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.
Why online 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.