If you are in Zimbabwe, here is something we can both agree on:
The economy is in seriously ill health. There is a big currency matter that needs fixing. Companies are struggling to stay afloat. And there are early signs of hyperinflation now showing, threatening to take us back to the dark days of 2008.
With the situation on the economic front being this bleak, at least one thing is certain:
Making a living is getting harder by the day. With independent sources putting the unemployment rate north of 90%, there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. And even for those fortunate to still have jobs, the salary barely covers just the basic needs.
With companies preoccupied with keeping the lights on and inflation climbing, you have to wonder how people are still able to make ends meet.
But I am not here to moan. I am here to question why there aren’t enough Zimbabweans looking for business and work opportunities online.
Zimbabweans Should Be Looking Outside the Country for Online Work Opportunities
It makes no sense to be sending CV’s to the same companies that are laying off workers.
Accept that it will be a while before the Zimbabwean economy can realistically start creating jobs again. This is a hard, stubborn fact.
Should you then roll over and accept your tough situation as fate?
Hell no. Here is what I think you – the person reading this – should do instead;
Sell Your Skills to a Global Audience as a Freelancer
Thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, freelancers are no longer limited by geography.
And, isn’t this good thing?
It is a great thing. Because it is now possible to work with clients from anywhere in the world, a whole world of work opportunities is now open for people whose home economies aren’t creating enough jobs (read the whole of Africa and much of the developing world).
Over the last 20 years the Zimbabwean economy has shrunk to the point of near collapse. As companies closed, hordes of highly skilled people suddenly found themselves out of work.
Technicians and those who previously held manufacturing jobs leveraged their skills and experience and started their own small businesses.
But because the economic downturn also eroded much of people’s disposable incomes, these fledgeling backyard businesses were always up against it.
Former office job holders are the ones that have suffered the most. Aside from rejoining the job market for the few opportunities that are there, one has to learn a new way of earning a living. You will agree with me, both are extreme sports.
Now, however, you can take the same skills and trade them on the global job market. If you are in this boat or are a college graduate unconvinced of your chances of landing a job, you should seriously be looking at going the freelance route.
But you may be asking:
What is a Freelancer?
A freelancer is a self-employed skilled person serving different clients at a time.
You are basically an independent contractor who sets their own hours and doesn’t have to worry about the constraints of an employment contract. Many are calling it the gig economy.
A key attraction for this way of working is its location independence. You are not obliged to be in a particular location to be able to serve your client. Wherever there is an internet connection and a power source, you can work.
You make it sound so easy, you say?
I am sorry if that’s how I have sounded. Freelancing isn’t ‘easy’ or glamorous. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it.
Yes, setting your own hours, working from home (or any place there is good internet), and serving as many clients as you can manage at the same time is fun.
But in between trawling the job boards, sending out proposals, doing the work, invoicing, and chasing payments, there is a lot of hard and boring stuff to do.
… which is why:
You Must Take Freelancing as a Business
The best way to succeed as a freelancer is to look at yourself as a business person. You have a service that you are selling.
How much of your product you can sell is a principal factor of how much you can earn in a week, month, or year.
As any good business person will tell you, it is the quality of your product, how well you package it, your marketing, and how much you charge and are able to get paid for it that determines whether you will turn a profit and eventually thrive.
Whatever you do as a freelancer – animation, software engineering, social media management, transcription, doing software reviews or – like myself – content writing, you are trading a service for cash. In simple terms, you are running a business.
So what is it you need for your business to thrive?
The 4 Things Every Freelancer Needs to Succeed
Like any business, there are core competencies that one needs to succeed. The four I am going to discuss here are what I consider to be absolute must-haves.
I write from a freelance writer’s perspective. So if you are one, the rest of this article will be a great reference for you.
Know What You are Doing (The Skill You are Selling)
This is the part where you look at yourself and critically analyze your skill level. Is your product good enough to attract paying customers?
Here is the scene possibly playing out in your mind right now:
You have completed your profiles and uploaded your portfolio samples to a couple of freelance sites. One week in, you are receiving more offers than you can handle.
If it were a roadside food stand, the line of customers will be snaking the whole block of buildings, and round the corner.
Your freelance writing career is unlikely to follow a similar growth trajectory. It will be hard going at the start. Getting that first client will be the biggest challenge.
Why is this?
