Editor’s Note: The following is a guest-contributed article by Top-Rated Plus Upwork freelancer Emmanuel I.
With a population of about 211.4 million people, Nigeria is the most populated Black nation on the planet.
However, living conditions in most parts of the country can be less than ideal, with rising unemployment levels and a dwindling middle class. Yet, a chat with an enterprising young Nigerian will leave you in awe of their high levels of creativity, passion and resilience.
With the proliferation of remote work, many Nigerians are discovering that they can leverage the power of the Internet to turn their economic futures around.
As a six-figure freelancer and someone who has earned over $100,000 on Upwork, I can attest to the fact that anyone, regardless of their age, sex or socioeconomic status, can earn a decent income in Nigeria with just a computer, electricity and an Internet connection.
In this article, I’ll share some useful tips for achieving success as a freelancer in Nigeria.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, let’s start out by defining freelancing.
What is freelancing and how does it work?
Freelancing is the process of applying your skills, experience and education to find contract work (or gig work) with clients from a variety of industries from all over the world in exchange for financial compensation.
Freelancers, often called independent contractors, usually complete short-duration tasks or gigs on behalf of clients on an as-needed basis.
Unlike traditional employment with a rigid structure for daily activities, direct supervision and regular paychecks, freelancing puts the entire process – from creativity to negotiation – in the hands of the freelancer.
And the great thing about freelancing is that the level of success you achieve is entirely dependent on you, your skills and your work ethic.
Moreover, you can work at your own pace, do work you truly enjoy and have more control over your time.
Why you should consider freelancing
According to HR Magazine, freelancers report high levels of job satisfaction, and remote work is becoming a preferred lifestyle choice for many people around the world.
Inc.com also reports that freelancers are happier and more optimistic than their peers in traditional employment roles.
For example, a CEO in Los Angeles can post a gig on Fiverr for a graphic designer and hire a freelancer in Nigeria instead of hiring a higher paid in-house full-time designer.
What skills do you need to be a freelancer?
I’ve always been a gifted writer.
After a few years of experimenting with a variety of niches, I settled on technical writing.
Technical writing, for me, provides an optimal balance of effort and earning potential.
But whatever your skills and experience may be, freelancers can find gigs on Upwork, Fiverr, PeoplePerHour and other marketplaces every single day of the year.
Below is a list of some of the most common types of remote gigs you can find on these platforms:
- Admin support
- Web, mobile and software development
- Graphic design
- Accounting and consulting
- Legal consulting
- Customer service
- IT and engineering
The challenges of working as a freelancer in Nigeria
Building a successful freelance business in Nigeria comes with several challenges.
But my personal experience is proof that achieving success as a freelancer in Nigeria, while tough, is doable.
In my opinion, the main challenges are:
- Poor Internet service
- Unstable power supply
- Ineffective or poorly drafted job proposals
A fast and stable Internet connection is a critical requirement for freelancing, as it enables communication with your clients (e.g., via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and more), researching ideas and downloading resources.
Unfortunately, Internet service in Nigeria can be painfully slow, and intermittent downtime on services is a regular occurrence in most parts of the country.
There have been numerous occasions where my network connection has suddenly dropped out in the middle of a Zoom meeting or Skype call with clients.
These incidents are not only embarrassing but can also significantly lower productivity and prevent timely and stable communication with clients, which is critical to your success as a freelancer.
It helps to have multiple connectivity options to ensure you stay connected at all times.
I recommend subscribing to both a mobile data plan (from companies such as Airtel, MTN or Globacom) as well as a high-speed broadband data service from Spectranet or Smile Communications.
Crafting freelance proposals that “sell”
Having the right strategy for finding and retaining clients on your chosen freelancing platform can make a significant difference.
Your positioning refers to how potential and returning clients perceive your profile or brand.
I believe that treating freelancing as a business rather than a hobby is the first step to increasing your success, maximizing growth and ensuring profitability.
It helps to always think of your freelancing career as a “business of one.”
One of the most common challenges freelancers face when starting out is getting responses from clients that result in job offers.
Getting your first paid gig can be tricky.
When you submit a proposal on any freelancing site, you are competing with people from all over the world with similar skills and experience. So there must be something compelling about your proposition that makes you stand out from the competition and allows you to sell your services successfully.
In a nutshell, crafting great proposals involves understanding a client’s needs, selling your strengths and including relevant samples.
Reviewing a client’s job description is the first step to finding out if your skills are a good fit for their needs.
On Upwork, there are three different categories of jobs: entry-level, intermediate and expert.
If you’re trying to gain experience, begin applying for entry-level jobs and work your way up from there.
Timeliness matters too.
To increase your chances of landing interviews, always apply for jobs within the first hour of posting, and respond to messages as quickly as you can.
Download the platform’s mobile app on your phone so you get messages and alerts in real time.
And always take a look at the number of candidates who have already applied to a particular job before sending in your proposal.
Typically, the greater the number of applicants, the less likely you will land an interview due to the sheer volume. I advise applying for jobs with a maximum of 15 submitted bids.
This is particularly important on platforms such as Upwork, where you have a limited number of bids or “connects” that allow you to apply for jobs. You want to save your bids for jobs that have less competition.
Submitting a project proposal is how you prove to a client you’re capable of meeting their needs by showcasing your skills and how you intend to offer solutions.
Take the time to read the entire brief and avoid sending a generic pitch. A great way to stand out is by rehashing what the client has already said in the job description.
For instance, your proposal can say:
Hello there! I was happy to come across this job and I think I’d be a great fit. Your job brief says you’re looking for a/an [type of freelancer required in the brief]. I believe I’d be a great fit as I have sound knowledge of [type of task included in the brief] and I’m experienced in [highlight your relevant skills].
