Freelancing in a rapidly evolving world requires you to be a frog

Animals react to climate change in three ways: They move, adapt or die.

I once read about the Alaskan Wood Frog and I was amazed by how far this creature goes to survive in the wild.

During winter, up to 60% of an Alaskan Wood Frogs’ body freezes solid. It stops breathing and its heart stops beating too. This allows the frog to survive temperatures as low as -80 degrees Fahrenheit.

And in spring, the frog thaws out and resumes living like it didn’t just spend months being an ice popsicle.

Incredible!

I like to think of myself as an Alaskan Wood Frog, constantly adapting to changes in the market to remain relevant, to escaping becoming an ancient relic.

Or dying out like the Dodo bird. The poor thing stood no chance against the Dutch sailors.
Take for example, Kodak. Remember when ‘Kodak moments’ was a thing?

No?

How old are you again?

Well, once upon a time, Kodak reigned over the photography industry. But it failed to respond quickly to the arrival of digital photography which led to bankruptcy in 2013 as nobody, absolutely nobody (including diehard traditionalists and your grannies) used camera film anymore.

On the flip side, Kodak seemed to take the lesson to heart. In January 2018, Kodak’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange more than doubled.

Why? Kodak announced that it would launch its own cryptocurrency called KodakCoin, riding on the cryptocurrency wave. Aimed at photographers, KodakCoin forms part of a wider blockchain platform committed to protecting photographers and helping them control their image rights.

You see, adaptation is key. It is accepting that change is inevitable and preparing to embrace change whenever it comes.

The world is constantly evolving. Events like the coronavirus pandemic just happen to speed things up rapidly. Now everywhere there’s job insecurity and stock markets are crashing.

If you’re a freelancer, then you would have noticed a huge drop in our regular business activities.

But not everyone is experiencing a downturn.

Finance and health blogs are booming.

As a freelancer, having a diverse skillset as well as being a quick study, are necessary tools in your survival toolkit.

It is possible that your current revenue streams have dried up. If so, you’re definitely hunting for new streams.

It’s time again to be the Alaskan Wood Frog.

  1. Start Coaching Others

Take advantage of social distancing by broadening your services to include online coaching. You can take on clients from all over the world and share your knowledge and experience.

  1. Create an Online Course for your readers

Remember when everyone was too busy? Felt like a lifetime ago. Now, everyone is at home and we’re bored.

Yes, people have a lot of time on their hands and, if you’re persuasive enough, they just may be interested in picking up new skills.

Create a high quality course on any of your area of specialty and dedicate some amount of time and resources designing useful educative materials that people would pay for.

  1. Rest

If you’ve been working yourself to the bone, this may be the perfect time to just take a break. The rest may give you the much needed to refuel and come back stronger.

Work distancing can help you gain new perspectives about your work and business.

Overall, it is important that we all remain positive during this period. The world has witnessed worse pandemics. And people survived.

You will too.

Ribbit!

 

8 things that still tick me off as a writer

Writers are very particular about their craft. We can be docile and quiet around you, but just disrespect the craft and you’ll see us all up in arms.

It’s not just the grammatical errors that scratches our vinyl.

There’s about 7 other things that happen every other week that makes me feel like tearing out my hair or beating someone up.

I know I should rise above and beyond, but it’s exhausting. The following list, in no particular order, are 8 things that get me ticked off:

 

  1. Everyone thinks they can write.

Everyone can write, but not everyone is a writer.

Look, we’re grateful for social media but tweeting and chatting is not writing. If you think everyone can do it, you honestly don’t understand what writing is.

  1. When people say writing is not so difficult.

“You just sit there and punch letters on a keyboard all day. How hard can it be?”

Bruh, writing is hard!

Most writers have to deal with crippling perfectionism and a constant fear of failure all the time. We agonize over every choice of word.

Sometimes I read and reread a paragraph until the words are a blur.

