but they can help you build your income enough to turn writing into a career.
Plus, they give you pretty good insight about what clients look for. You’ll learn about different writing genres, efficient ways to research, and how to manage your time to stay on top of deadlines.
Don’t knock them until you try them. Content mills can be the perfect way to launch your freelance writing career.
Some of the best content mills for beginners include:
- Article Document. (review) Pays according to your writing quality. Some assignments offer you a byline.
- BlogMutt. (review) Pays every Monday after you send an invoice. You can earn more money as you gain higher levels from writing articles and getting articles accepted by clients.
- ClearVoice. (review) You can filter assignments based on your desired pay rate per word, byline, and more. Pays immediately upon assignment acceptance by the client. Its workspace is very clean, streamlined, and easy to use.
- Domainite(review). Pays weekly, $1.00 per 100 words written.
- Great Content(review). Pay rate is based on each assignment, ranging between $7.50 and $37.50 for a 500-word assignment.
- Hire Writers. Pays weekly, pay rate is based on your writing quality. Top-quality writers can earn $20 per article, although it doesn’t mention the length of the article to earn this amount.
- Online Writing Jobs(review). Pays weekly and pay rate is based on your topic expertise, complexity of the article, length of the article, and deadline. Typically pays between $15 and $50 per article.
- Passive Solutions(review). Pays weekly for work, rates vary between assignments. Usually has a consistent stream of work available and expects writers to commit to writing at least 10 assignments per week.
- Textbroker. (review) Once you submit a writing sample, your writing will get rated, which affects the quality of assignments you can choose from. Higher-quality assignments mean more money, but you can work your way up to a higher rating. Pay rate ranges from 0.7 cents to 5 cents per word.
- Writer Access. (review) Writers get paid bi-weekly, and pay rates range from 1.4 cents to 7 cents per word, depending on their star rating.
Freelance marketplaces are somewhat like content mills in that they act as a medium between you and clients and take part of your earnings in the form of fees.
But, they’re a little different in that freelancers can search specifically for the type of work they want and what they want to earn.
There’s a bit more control with freelance marketplaces.
Clients post their assignments or jobs to the marketplace and freelancers can bid on them, while sending along their profiles, resumes, and portfolios to the client.
The client will sift through the applications and choose the freelancer he wants to hire.
It’s important to remember that, when filling out marketplace applications, you are as detailed as possible in explaining your expertise related to the job you’re applying for (even if it’s not much – be honest!).
Make the client understand how your work will help his job and list, or attach, any related published works.
And, don’t apply for writing jobs that are out of your league just because the pay is good. For example, if you write articles mostly related to pets on your blog, a client looking for articles about personal finance is probably wondering why you’ve applied to his job.
I started using freelance marketplaces after “graduating” from content mills, and I still use them today.
However, I’m much pickier about the jobs I apply for, making sure that they match my pay rates and will help me build my portfolio in the areas I desire.
A word of caution: most marketplaces have a no-tolerance rule for clients asking freelancers to perform work outside of the platform.
There’s a reason for this: it protects the freelancer! Most clients who do this have no intention of paying. So, at least until you establish a trusting relationship, keep all work inside the marketplace platform.
The following freelance marketplaces are excellent places to start applying for jobs:
- Freelancer. Fees vary between types of projects. Offers contests for extra money-making opportunities.
- Guru. Guru fees are based on your membership status (if you pay monthly as a member, the transaction fee lowers). Its payment and invoice interface can be a little more difficult to get used to, but it’s easy to search for, and apply to, jobs.
- PeoplePerHour. You can create your own “hourlies” for writing, or respond to others. If you respond to others, you can ask for a down payment, or receive all money upon completion of an assignment.
- Upwork. Upwork has a fee structure based on how long you’ve worked with a client that ranges between 5% and 20% of your earnings. The longer you work with a client, the less fees Upwork Includes payment protection, and payments typically take between 5-7 days to process.
Once you gain a little bit of freelancing experience, job boards are an excellent place for beginners to turn to.
The jobs usually have more picky requirements than those from content mills or freelance marketplaces, so it’s good to have at least a few articles behind you for experience.
However, many freelancers think they have to start with a content mill or freelance marketplace to begin writing.
Not true. The number of jobs listed on freelance writing job boards grows daily, and many jobs are always looking for fresh faces, not just seasoned writers.
So, try your hand at some writing jobs using a job board. Again, make sure you stick to what you know.
Applying for jobs way out of your areas of expertise may make you seem desperate and probably won’t win over the client. Save your range for when you have a more built-up portfolio.
Speaking of portfolios, have you started one yet? If not, this is an excellent time to do so. You’re still a beginner, so you won’t have much.
Take 4 or 5 of your best articles and add them so potential clients can gauge your writing style and make sure it’s a good fit for them.
A good place to start a free portfolio is Clippings.me.
You can link to your published works and Clippings will do the rest, like add a description and photo.
Or, upload your own, unpublished articles.
Here are a few of the most trusted job boards to find freelance writing jobs:
- Blogging Pro. Blogging Pro gets updated almost daily with new online writing jobs for all areas of expertise.
