15 Essential Freelancing Lessons For African Writers [2021 Edition]


This article is authored by Chima Mmeje

When I became a freelance copywriter, I didn’t have anyone to guide me.

There was nobody there to show me how to look for clients, how to charge for my services, or what type of content to create.

I couldn’t afford copywriting courses because even the cheap ones were expensive when converted into my local currency.

And there were challenges I had to overcome as an African freelancer that even to this day, I haven’t seen many other writers talking about.

I built my career by trying things, making mistakes, and then learning from those mistakes.

And ultimately, that’s how you’ll build your career too, but I want to do what I can to help. I hit my first $10k month this last quarter, while working out of Nigeria and being my authentic self online, and in this guide, I’m going to take you through everything I’ve learned along the way to hitting that milestone.

I’m writing this specifically for my fellow African freelance writers, but most of what I cover here will apply to anyone looking to build a new writing business from the ground up.

I’ve broken this guide into three main sections:

  • How to brand your business
  • How to market your business
  • How to run your business

Let’s dive in.

Part A: How to Brand Your Business as an African Writer

Branding for freelancers is both overhyped and underrated. 

Short term branding decisions are often overhyped, while the long-term affects of great branding really can’t be overstated. 

Let’s talk about how you should brand your business as an African writer.

1. Choose a Niche

I know the thought of niching down is scary, but there’s a reason every coach and expert is hammering on this topic.

When I started out, I didn’t want to do it. The thought of limiting myself to one niche felt like leaving money on the table.

I responded to ads for landing page copywriters, product copy, scripts, and conversion copy.

After six months, I felt like I was being pulled in 10 different directions without a platform to ground me.

My primary keyword was “copywriting agency”. It was driving a ton of traffic, but they weren’t converting.

I jumped on calls with a startup in the air taxi niche, a private airline in the Bahamas, a sewing machine company, and other large brands.

But I soon realized that they wanted an à la carte service I didn’t offer.

Everything changed when I niched down in SEO copy.

Suddenly, I had clarity. I knew what I wanted to do and the type of content I would create. I deleted service pages on my website that didn’t align with the new goals and repositioned my website to focus on SEO copy.

However, I recommend experimenting with a few niches until you find the one that feels like home. Don’t rush this part.

2. Determine Your Target Audience

Knowing what I wanted to do wasn’t enough. I had to figure out the “whom”.

  • Who would buy my service?
  • What problems were they facing?
  • How do I attract them?

I loved writing about SaaS and technology so that answers the “whom”.

My target audience is head of content marketing and CMOs at SaaS companies. I also target content marketing agencies that work with SaaS and tech companies.

The problems they face include:

  • They have content on their website that isn’t ranking for their target keywords
  • They need an SEO content strategy to rank for highly competitive keywords
  • They need blog content optimized for search

If you’re a copywriter like me, you’ll probably be targeting a similar group. But the problems they face depends on the type of copy you create.

Email copywriters will help businesses convert more customers via email. Conversion copywriters will create product pages and landing pages that sell the heck out of a product.

Answering these questions ensures that you’re not running around in circles. It also helps you create a marketing strategy built around problems your audience faces.

Hence, your LinkedIn byline would read something like:

  • I create highly-converting landing pages for SaaS companies
  • I help Personal Injury Attorneys gain more visibility with location pages
  • I help eCommerce clients reduce abandon cart with email marketing

3. Pick a Name that Captures What You Do

The first step is choosing a name that encapsulates what you do. You want visitors to hear that brand and immediately think of your service.

Many copywriters brand around their name. But they are mostly white folks from developed countries.

You’re black and African. You probably have an African name like me. Whether we want to admit it or not, some people have an inherent bias against black people and Africans specifically. 

Wikipedia defines inherent bias as the effect of underlying assumptions that skew viewpoints.

Branding with your African name means you’re taking a chance that they’ll judge you before they open your website.