Writing is not for the faint hearted! It requires practice, diligence and focus.

  1. Editing is way easier than writing.

Writing is a bit like giving birth.

There was nothing, and then with patience, and lots of pain, something emerged.

And that something makes everyone happy.

Editing on the other hand involves honing someone else’s idea – after the person is done with all the hard work!

So it grates hard when some editors tear down your work.

Of course, most professional editors  wouldn’t.

But within an organization where every communication is subjected to peer review, writers suffer a lot under the reviewers/editors who usually have no idea what good writing looks like even if it hit them in the face.

Let me put it this way, it’s easier to paint a wall than it is to build it from scratch.

Writing is building. Editing is painting.

So take it easy with the snide commentary.

  1. Ask me to write or edit your [insert something] for free.

For some reason, a lot of people believe writers exist solely to serve their own needs.

After all, “you writers have so much free time. You just sit down in front of the PC all day.”

Uhm… would you ask your surgeon friend for free surgery?

Writing or editing your work would take me more time than getting rid of your appendix would take the surgeon.

Think about that!

  1. When people put up horrible notes on Facebook, tag everyone & wait for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This right here is the sole reason why I’d vote for Facebook to be shutdown. (This and Candy Crush invites).

Yes, there is freedom of speech and you are allowed to use your platform as you wish.

But please, write, hit publish and just leave it at that.

Don’t expect world hunger to cease simply because you put up a post.

Resist the urge to tag everyone. That voice telling you to ignore that previous sentence is the devil.

  1. When people write sentences using SMS lingo, even when they are not messaging.

I sometimes get emails with sentences like, “I hope 2 hear from u soon, thank u” or “U will defn8ly luv dem” and I often have to bite my tongue.

I do have some questions for them though. Like, are some of the letters on your keyboard missing? Do tell.

  1. When people use “affect” in place of “effect”, “I couldn’t care less” in place of “I could care less” and the most annoying of them all “their” in place of “there”.

For the love of all that is good, it would save us all months of migraines and therapy to learn the difference between these words. I think it’s best I leave it at that. Expatiating on this point may take the whole day and open up deep seethed wounds.

  1. Assume I am less busy because I sometimes get to work from home.

Don’t assume I have time to go pick up every single family member that comes into town from the airport. I do not have time. I may be in my drawers at 3 o’clock in the afternoon (as I am right this very minute) and I may be having a conversation with Molara, one of my madeup characters (which I also am right now) instead of being present at an office, but I am busy.

I am writing which means that I am working.

 

Phew, it felt good to get that all out.

What tricks you off and grinds your gears?

You’re talented; So what?

“Sometimes, good things end so that better things can begin.”

I just read this quote somewhere and it put a smile on my face. 2019 was a really good year. So it’s safe for me to assume 2020 is going to be epic!

Anyways, it’s the beginning of the year; I’m yet to resume work and this is the first post of the year. I thought I’d share one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

There’s a maxim about talent that goes, Talent is not enough.

I agree.

However, I didnt always see it that way until last year.

Last year, I began leading a team. As head of communications, I get to work with several vendors and freelancers including graphic designers, videographers, editors, writers, and printers. There’s also media houses and PR agencies to balance in the mix.

Obviously, this involves managing different quirks, egos while juggling a hundred deadlines every month.

These are not fun tasks at all.

Having so many things I want to get done, I need to work with reliable people. To my amazement, many of the talented people I know often drop the ball, a lot.

I began to realize that truly, talent is overrated. In business, dependability is what really counts.

That doesn’t mean I’m knocking talent.

When you read books by Brandon Sanderson, or listen to a score by Howard Shore, or watch Zinedine Zidane play football, talent is pretty dazzling and hard to ignore.

The G.O.A.T.

In my career, I’ve also experienced the power of talent.