- Craigslist. Check your local area for local online writing jobs, or look at metropolitan areas for ones that can be done from anywhere.
- Freelance Writing Jobs. Clients place ads on this job board almost daily. You can find a variety of freelance writing gigs here.
- Indeed. Search for “freelance writing” in the job search, and add “remote” as the location to find online writing jobs. Frequently adds new jobs, and some you can apply for using your Indeed resume (so make sure it accurately reflects your writing skills!).
- ProBlogger. Many freelance writers swear by this job board. It updates its listings daily and always has a variety of quality freelance writing jobs available.
- Work at Home Adventures. This job board includes a variety of work from home jobs, but also includes freelance writing gigs.
- Work from Home Happiness. The owner of this board adds freelance writing gigs to the board as she finds them. Search by keyword to find freelance writing jobs.
Websites That Accept Submissions
Beginning freelancers often find “Write for Us” tabs on their favorite websites, but feel as though they don’t have enough experience to impress the editors with their article submissions.
If your article catches their attention and it’s well-written, you absolutely have a shot at getting published.
The only downside of pitching your articles to websites is that you won’t get paid until – and if – the article is accepted.
For beginning freelancers without a steady income, you’ll basically be working for free until you get some accepted submissions under your belt.
Therefore, you may want to pick one day per week (or even just a few hours of a day) that focuses on pitching article ideas or submitting articles to websites.
The rest of the week, focus on the work you know you’re getting paid for.
These websites pay writers for accepted articles, without any expertise requirements.
Basically, if they love your article, they’ll buy it from you, whether you’re a beginner or not:
- . Hasn’t been updated in one year and there isn’t any place to actually upload any work.
- CollegeHumor. Pays between $35 and $50 per accepted article relating to college life and funny things.
- Cosmopolitan. Pays $100 per accepted essay, 800 words or less.
- Income Diary. Pays freelance writers for accepted articles, and will try to work with them to meet their rates. The website covers a variety of types of articles, from content writing to social media.
- Listverse. Pays $100 per listicle article that fits the humorous writing style of the website.
- Money Pantry. Pays between $30 and $150 per accepted article, no writing experience necessary. Articles must be about earning and saving money.
- Starting Business. Pays $50 per accepted article that relates to starting or maintaining a business.
Create a Niche Website
Do you have your own blog? Did you know that owning your own blog is one of the best ways to build your freelance writing portfolio?
Every post you create will have your byline and you’ll show off your writing skills – and areas of expertise – to potential clients. They can even find you through Google!
I recommend using WordPress to build your blog. It automates everything for you – date and timestamps, archives, etc.
And, you can customize it to your heart’s content with professional themes and helpful plugins.
Set up social media accounts for your website: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are among the most important to focus on.
Once you are ready to branch out more, try YouTube or Snapchat!
Make sure you write new, engaging content at least twice per week. This offers the best chance for more views and engagement. The more engaging your content is to your audience, the more impact it will have on potential clients.
How to Market Yourself as a Freelance Writer
So, you have your website set up and running.
Now it’s time to market yourself with it!
This is your chance to get clients coming to you and asking you for your writing skills. This is exactly what you’ve been working toward.
Unfortunately, that also means you have to really put yourself out there. It can be uncomfortable and time-consuming. But, it’s worth it once you gain your own established business as a result.
First, make sure all of your blog’s social media accounts are linking back to your blog.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to do this.
Your potential clients will have nowhere to go to find out more about you and your work if they can’t find your link.
Also, use hash tags in your social media posts, like #freelancewriter or freelancewriterforhire, to let people know you’re in business and open for new clients.
Have a dedicated “Work with Me” page on your website that directs potential clients to the spot where they can find out more about you and the work you do, and contact you.
Continue to add your favorite, and most engaging, blog posts from your blog to your portfolio.
This way, you can direct clients to your condensed portfolio with works from your own blog, in addition to your other published articles across the web.
Until you begin gaining clients through your blog, continue to search job boards, content mills, or whatever avenues you choose, to get paid work.
After you successfully complete assignments, kindly ask your clients to keep you in mind for future work and referrals to other clients. Those who really enjoy your work will be happy to do so.
Still Need Some Help?
If you still feel a little overwhelmed, don’t feel bad. Although they won’t admit it, most freelancers feel the same way (I did, and still do sometimes!).
Fortunately, some amazing, experienced freelance writers choose to share their knowledge and experiences with beginners.
Elna Cain is one of those freelancers who I’ve looked up to since the beginning of my career.
She launched a course that’s perfect for beginners like yourself, called Write Your Way to Your First $1K.
This 7-week course gives you a peek into Elna’s own journey from the beginning of her freelance writing career.
She takes you on the same path she took, teaching you everything in between. From building your portfolio to pitching clients to setting your own rates, you’ll learn it all from Elna.
But, don’t forget that your career won’t be a replica of someone else’s career. Every freelance writer develops his career differently. That’s what makes you unique and potentially stand out from other writers.
There is no wrong way to make it as a freelance writer. With hard work and a lot of drive, you’ll make your first $1K in no time!
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