Adebola Rayo is one of the first Nigerians I ever knew to be a freelancer. As you’ll read in this interview, she pretty much stumbled into the profession, even though it’s obviously what she was born to do. She shares how she got into freelance writing and editing in Nigeria and how she’s sustained her momentum.
If you’ve ever wondered how to decide on freelancing rates, find clients, and whether you can survive on freelancing alone, look no further. As a new freelancer, I refer often to Rayo’s interview when I need advice and encouragement. Enjoy.
1. Tell us what you do for a living and how long you’ve been working as a creative entrepreneur?
I refine and communicate clients’ thoughts through my work as a writer and editor.
2. How did you end up wearing so many hats in the freelance world?
I honestly cannot say I had a career in mind as a child. A lot of people told me I’d make a good lawyer, and my folks thought Mass Communication was a lack of ambition, so I studied Law. At University, I knew I wanted a career connected to writing, but I thought it would be in Advertising because I did not know what else was out there.
In my final year, a friend who was studying for her Master’s in English told me to take a look at a short story for her. I sat there for hours doing (what I did not know at the time was) developmental and copy-editing. I think we were both surprised at how naturally it came to me. A year later, while I was in Law School, someone who had been in my Farafina Creative Writing Class the year before told me there was an opening for a Copy Editor at 234NEXT Newspaper. I took the test she sent, and the job was mine.
3. At what point did you realize that the 9-5 life was not for you; what convinced you?
I have always been restless—my kindergarten teacher put this in my report card. I spent 2 years working as a Copy Editor in 2 newspaper houses; a year as an editor at Kachifo (Farafina); 2 years as a Junior Speech Writer to BRF, former Governor of Lagos; a few months setting up an art gallery at the Radisson in Lagos; and then a year working with visual artists at a talent management company. All through that time, I had side gigs with individuals, corporate clients or publishing houses.
Last year, I realised that one of the reasons I moved around a lot was because I was always tired. I loved all my jobs but I was constantly tired, which made me restless. I was tired because of the hours. I lived in Lagos and thus spent quite a lot of time on the road or waiting out traffic at work. I work optimally at night, but I was usually too exhausted to do anything that gave me pleasure at home. I realised that the main reason I had a 9-5 was because it was expected of me. My side income, at the time, was about 3/4 of my total income, so I decided to give up the 9-5.
4. What was the response from your SO/parents/family?
This did not really come up for conversation because I did not say, “I don’t want to practice Law”. I just came home while in Law School and told them I already had a job. I think that, over the years, successfully doing what I want has kept that conversation at bay.
5. How long did it take you to establish yourself and what steps did you take to market yourself to potential clients? (i.e. find sites to write for, customers to edit for, get a satisfactory enough paycheck every month)
I don’t know if I have established myself, in the real sense that I want. Sometimes, I feel that so far it’s been a practice run at these things. Regarding marketing my skills, I am thankful that I haven’t had to do much of that. I’ll say doing one thing diligently brings more things your way. I did not know this in the beginning, though. I just wanted to prove myself at whatever I did—it wasn’t conscious marketing. However, I have had a steady stream of clients who heard about me from someone.
It’s great when you have a few (your biggest) clients on retainer; that way, you have a solid base income monthly. So, find people who need your services day to day, and, through your work, continue to prove that they need you.
[bctt tweet=”Find people who need your services day to day, and, through your work, continue to prove that they need you. – @adebolarayo” username=””]
6. What challenges did you face at the beginning? And how did you cope? What challenges do you still face currently?
People who did not want to pay or pay well. Maybe because of how I was raised, I was shy to discuss payment in the beginning. Sometimes, I’d let clients decide how much they wanted to pay. Other times, I was not firm about collecting payments. I grew out of that, and now I don’t even start working on a project without receiving 70% of my fee.
Currently, the biggest challenge I face is expanding my business. Over the last three years, I have worked with one or two assistants at every point. I would like to expand my staff beyond that, but I have found it time consuming to train people to do the standard of work I consider acceptable. I think that’ll be my next project.
7. What do you love most about what you do? How have things changed for you since you started?
I love doing work that I believe in, and enjoy. A lot of things have changed since I started. I have had to engage in self-development as often as I can. I am also more disciplined that I was in the past. The biggest change has been in my confidence. Until recently, it was hard to talk about my work, especially because many people do not consider creative work as valid labour. So, I used to hide behind whatever corporate job title I had. Now, I have more confidence in both my career choice and the quality of my work.
8. Creative businesses are becoming quite popular in recent times. It feels like a lot of people want to become entrepreneurs. How do you deal with competition in your field? Is that something you struggle with?
Nigeria needs more editors and writers. I don’t consider them competition. Quite a number of my friends are also editors and/or writers—my best friend is one of the co-founders of Skrife. We all recommend one another for gigs often. We talk about our rates, seek one another’s opinions about projects, and share resources for development. I am happy with the relationship I have with them.
[bctt tweet=”Nigeria needs more editors and writers.” username=””]
9. What’s the biggest lesson freelancing/becoming a one man squad has taught you?
It has taught me courage. I thought that I was losing 1/4 of my income when I gave up my 9-5. The reality has been that I have had more time to take on more work.
It has also taught me to trust God. I was uncertain about quitting my job, but around that time Joshua 1:9 kept echoing in my head and I started to pray it. That was what gave me the courage to do it, and this year has proved God’s faithfulness in myriad ways.