Last year, I had the (unenviable) task of writing the 2019 State of Market report for Digital Financial Services in Nigeria. Considering the fact that the past 3 annual reports (from 2016 – 2018) have been compiled and written by my boss who happens to be a Professor of Information Systems, well let’s just say I had humongous shoes to fill and I had no clue how to begin.

And this is where talent matters.

After about 2 days just staring at the blank page, feeling helpless and terrified, that trusty voice came to my rescue. Every writer should know that voice by now.

Whenever I want to write something, I hear a tiny voice accompanied by a sweet feeling in my gut. The voice is confident but very silent. Sometimes all it offers is just a sentence.

A perfectly formed sentence.

Other times, it’s a nonsensical combination of words that gets me curious enough to wander, okay where is this going? Regardless of what the voice offers, I always treat it as my prompt to start writing. And it’s never failed me yet.

(I finished the report in about 5 days, by the way).

So talent matters.

But, there’s a clause – talent matters to a degree. There’s a minimum threshold of talent required for people to function effectively in a field. Beyond this point, what separates one professional from another is – dependability.

I got your back, boss!

In my brief time heading my department, I’ve seen myself shrink away from engaging some freelancers. These are uber-talented guys with impressive portfolios. However, their knack for delivering work behind schedule is scary and disruptive. Some fail to communicate that they will be late. Others just go AWOL on me, attempting to raise my blood pressure.

What really pushed me to my limit was just before we closed for the year, I got a contract to develop copy for a really big brand and so I needed to assemble a team I could work with.

Two freelancers came to mind immediately. Freelancer A is extremely talented and a great copywriter while Freelancer B is pretty average. I offered the gig to both of them.

In an ironic twist of fate, only Freelancer B came through. Freelancer A didnt even turn in anything, for reasons that remain a mystery till today.

To be fair, it may have been a genuine enough excuse (some emergency perhaps) but at that point, with so many deadlines to manage, I just needed someone to be on time.

Not perfect. Not super creative. Not Picasso.

Just competent enough to deliver the job, ON TIME.

Correct, complete, on time. Can you manage that?

This is the key to a lengthy business relationship seeing as I’ve worked with Freelancer B a lot more since then. And Freelancer B is getting better by the day. I offer helpful tips and resources to aid with skill improvement.

However, dependability? That’s not something that can be taught. It’s a trait that must be inwardly nurtured.

So, would you consider yourself talented? Congratulations. Join the club.

Are you dependable?

If your answer is not a resounding yes, my advice is you spend enough time thinking about why and then spend the first part of 2020 fixing that.

2019/20: Wishes, Horses and To-do Lists

Technically, it’s not the end of the decade – that would be December 31, 2020.

However, it is the end of a phenomenal year.  And as is customary, this is the time when we sit back and ponder just how well the year went. We weigh it on a scale of 1-10. Sometimes we say a prayer of gratitude. Other times we draw up a wishlist.

Today, I’m doing a bit of both.

They say if wishes were horses, we’d all be cowboys.

Well then, howdy partner! Well, let’s go on a ride shall we?

………….

Wish I had long flowing hair, so I could whip it around  anytime I feel self conscious.

This would be way cooler than playing with my beard all the time.

Wish I was still 17. Basically, I wouldn’t mind if I was infected with the Peter Pan syndrome. 17 was the best age of my life – I was just about to get into school, just before learning I’d never become an aeronautic engineer. An entire world of possibilities lay before me and for a brief moment, I believed anything could be possible. 17 would always be the perfect age, boosted by good old nostalgia.

Wish I could write as good as Stephen King. Everything he writes is gold. I’ve been reading his books for years and his works inspired me to take on writing as a career. His skill with words and his storytelling powers constantly relay the human condition in excruciatingly deep ways.

I stan!

A boss | | A legend!

Wish I could meet Stephen King. Yes, so I can express my fandom and embarrass myself to the full. I would love to let him know he inspired me to make writing a career even though I feel I sold out on the purist dream. Somehow, I think he’d tell me that I didn’t. Because today writing does pay a lot of my bills and takes care of my family.