If you’re targeting a foreign audience where most of your clients are Caucasian, you can get past the bias by branding around an English name.

You want prospects to look through your work without thinking about color, race, or location.

For example, my domain name is Zenith Copy. It’s easy to pronounce, spell, and remember. It’s an English name that prospects in an English-speaking country can connect with more easily than a URL that says chimammeje.com

I know it’s difficult to digest, and there are people that have different opinions on this, but in my opinion it’s the safer route to take, especially when you are first getting started. 

When you’ve built a loyal audience and a strong social media following, then you can reposition around your name.

4. Build a Website

A website shapes the perception people have of you. There are a few copywriters who’ve achieved massive success without a website. But they are not the norm.

81% of prospects research a business website on the internet before making a purchase decision.

If you want to put your lead gen on autopilot, a website is critical to attracting qualified traffic and delighting them with content.

I’ve had clients book calls with me based on the content of my website and nothing else.

Also, 56% of people stated that they are more likely to trust a service provider with a website than those without one.

If you can’t write your website copy, how will a buyer trust you to create great content?

Your freelance website doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. I built the first version of Zenith Copy at $150.

Just make sure you don’t add location anywhere on your website. Bias creeps in when they detect that you live in Africa. You want it to come up during the conversation after they’ve looked through your site.

Use a hosting company in the US or wherever your target audience is located so you’re serving content more quickly than if you were hosting your website in an African country.

Here are two great resources to explore when writing website content and service pages:

  1. A comprehensive guide on writing website copy
  2. 10 of the best writer websites to learn from

Okay, let’s dive into marketing.

Part B: How to Market Your Business as an African Freelance Writer

Marketing is probably the most important part of running your own writing business.

You don’t get paid based on your talent. You get paid based on your ability to get your talent in front of people who need it and are willing to pay for it.

Let’s talk about how to market your business as an African writer.

5. Learn Storytelling

When I started using LinkedIn, my content was stiff. I was taking bits of copy from my blog and pasting it on LinkedIn.

I would get four, maybe five likes, and no bite.

But everything changed with stories. People could see me as Chima the human, not just Chima the SEO copywriter. And it was the blend of both that won them over.

There are two ways I tell stories on social media and my blog.

First, I use stories to invite my audience into my personal life. This story about not wearing pants during a zoom meeting turned into a guest appearance at the University of Pittsburgh.

I also use storytelling to simplify SEO, which is a complex subject to breakdown to my followers.

Every story has an antagonist, hero, and a solution. You’re the hero, your client’s problem is the antagonist and your service is the solution.

Storytelling is the greatest tool in my arsenal for connecting with my target audience. When I’m telling a story, they’re engrossed. Nobody is thinking about my location or the color of my skin. They just want to know what happens in the end.

I want you to draw from your experiences as an African. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and open. Think of how you can turn mundane activities in your daily life into stories that connect with a problem you solve.

6. Adopt a Topic Cluster Approach to Rank for Your Target Keywords

When I started blogging in February 2019, I thought it would be easy. Pick a topic and use Brian Dean’s skyscraper technique to fill up the page with words. But there was no strategy and my copy wasn’t converting.

Fast-forward to August 2019 when I learned about the topic cluster approach. Rather than blogging willy-nilly, I’m looking at the keywords holistically.

For instance, I’m trying to rank for the primary keyword “SEO copywriting”. Instead of creating a massive guide on this topic, I’ll create multiple pieces of content related to the keyword. Examples include:

  • What is SEO copywriting
  • SEO copywriting tips
  • SEO copywriting process
  • SEO copywriting tools
  • SEO copywriting courses

And other related topics that make up the cluster.

I want prospects to see me as the authority on SEO copywriting when they visit my blog. I also want Google to rank my web pages for related keywords around this phrase.

A quick way to do this is to type your primary keyword in Google and use the autocomplete results to build out the initial version of your cluster.