Crafting a proposal like the above proves that you’ve taken the time to read through the client’s job description, understand what they’re looking for and assure them that your skills could be a good fit.
Always ask yourself: “What makes my proposition unique?”
Also never copy and paste proposals from other freelancers.
If you have several years of experience in your field before you started freelancing, you also want to mention that specifically in your proposal. Keep it short and sweet, but don’t hold back. Write confidently and sell yourself.
Including relevant samples in your application also increases your chances of landing a job.
For instance, if you’re applying for a job titled “Experienced copywriter for a real estate website”, include a few articles you have written about real estate in the past. You can attach them as Microsoft Word files, Google Doc links or simply add a link to a published article.
What should you charge as a freelancer?
Besides being passionate about what you do, you also want to make enough money to achieve your personal goals and live the life you want.
It’s wise to charge lower rates when you’re just starting out. Early on, building your portfolio is the most important thing and that step can take anywhere from six months to a few years.
However, the best way to earn more is to master your craft, as it gives you leverage to command higher fees.
Honing your negotiation skills is also critical to your success as a freelancer.
Before accepting a contract from a client, make sure you understand the following:
- Project scope (detailed outline of all aspects of the project)
- Deliverables (the document, service or product to be delivered to the client)
- Deadlines (how many days, weeks or months it will take to complete the project)
- Client expectations (find out from the client if you’ll have to send project updates to other individuals and what the medium of communication should be; e.g., Slack, Trello, Asana, etc.)
How to receive payments from freelancing platforms in Nigeria
Most freelancing platforms offer multiple payment options that allow freelancers to receive money in any country in the world.
Another way to receive payments in Nigeria is via Skrill, although I find the process a little more complicated.
Payoneer is another great way to receive payments in Nigeria. It offers the option to withdraw your earnings in the local currency (Naira) and allows you to withdraw money both domestically and internationally using a Payoneer MasterCard. Visit their website to learn more about their services, fees and sign-up requirements.
The biggest mistake freelancers make
One mistake a lot of freelancers make early in their careers is agreeing to work for free to prove their competence to clients.
This is something you should never do.
Unpaid work is actually against the terms and conditions of most freelancing platforms, including Upwork.
When working on fixed-rate projects, before starting any job, always ask the client to add a milestone payment.
Milestone payments are held in escrow, and the client can release it after the job is completed successfully.
In my experience, clients tend to lower the project cost when working with freelancers in Nigeria, even if it’s offered at the same standard.
I can’t give you a figure to charge your clients, but I’ll tell you that always bidding the lowest price isn’t sustainable in the long run.
Nonetheless, the quality of your work must always be on par with what you charge. Aim to under promise and over deliver.
Rather than focusing solely on money at the beginning, focus on sharpening your skills to offer greater value to your clients and you’ll ultimately become a high-value freelancer.
Hourly vs fixed-price contracts on Upwork
On Upwork, you can bill your clients for work in two ways; fixed-rate or hourly payments.
The difference between the two is that for fixed projects, you offer a client a fixed amount for your services, while hourly payments bill for the actual amount of time spent on the work.
The most suitable billing method will depend on how you work.
I recommend using the hourly payment option for long-term jobs and fixed payments for short-term jobs.
Keep in mind that it can be difficult to accurately estimate a project over the long term using a fixed price.
Ensuring great communication and retaining long-term clients
Ensuring timely and effective communication throughout the duration of any gig proves that you’re a professional meaning that clients will be more likely to work with you in the future or refer you to other opportunities.
Rather than focusing on acquiring a lot of new clients, aim to delight the ones you already have so they come back with more work.
You can also offer extra services beyond the scope of the project as a value-add.
For example, you can offer editing services to a client if you’re a writer, or help with uploading articles to content management software such as WordPress and Webflow.
Research has shown that repeat customers contribute more revenue to small businesses than new customers, and freelancing is no exception.
How to avoid bad clients: Identifying the red flags
Before sending your application, take a look at the client’s reviews, located just below the client’s job post (where applicable).
This section offers valuable feedback from people who have worked with that client in the past, so you know what to expect.
Some red flags to look for include:
- Unprofessional behavior
- Poor communication
- Asking for free work
- A history of late payments
- Scope creep
- Penny pinching
Working with clients with any of these issues in their profile is simply not worth it.
Another great way to screen bad clients is to look at their ratings, or the number of times they’ve hired freelancers after posting jobs.
Becoming a successful freelancer a Nigerian
With remote work projected to rise rapidly in a post-2020 world, freelancing will remain a lucrative career option for the foreseeable future, and it’s possible to earn a very decent income working as a freelancer in Nigeria.
Crafting compelling proposals when applying for jobs stands you out from the competition, and knowing what pitfalls to avoid can increase your chances of success.
If you find that you’re doing everything you need to do and are still not getting jobs, keep trying.
An opportunity will eventually present itself if you don’t quit.
It may also help to find a freelance mentor to guide you through the initial stages.
A mentor can be any person with significantly more experience than you in freelancing. Ideally, it should be someone in the same niche you’re interested in who has been successful at it for several years.
Ensure you maintain a great work ethic, communication and professionalism throughout the job.
Establish the project scope, ask questions if any aspect of the job is unclear, proactively anticipate clients’ needs and always value their time.
Editor’s Note: I hope you’ve enjoyed the above guest article from Emmanuel! Let us know your personal experiences as a non-US based freelancer in the comments and don’t forget to connect with me on social using the links below.