Wish I’d just find dear future wife and get it over with. Met a lot of people in 2019 even as we’re still on the search for the future Missus Taiwo.

They say dating is an extreme sport. I didn’t realize how extreme till I gave it a shot.

Because my friends are worried I’m going to end up in a monastery, some of them decided to take matters into their own hands, introducing me to their network of single friends, subtly and not so subtly.

Let me just say, there are some very weird, unique and crazy people out there. A lot of crazies actually.

I guess if you asked the ladies too, the feeling would be mutual.

Would have shared some stories about these blind dates, matchmaking attempts and stuff but… I’m just gonna let this bad memory remain behind in 2019, thank you very much.

There’s a longer wishlist in my notepad and I’ll share them with you some other day.

One thing I couldn’t wish for was a better year. 2019 was near perfect in so many ways.

Our family got bigger cos my brother got married!

It was a physically and emotionally demanding experience and I wasn’t even the one getting hitched. The drama alone from the two days would be material for a novella (still toying with the idea but I’m not promising anything).

Another fun development – Some of my closest pals also got married! This came packaged also with its share of drama (I really should do a novella about these things). But it was also relieving and thrilling in equal measure.

I got THREE (yes 3!) cakes on my birthday. Seeing as cakes are one the best man made discoveries of all time that will eventually save us all, I’ve categorised this under birthday miracles I’ll never forget.

This year, I traveled a lot and slept in a lot of hotels. Have I ever told you how much I love hotels? I just need to figure out how to turn this into a day job so I can retire and do this everyday.

Changed my church, finally. This was a long-time coming anyway and all I can say is “Wow!”.

They say the cure for loneliness is finding your tribe, a group of like-minded souls. I found that this year. The joy of being in a place that seems customised for you.Constantly being surrounded by a community of Godchasers, people who are equally passionate about God and relentless in their pursuit of knowing Him.

It’s the biggest blessing of 2019.

It rocked my world in a great way.

Got promoted, again! At some point, I think I became pretty good at this communications thing (or at least faking it as best as I could) because I’ve just been given an entire department to lead. I got a team working with me and I’m responsible for their performance, output and everything.

As someone who’s nervous about taking on leadership roles, this was a fish out of water situation for me. I had to not only think about the work I was doing, but also teach, mentor and supervise new team members. And they joined right in the busiest season of the work year for my department.

They say if it doesn’t kill you, then it makes you stronger. Well, I say, if it didnt kill you, that’s because it didn’t do a good enough job.

This new promotion nearly killed me. I was so overwhelmed at one point, I started having trouble sleeping at night (I’ve never had trouble sleeping at any time of the day).

Notwithstanding, I kept learning, kept adjusting and kept trying new things. I think the department settled into a good rhythm just before the year ended. I’m definitely looking forward to get back to the office and trying some new techniques. Yeah, I’m, still excited about work. Imagine that!

2020 cant get here soon enough!

Speaking of the new year, some of the things I’ve got planned include…

To be honest, I don’t know yet. This yearly calendar rarely works for me. And I already talked about how delusional it is to do new year resolutions in a previous post.

Rather, I’m more of a if you want to start, start right away kind of person.

If you are running a personal race, on a personal timetable, then it’s only reasonable you have a personal calendar.

For example, I actively started saving judicially in June. People say that you should save no matter how small. And I agree with this, mentally. However, translating this into reality is harder cos…

Bills bills bills! 😂

I could have put it off till next year but what good would that do?

Anyways, saving and budgeting, ✅.

Next: My career. My career may be taking off but as they say, something has to give. The “give” came in the form of my hobbies. I did not do enough of what I love doing in my leisure time this year. That includes reading and writing. I also didn’t learn anything new (officially) ie. Speaking about certifications, courses etc.

I consider this alarming. What I found myself doing was learning just enough to be functional in a role.

Need to change all that in 2020.