Here’s one for the keyword “email copywriting”

Other ways I generate blog ideas include:

  • Turn questions during zoom call into blog posts
  • Use comments on LinkedIn posts
  • Use social listening tools like Buzzsumo to find what’s hot around a topic

The content you create on your blog will feed your social media strategy. Heck, it’s the reason why I never run out of content on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Publish some of the topics from your cluster as guest posts on high authority sites and use that banner on your website to build trust.

I’ve published on sites like Hackernoon, Jeff Bullas, Search Engine Watch, and more. If you look through my homepage, you’ll see a section called “Featured On”.

Here’s a great example from Victor Ijidola’s Premium Content Shop

You’ll reach your audience where they hang out, build authority, and join the conversation where it’s happening.

Here’s a resource on How to Turn Guest Posts Into Paid Gigs

7. Use LinkedIn to Generate and Nurture Leads

90% of my leads come through LinkedIn. Before I left the agency life, I took three months to study how folks on LinkedIn posted, the type of content that performed well, and those that led to work.

Here are a few tips on using LinkedIn for lead gen

Put Your Face on Your Profile

Use a professional image where you’re smiling and looking at the camera. A smile feels like welcome and hello in one glance. You’re inviting the prospect to reach out and strike a conversation with you. Do not use a picture of your company logo.

The Headline

The easy formula for LinkedIn headlines is:

 Who you are + what you do for whom

Take a look at John’s headline. It’s simple, concise and the value is clear to see.

LinkedIn Bio

True story. I’ve re-written my LinkedIn bio at least 20 times in the past two years. I finally settled on the current version after consulting with several CMOs and content marketers.

The three-step approach to my LinkedIn bio is:

  • Use the first two lines to tell your target audience the biggest benefit of your service. Think mobile and how your content will appear on smaller screens.
  • Share results and explain your process.
  • Include a way for prospects to contact you.

Featured Section

Include links to your website, your best-performing blog post, and one sample from your portfolio. If you have video testimonials, add them here.

Everything on your LinkedIn profile should build trust. You want them to look past your location to your skillset and hit the “message” button where all the magic happens.

Testimonials

Always ask for testimonials after each project. You can copy your LinkedIn testimonials with your client’s pictures to your website for a double impact.

Create Content That Leads to a Conversation

I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is the most important part of any Freelancer’s LinkedIn strategy.

Start writing: It doesn’t have to be perfect. The more you write on LinkedIn, the better you’ll become.

Reference personal stories: I grew up in Lagos, one of the most populated cities in Africa. I tell stories about learning sales skills from watching my pops in his shop.

This contact reached out to me after reading stories about my pops on LinkedIn.

Be the Authority on a Subject

Everyone knows me for SEO copywriting. Not conversion copy, emails, or Facebook ads, but SEO copywriting.

I want you to talk about your expertise so many times that your name becomes synonymous with it. When prospects need that service, you’re the first person they’re thinking of.

I’m getting to the stage where fewer people are asking me for samples. It’s a brief conversation over LinkedIn messages that leads to a zoom call, pricing talk, and work.

When Skillshare reached out to me, the head of content went straight to booking a spot on my calendar. We talked for 5 minutes and I got the gig.

My content had already done the work and the call was a formality.

Finding Work on LinkedIn

Go to the search box on top of your LinkedIn page and type the service you offer.

I use variations of “Freelance Copywriter” “SEO copywriter” and “Copywriter for hire”

Narrow the results down to “content” and “Past 24 hours”

You’re looking for gigs that match your skillset from clients in developed countries who can pay your rates.

Send a connection request explaining that you saw their post for a copywriter and you want to share samples of your work.

When they accept, briefly introduce yourself, and share samples from your portfolio. I used this technique to land my first $2k client on LinkedIn.

You can learn more about my LinkedIn optimization approach in this article.

I’ll also advise you to consider using email to diversify your lead generation efforts. Jacob has an amazing resource on email copywriting you can read here.