10. There’s always a bit of a money vs passion debate; What do you think should be the motivation for starting a creative business or in your case deciding to freelance? What was/is your motivation?
Money is very important—you can only run on passion for so long. If you don’t have to worry about money, it is easier to do things you’re passionate about. I divide my work into two—the work I do for money, and the work I do for love—but I am passionate about both aspects. I believe it is important to find a way to make money out of your passion.
[bctt tweet=”Money is very important—you can only run on passion for so long. If you don’t have to worry about money, it is easier to do things you’re passionate about. – @adebolarayo on working as a freelance writer and editor.” username=””]
The work I do for love is my creative writing—my own stories. However, the work I do for money, is also structured around words. It is writing or editing that comes easier to me than my own creative writing, but it is writing nonetheless. The work I do for money allows me to take my time and put in my best at what I do for love.
11. What would you say has been the worst time/experience so far in your journey as a freelance writer/editor in Nigeria?
All the people who never paid for services rendered. These days, I am not afraid to turn down work, so I am able to create and control my ideal experiences.
12. If you had to choose three qualities anyone looking to create content as a freelancer needs to develop/have what would they be?
Self-drive; self-discipline; a constant desire for self-development.
13. How do work through times when things are at a low? How do you get back up? How do you deal with criticism and bad feedback?
I try not to beat myself up when things are not going the way I want them. It’s hard, but I am learning to be more patient with myself and others.
I work very closely with my clients, and so work often gets refined along the way till I am sure that the final delivery is at par with or exceeds the client’s expectations. I don’t really consider any feedback bad; just an opportunity to tweak the work or learn something new and apply it immediately to the project.
14. What sacrifices have you had to make to grow your ‘business’, if any?
Time. Working as a freelancer often feels like having half a dozen bosses. With a 9-5, your boss knows how much work you have at any moment and can manage his expectations. I can never tell one client that I am unable to deliver because I am busy with another client’s work, so I have to sacrifice personal time sometimes to keep up.
[bctt tweet=”Working as a freelancer often feels like having half a dozen bosses. ” username=””]
15. What has been your proudest achievement in your work so far? & what future goals (that you can share)would you like to achieve?
I think my biggest achievement is seeing some of my former assistants go on to bigger things of their own. It’s so amazing to see someone who came to me with raw skills become really good at what they’re doing.
Also, I am proud of the life I am currently living. Over the last 6 years, I barely took any time off work but this year I am traveling and living in different spots of the world. I am glad that my work can support that, and that I have built a reputation clients trust even when I am not in the country.
16. What do you wish you knew about starting off as a freelancer in Nigeria before you started; what would you do differently? Do you think there’s enough support for content creators in Nigeria? What is one thing you think would be helpful?
I wish I had more confidence in the beginning. I would have turned down some people. I would have done only work I believed in.
I think everyone has to create their own support. Decide what you need and create the conditions for it. For me, being able to decide my hours and work on my own terms was the biggest support I needed.
17. How did you figure out how best to price your services? That’s something a lot of business owners & content creators struggle with.
I put a financial value on my time and skills. So that, if I have to work on a one-page document that’d take me 10 hours of research and writing, I charge more than I would on a ten-page document that requires only an hour of work. Often, clients see only page numbers—and it was all I saw in the beginning too—but after almost 7 years of doing this, I am better able to gauge how much time and effort a project requires, and charge the client based on that.
[bctt tweet=”I put a financial value on my time and skills. So that, if I have to work on a one-page document that’d take me 10 hours of research and writing, I charge more than I would on a ten-page document that requires only an hour of work. – @adebolarayo” username=”afomaumesi”]
18. I know you’ve been working on a novel. Do you find it easy to balance all your ‘extracurricular’ writing with making headspace for ‘your own’ writing?
I write in bursts, but for years I didn’t do much of it. Finding time and energy to write for myself was one of the reasons I quit my job. These days, I remind myself not to take on projects that will stand in the way of that, no matter how lucrative they seem. However, I also remind myself that there is no rush about it.
19. What are three things that are part of your morning ritual?
I work better at night, so I often sleep between 2am and 4 am. I wake up around 11am, brew and have a cup of coffee or two while sitting with God, and then I do a Bible study. I putter around for about 2 hours before I get into the proper swing of my day.
20. What three people in your field or not inspire you the most?
Muhtar Bakare, the owner of Kachifo (Farafina). His life is such an inspiration, and since I met him when I was 20, he’s been one of my biggest supporters and teachers.
Lola Shoneyin for her energy, passion, and writing skill.
My friend, Bemyoda. He’s not exactly in my field, but he’s one of the wisest people I know. He’s also ridiculously talented.
21. What do you love most about yourself as a self employed creative i.e any personal qualities you feel have helped you excel? What advice would you give to anyone currently struggling to stay afloat/ just starting their business/contemplating content creation in Nigeria?
I love the new parts of me I am discovering—the parts chipping away at fear.
I think I gave the advice earlier. Find a steady source of income (this is possible within freelancing). I also believe that a 9-5 can be an important thing. I am glad I did it as long as I did. It was a cushion while I built my skills, reputation, and income.
ADEBOLA RAYO is a full-time writer, editor, and TV series junkie. Her articles and short stories have been published in newspapers and magazines. She has a law degree and no idea what to do with it.
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