Almost 100% of the times, beginner freelancers aren’t as good as they perceive themselves. Arriving at a more realistic evaluation of your skills will take serious introspection and, sometimes, unlearning the very things you thought would set you apart.
But the good thing is, especially for writing, there are lots of free learning resources for those willing to put in the hours. I laugh at myself when I read some of the articles I wrote when I first started writing for the web.
Writing for the web isn’t like writing news for tabloids. Your sentences and paragraphs must be short. There are many other things I will need a whole article to discuss.
So, yes, if you can’t spell, the comma isn’t your friend, and your grammar isn’t up to scratch, you will need to think of something else to do.
But, beyond your spellings and grammar, there is tons of other skills you will need to master if you are going to have clients queuing for your writing services.
Note, though, you will still fail miserably if you don’t work on this next skill:
2. Good Communication Skills are the Bedrock of Every Successful Freelance Career
It is stating the obvious, but you have to communicate well to maintain happy clients.
A significant part of your work hours will be spent in back and forth communication with clients.
If you can’t communicate well, you are going to struggle to articulate your skills during interviews.
Even after landing the gig, you will need to discuss the actual brief, and be in constant contact giving feedback and addressing the client’s queries.
That is a lot of communication.
From my experience, most clients will forgo poor verbal communication skills because most of the time you are communicating via email and instant messaging platforms like Skype. In my case, I have been on several Skype calls and conferences discussing projects with clients.
But I would still say 95 per cent of all client communication has been through email, Trello, Skype, and Google Hangouts. In case you are wondering, I have never communicated with clients via Whatsapp.
So, after your actual skills, it is vitally important that your communication skills are good.
If you are considering a freelance career, know that you are going to be dealing with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. You must always keep your communication clean and formal.
To be safe, keep all social media and WhatsApp shorthand and emojis out of your communication. It is important you learn how to text with etiquette.
Another thing, clients require that you respond to messages promptly. This will mean you must always be online. To put that into perspective, I check my email and Skype more than I open my WhatsApp.
3. Patience is a Virtue
That is so true.
I have said it already, getting that first client will be the hardest part of going freelance.
You have no previous clients to vouch for you. In a web writer’s case, you don’t yet have any live articles published in your name that you can cite to potential clients. On top of that, your negotiation skills aren’t yet as polished.
Because of all that, convincing potential clients to hire you will be hard.
Your first client must find your rate too tempting, or be convinced you have something special, to want to take a chance on you.
You are going to have to be very patient. The good thing is after you get that first job out of the way, it gets easier to get more.
4. “You Can’t Have a $Million Dream On a Minimum Wage Work Ethic” – Unknown
I meant to say hard work, but I felt that quote really drives my point home.
The biggest difference between yourself as a freelancer and someone employed by some company under contract is you will only be paid for work done.
While you could get away with the occasional slackening and poor work quality in your previous day job at the soap making company, freelance clients aren’t obliged to maintain a relationship with you if you miss deadlines and your output is not up to expectations.
You literally have to be on top of your game. All of the time.
As a freelancer, you must work consistently hard to earn consistently well. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson summed it up beautifully:
“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”
If a client notices the quality of your work has dropped and you are now putting their business at risk, they will drop you like a stone. Do that for a few other clients and getting new clients will start getting harder.
While working online, staying off Facebook and Twitter will be hard (unless you are a social media manager). But you must curb your social media habits and put in the hours.
With freelancing, you really will eat what you kill.
This last one is a nice-to-have quality, but it is one that I have found to be an absolute necessity:
4. Be Vigilant, The Internet is Full of Sinkholes
The internet is a very BIG place.
True, it is a utopia of sorts. Where your dreams – if you dare – can come true, and where real fortunes have been made.
I am talking of multi-billion dollar businesses, like Amazon, Uber, Google itself, AirBnB, DropBox, and Facebook, that would not be here without the internet.
But it is also a very dangerous place where all manner of criminal types and crazies prowl day and night looking to strike fortunes and live out their rabid fantasies.
Aside from brilliant cyberpreneurs who are disrupting centuries-old industries and changing the world, you can also run into corn artists, snake oil salesmen, fraud merchants, and sexual predators.
The advice here is to be careful who engage with online. I have been scammed before by people who posed as genuine clients but then disappeared after working day and night researching and writing their articles.