8. Join Facebook Groups and Slack Channels

Do you know where I got my first freelance contract, rate sheet, onboarding questionnaire, and proposal template?

A Facebook Group for copywriters.

I’ve also gotten work via referrals from other copywriters I met in Facebook Groups.

I joined the Women in Tech SEO Slack channel where I’ve landed a speaking opportunity and developed relationships with amazing search marketers.

I love Facebook Groups for networking opportunities. Facebook groups are awesome for meeting other copywriters with more experience than you have.

When you join these groups, spend time engaging with posts. Your comments should be insightful and make people click on your name to view your profile.

Wait one month before sending LinkedIn connection requests or adding members to your Facebook friend list.

I highly recommend The Copywriter Club for access to successful copywriters and Freelance Copywriter Collective if you want copywriting feedback and advice.

You have a better chance of finding high quality gigs, than content mills like Fiverr and Upwork. Upwork charges a fee to bid on a project and they take a cut from your earnings. To stay competitive, your prices have to align with what others are charging.

Which means, you’re earning peanuts, and working all day.

Clients have all the power. They can drop a bad review for no reason, dispute a service you’ve rendered, or refuse to pay the balance on a project.

It sounds like a shortcut to depression.

Part C: How to Run Your Business as an African Freelance Writer

Thus far, we’ve looked at how to brand and market your business.

Great branding and marketing will give you opportunities, but how you run your business will determine how well you are able to capitalize on those opportunities and leverage them into longterm growth.

Let’s talk about how to run your business as an African writer.

9. Create a Rate Sheet

Don’t publish your rate sheet on your website. You can allude to the fact that you’re not cheap or you’re moderately priced. But don’t put your pricing out there.

Alternatively, you could list starting prices for each service to weed out unqualified prospects.

I have three rate sheets. One for small businesses, mid-sized businesses, and a VIP rate sheet. Each one with different pricing.

When determining which rate sheet to send, I consider:

  • The complexity of the project
  • The size of the client’s business
  • The value my service will provide in terms of ROI

If I published my rate sheet on my website, it would limit my ability to work with smaller businesses that can’t afford VIP pricing. It would also prevent me from charging higher rates when VIP projects show up.

Your rate sheet doesn’t have to be complicated. You need columns for service, description, and pricing. I also use my rate sheet to advertise services not listed on my websites such as consultation and topic clusters.

I’ve had clients like Popdust book a consultation after glancing at my rate sheet. Before imposter syndrome kicks in, yes, people will pay for your knowledge.

Here are two resources to guide you on copywriting prices:

How Much Do Copywriters Make? Freelance vs In-House vs Agency

How to set website copywriting rates

10. Protect Yourself with a Contract

Again, this doesn’t have to be fancy. The contract covers:

  • The agreed scope of work
  • How much you’re charging for your services
  • The timeline for payment
  • Terms under which the contract can be broken

Some clients are great. They pay as soon as they receive the invoice, respect boundaries, and respond to emails on time. Others will make you question your decision to become a copywriter and drive you mad while at it.

Many African copywriters put up with crappy clients because you think that’s all you deserve. You don’t use a contract because you’re afraid they’ll run.

Without a contract, you’re inviting clients to exploit you. Scope creep happens. Late payment becomes the norm and they’re buzzing you on a Sunday to complete rush projects without extra pay.

11. Build a Portfolio

This is how the conversation usually begins.

 “Hi Chima, I love your content on LinkedIn. Could you send a few samples to my email along with your rate sheet? Thanks!”

I pick two of the most relevant samples in my portfolio and send them to the client, along with my rate sheet.

You may choose to host your portfolio on your website or offline.

I think it’s a great idea to host your portfolio on your website, so it’s easier for prospects to see your body of work when accessing your skills.

Don’t send 6-10 samples because that’s overwhelming. Send two samples that fit the problem you want to solve for the prospect.

In the early days, I didn’t have live samples with my name on the byline. So I used Fiverr to find guest post opportunities. They cost $25-$35 a post. I created a couple of posts around SaaS, paid an extra $10 to have my name in the byline, and sent that to prospects.

