On May 7, 2016, we held a phenomenal seminar dubbed The Roadmap to Upwork Success in Nairobi’s Marble Arch Hotel. And while it was a fantastic event all through, I particularly found the last part of it breathtaking and inspiring.
The speakers had unleashed their best. Some attendees were getting antsy because of time but they didn’t leave the venue yet. The rains had subsided outside. It was getting a little cold. I was starting to miss my jacket. It was getting late.
Suddenly, a session came for some successful freelancers to stand and talk about their stuff and Daniel Ongera Nyairo was one of them. Cool and collected, he made his way to the front. He had no power point presentation like some of us but what he said left us motivated, encouraged and convinced that freelancing is the real deal.
I listened to Daniel more attentively than I listen to the news. After his brief presentation, I got an opportunity to interact with him a little bit more after the event and I learned a couple of lessons you might find useful too.
- Look around
Daniel didn’t know much about online freelancing. Even more, he didn’t have education beyond high school. Since coming out of school in 2002, he had only managed to get some training on using computers.
One afternoon in September 2010 he met a stranger in an event who scribbled the word Odesk on a piece of paper and passed it to him.
This is after he shared his love for the internet with him.
When he reached home, he kept the piece of paper where he kept similar stuff he collected when out and about.
He didn’t care to take action on the piece of paper for two good years. It only came back to juggle his memory when he was sorting items in his home and setting aside those that were no longer of use for disposal.
He decided to visit the site written on it.
Up until then, much of his time since leaving school had been spent working as a guard for a security firm earning about $170 a month.
Takeaway: The people surrounding you (your friends, relatives, classmates and even strangers you meet for a short moment) are not in your life by accident. They may hold the key to your success and destiny.
So, be in good books with them, interact with them and find out more about what they’re into. Seize every moment you get as an opportunity to network. Show some kindness to strangers.
2. Learn from mistakes
Daniel finally decided to sign up on Upwork, and when he did, he received a job offer from this client who was understanding and patient.
The client required him to embed a video to a power point document. Initially, he thought this would be a walk in the park, but that was never the case.
After spending a whole day on it, he could not crack it. So, he gave up and asked the client to reassign the task. He noticed the task had required him to apply the skills he didn’t have.
Takeaway: Start small. Be determined. Fail but learn from it. Invest in relevant skills before taking up a freelance gig. Learn from your mistakes but most importantly, learn from other people’s mistakes.
3. Quality is the gateway to direct, well-paying clients
So after failing to deliver on his first job, Daniel didn’t stop there. He applied for and was able to get more freelance writing jobs on Upwork and got another hire.
The client was so pleased with his work that he gave him more work and also recommended him to his friends who had freelance writing work. That’s how Daniel started landing direct clients. It’s because he delivered high-quality work to his first client.
After three months on Upwork (then Odesk) Daniel resigned from the security firm. He was already earning more from online freelancing than they were paying him.
Takeaway: Make a great first impression with a new client by completing work on time and delivering high-quality that will make them want to hire you again. If you’re employed, start freelancing as a side hustle, and when you’re certain, it’s paying well and sustainable, you can quit your job.
Initially, Daniel could write on just about any topic, but as he advanced in the freelancing business, he saw the need to narrow down what he writes about.
He now writes a lot on financial technology and specifically on bitcoins. With specialization, he can now charge higher rates and find clients who need content in this niche.
Takeaway: Specialization in a niche or two positions you as an authority in the industry. Clients will picture you as an expert and may pay you a bit higher than other people.
5. Keep growing
Other than getting hired on Upwork, Daniel said he doesn’t rely on this platform alone for his freelancing income. He also gets direct clients from LinkedIn and is planning to start a blog which will bring him, even more business.
In addition to this, freelancing has enabled Daniel to pursue his studies at the university, something he had wished to do for many years but could not manage to do because he couldn’t afford it.
He now can pay his school fees and take care of his family with little effort.
He has more dreams, though. He’s still working hard to build a career that will enable him travel to the true meaning of the term ‘digital nomad’.
Takeaway: Complacency is number one enemy in freelancing. Some guys will just sit there comfortably after acquiring one or two clients.
The online world is unpredictable and so don’t just rely on one account, one client, one skill or anything like that. You need not only plan B, but C and D as well.
You need to market your services constantly, learn new skills, sharpen your current skills, work hard to keep your current clients and ask them for referrals.
It’s never too late to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Your dreams are still valid and you’re the only person stopping them from becoming a reality. You can still start and make it in this business without any experience. You only need to remain focused, network, learn new skills, work hard and keep growing.
I was challenged to see people of all ages and backgrounds in the seminar. The old were there as well and this should tell you how serious this business is. Those who couldn’t arrive sponsored their friends and relatives to attend. Let’s keep learning because like they say, to triple your earnings, double your learning.