Taylor also told me how he was once scammed after finding a client on Truelancer. He was given 3 days to wrote 10 articles and slaved through and met the deadline. As soon as he submitted the articles the client disappeared. Taylor later saw the articles published on some international websites and that was that.
Now I can tell a fraud from a mile away. I wish someone had reinforced in me the resolve to steer clear of anything that sounds too good to be true.
Even online, nothing is given to you on a platter. Be ready to earn your money the hard way.
My Own Personal Success Story
Why is ‘success’ italicized?
Well, because I am a work in progress and a long way from truly thriving.
For the last three years, I have been freelancing full time, I have never gone a whole month without receiving a payment. Some months I have had to stretch the budget, while others have been very good.
I definitely want to be earning a lot more than I am making now. But I will tell you this:
I don’t miss my old full time job in retail and cannot imagine going back to working like that again. I am more fulfilled than I have ever been in my entire professional ‘career’(my old job was just that, a job. Not a career).
I Have Worked Very Hard to Get Here
Here is something you may not like to hear:
To succeed as a freelancer, you are going to invest a lot of hours and hard work before you start seeing pleasing returns.
Starting out, I was very raw.
Yes, I have always wanted to write. I studied advertising and believed I was going to blaze a trail working as a copywriter. That was before the Zimbabwe economy intervened.
Even with what I thought was good training, the real world humbled me. Before long – mainly because copywriting is crazily competitive – I had pivoted to article writing.
There was absolutely no way I was going to compete for the same jobs with people who had worked with the world’s best agencies and had years of experience. Content writing was more general and less lucrative, but it had fewer barriers to entry.
I now get a good trickle of website copy jobs. But I have also found that article and blog writing is a better fit for my skill set.
So, just as long as it takes you to settle into a routine and rhythm as a freelance, discovering what you are truly best at will take time. Be ready to adapt or change course as the need arises.
You Will Need to Learn As You Go
Along this short journey, I have had to learn a lot of skills while also serving clients. Skills like keyword research, SEO, WordPress publishing, editing, and formatting.
I have taken many free courses and invested in a few paid ones as well.
Above all, I read more than I write. Sounds counter-intuitive, but every writer will need to grasp how important this is before they can improve. Why?
Because you won’t know where you need to improve if you don’t analyze your work against the best in your niche.
It is only by reading work by the best writers that I feel I have improved the most. I subscribe to the best writing and content marketing blogs and am on a quest to discover the best writers and blogs.
The result is I now subscribe to more blogs than I have time to read. To keep up, I have to read at least two long-form articles on digital marketing every day without fail.
If you are not going to invest in progressive learning, picking up skills as you go, your freelance writing career will eventually plateau.
The good thing is the internet is a gold mine of information. The premium stuff you will have to pay for. But, if you know your way around, the free stuff can be just as good, too.
If you are still with me, you are probably now saying, this is too much. You could even be asking yourself:
Will All This Effort Pay Off?
Of course, it will. Certainly, more than it does if all you are doing is cursing the government, moping around and feeling sorry for yourself.
When I started I was so hard up I didn’t have two dimes to rub together.
But I have done well enough to now call what I do a career. I see myself doing this for a long time to come.
Creative writing has always been a passion and a great love of mine. So when the small business I was running went belly up, I could find nothing worth doing than something I have always truly loved.
It has not always been easy, but nothing worthwhile has ever been.
I have learned a lot in a short time and have worked with people from all corners of the world, making some incredible connections along the way.
In closing, if you are unemployed, have a skill that you can sell working online, have an aptitude for learning, you are the patient type, and have a high tolerance for hard work, you really must consider going online and working as a freelancer.
I started from nothing, but am now earning a living doing what I love. You too can do it. Taylor, the owner of this blog, also transitioned from a job he hated and now earns his living online. You can read his story here. You can also listen to his podcast on online entrepreneurship here.
So do you think you can venture into online freelancing? Would you want more information on how you can market your sills online as a freelancer? Leave your comments below and I will gladly assist you further.
If you are a freelancer please share your experiences to help others as well.
Below is a list of websites where you can get started as a freelancer. Click on any of the links to learn more.
Guest Author – Patrick Zuva
Patrick is a marketer and freelance writer who works with content agencies and businesses of all sizes. He is also the webmaster over at Zimthrive, where he writes on freelancing, self-help, and personal development.
P.S You can also make use of the Ask Me Anything page to ask your questions or make requests to Taylor.