Basically “hustle philosophy” cheated me this year. Hustle philosophy, the idea that as a 21st century knowledge worker, you have to constantly be on, plugged in, working, making money, building something etc.

Well, not anymore.

I’ve never really consciously bought into the idea but with growing teams, deadlines and a long commute, it just sort of crept up on me.

I closed the year early, (went on break about 2 weeks to Christmas) and used the time to rest, reflect, connect with friends and family and really do “me” things.

Talk about an adrenaline shot!

I feel more buzzed, more switched on, more creative and more energetic than I’ve felt all year.

So in 2020, I’m going crack this work-life balance thing.

I’m going to figure out how to use the actual 9-5 time to get stuff done. And then I’m done with work. The remaining time is for “me” things.

Life is for the living. Let’s do some living in 2020.

Oh, I nearly forgot. I have one more wish.

I wish you a fulfilling new year, filled with love and warmth.

Thanks for reading!

10 Important Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Writing Career

I started out as a freelance writer in 2013 but eventually got what I’d call a big break in 2015. After four incredibly hard yet fun years, and with the scars to show for it, here are lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Grab a coffee. This go’n take a while…

 

  1. Writing professionally means way more than just writing.

Diversify your skillset.

A career in the creative arts is never exclusively about being creative. When you’re not writing, the life of a professional writer includes other activities, many of them tedious including sales and marketing, networking, publishing, distribution, and accounting.

Yup!

If writing is the flashy frontend that draws us in, these “boring” activities are the gears in the backend that will make sure you have a writing career at all.

Creative people tend to shy away from these other activities, claiming they are either too boring, or too depressing. Yes it can sometimes feel like grunt work but guess what? Unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’ll just have to suck it up and get with it.

Thankfully, there are tons of resources online to help anyone’s who is looking to learn.

 

  1. When you’re starting out, it’s okay to work for free.

Note I said, when you’re starting out.

For me, this lasted for 6 months. I did pro bono work for friends, classmates, my local church, and even an NGO.

At this stage, I lacked enough confidence to ask for money in good conscience cos I didn’t even think I could deliver something worth paying for. My biggest fear during this period was producing writing that would ruin my client’s chances of making money or some other unreasonable disaster.

While this helped me work harder than I’ve ever worked before, it also prevented me from asking for money in exchange for my services. I basically worked for “exposure” but more importantly, I gained invaluable experience and built a reasonable portfolio.

 

  1. Pricing your services is a tricky science.

And it’s okay to be nervous about putting a price tag on your work. The anxiety comes from the possibility of pricing your services either too high or too low.

When you’re just starting out, I believe it’s okay to underprice yourself.

When I started earning money for writing, I used to get paid N3,000 per article. Sometime later, I was able to raise my prices to N5,000.

As my skills got better, and my portfolio increased, I raised my rates again, this time to N10,000.

I know people who charge a whole lot more than that.

It all depends on what you can live with at the end of the day. My rule of thumb is, charge whatever will not make you grumble during the job but try to be considerate of the client as well.

  1. Still on pricing…

For big projects, always collect at least 40 percent of the total cost upfront.

That 40 percent upfront does two things for you:

a. It helps you weigh the client’s commitment. I learned the hard way how fickle human beings can be. Committing funds to a projects helps us make up our minds. So think of it as helping your clients make up their minds.

b. It gives you some much needed runway. Big projects are long projects and usually involve rigorous research, interviews and sometimes, travel. The last thing you need is not being able to complete a project because you ran out of cash.

Make it a precondition to taking on big projects. It could be 50 percent or 60 percent upfront. But 40 is the minimum.

 

  1. On marketing and promotion.

As a fresh writer, nobody really knows (nor cares) what you do. You have to be up in people’s faces in subtle (and not so subtle) ways.

To put it bluntly, you have to be shameless about trumping your own horn. That shyness? Bury it and attend the funeral.

The goal is to ensure that with your family and friends, your name should be the first one that comes to mind when they see writing opportunities.

I got my first full time writing gig through a referral. The Editor in Chief of TechCabal had been on the hunt for good writers for months and ran into a good friend of mine at a mixer. She didnt hesitate to recommend me immediately. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

  1. The client is always right.

This one requires some humility.

Regardless of what you think, your client is never wrong.

There’s sometimes the proverbial client from hell (and experience will teach you to spot them over time), but most clients just want someone competent enough to deliver what they want. The challenge sometimes is they need help expressing their desires.

Part of the customer relationship process is educating clients on the nature of services you provide, what is possible within certain timeframes and when it is not.

If you are being asked to do something you know is not possible, let them know you don’t think it is possible. If they insist it is, don’t get into a back and forth match. Politely decline.

Every client is unique and hiring a writer over the internet has many quirks. So be courteous, be respectful, and be patient with everyone.

Another thing to take note of: You’re a hired hand. You’re being paid to deliver a service. You can offer advice, you can make suggestions or recommendations, but at no point should you become too attached to YOUR own ideas. The client has the final say on what stays or what goes in their commissioned writing.

If the client says they want their work done a certain way, do it that way. Don’t try to push your own ideas on them. Sure, your way may turn out better but let’s face it, you’re not being paid to push your own ideas. You’re paid to help actualise theirs.

Remember that.

Expect this to happen, a lot!

  1. Write wide, Read wider.

Pulitzer winning author, Jennifer Egan, once said, “Read at the level at which you want to write. Reading is the nourishment that feeds the kind of writing you want to do.” In other words, the quality of your writing is directly influenced by the quality of your reading.

It’s not just quantity but also quality. Reading helps you get accustomed with different styles, rhythms, ideas and concepts. Find the time to settle down with great books by great authors, subscribe to excellent newsletters, avoid drivel, social media fluff and whatnots.

As you read, write. Put down your ideas. Try different genres. Do satire, do fiction, do non-fiction, do interviews, do listicles, do it all. Have fun with your craft.

Writing is a job but it’s also fun. Exploring genres widens your audience, stretches you out of your comfort zone and forces you to try new things.

 

  1. If you want to be taken seriously, be professional.

This is the last thing you wanna hear from a client

Arrive on time for meetings. Send reminders on deliverables. Above all, meet your deadlines. I cannot stress how important this is. I once had to relocate to an aunt’s home on the other side of town, for 3 days, just to meet up with a killer deadline.

Excuses are a forbidden thing. If there’s a complication and your ability to meet the deadline is compromised, inform the client way ahead of time.

Call, explain the situation and then humbly request an extension. Follow up with a thank you email which also doubles as documentation about the extension of deadline.   

 

  1. On taking advice, stick to people who know what they are talking about.

This one is harsh but it needs to be said. Unless your mom is an ardent reader and knows how to critique a book, her feedback doesn’t really count. Ditto for your friends and families who also don’t really read.

These days, people are very careful with coming off as offensive so we pull our punches when we give feedback. But as a young writer, you need objective feedback. And it has to come from people who are mindful about good writing. Who can see flaws in your work and know how to fix it.

I wrote something about objective feedback some years ago.

These people don’t have to be writers (though they are usually your best bet) but they have to have “the eye” for good writing.

 

  1. It gets lonely.

Extremely lonely. Especially when you’re working on a piece that is kicking your ass. You will lose hours in your own mind, thinking, planning and rewriting entire chapters.

This is inevitable but please, don’t stay too long in there. Get out of your own head, talk to people often, make phone calls, leave the house, enjoy the company of others.

I’ve discovered that ideas flow easier when you have a healthy social life. The writing recluse caricature is a cliche and a harmful one at that.

Like Stephen King once wrote: “[Writing] starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

Write, then go ahead and live a good life.

 

I’d like to know if this helped.

[Photo Credit: Brad Neathery on Unsplash ]