You can use Google Docs to host your content if you don’t have live samples. But disable the feature to download or copy the content.

12. Close the Client During the Discovery Call

There’s usually a discovery call after a prospect makes contact. This is where you close the deal or lose them.

I used to be so conscious of my Nigerian accent that I would try to imitate an American accent to impress the client.

During the call, my only focus was on pronouncing the words correctly instead of providing value.

As time passed, I grew more confident and embraced my accent. It’s a part of who I am so why try to hide it?

Instead, I do three things for each call:

Prepare

Research the prospect’s business.

  • What problems do they face?
  • Who do they serve?
  • Are they a good fit for you?
  • How can you provide value?
  • Are there quick wins you can suggest?
  • Were they recently funded?
  • How much is the business worth?

When you’re competing with freelancers in developed countries for work, you have to bring more value to the table to win clients over.

It begins with knowing their business, understanding the problems they face, and suggesting solutions that will make an impact.

Be Quiet and Listen

Resist the urge to talk over your prospect. When they’re speaking, be silent and listen. Ask questions that’ll help you dig deeper into the core of the problem.

  • Have you worked with freelancers in the past? What worked and what failed?
  • What is the pain point you need me to solve?
  • Which competitor most closely embodies your vision?
  • What outcomes are you looking for?
  • What will be the metrics of success?
  • What’s your biggest concern about working with a freelance copywriter?
  • How do you communicate during projects?
  • What’s your budget for the project?

Every call is different and it won’t always follow the same pattern. You’ll hear the same questions repeatedly after a while. Use that to prepare for the call.

After the call, send an email to the prospect and thank them for jumping on the call with you. If they ask for specific information, include it in the email. This is the thread where you’ll communicate until they become clients.

At this point, some prospects will ask you to write a free piece for them. Say no because your portfolio exists for a reason. If they need more convincing, send them your rate sheet and explain that you’ll be charging for the trial piece.

Jacob covers the different ways freelance writers get scammed in this article.

13. Learn to Say No

Freelancing is tough, especially when you’re African.

I’ve had prospects who agreed to my pricing then changed their minds at the last minute or tried to change the terms of the agreement after signing the contract.

I’ve had prospects who said they wouldn’t pay for work until they found it satisfactory even when my contract clearly stated otherwise.

Some have tried to lowball me with a lower price than what was quoted on my rate sheet, or try to justify their actions by saying

“You live in Africa; you should be cheaper.”

To each one, I said no.

And I’ve been saying no, more than I’ve said yes in the two years since I became a freelance copywriter.

It won’t be easy. You’ll see the money and think of the bills you have to pay and the family back home depending on you for next month’s feeding.

But if you say yes today to shitty clients, you’ll cave again and never reach your financial goals.

14. Do Not Tolerate Abusive or Racist Clients

You will be hit with two types of racial abuse in your freelance career. The outright abuse and the subtle type that makes you question if it really happened.

The subtle type is bad enough, where they:

  • carelessly mispronounce your name
  • assume Africa is one big country
  • sound shocked when you speak clearly in English.
  • say stupid stuff like “you’re so smart” as if being an intelligent African makes you unique

But then there’s the real douchebags.

My first freelance client asked if I could speak English after we’d spoken on a zoom call for 30 minutes…

One prospect told me my rates were way too high and he’d find cheaper contractors in Africa who deliver more value than me at a lesser price.

I’ve put up with a ton of racial abuse because I was scared to offend clients.

Some were ignorant, and others were assholes.

It’s not your job to educate them.

These folks never turn out to be long-term clients or make you feel good about the work you’re doing.

Recognize racially abusive patterns. Let them go, so you can open pathways for better clients who deserve your skills.

15. Build Leverage Through Volume

Part of the inherent bias against African copywriters is that people expect you to charge less. Think $5-$20 for a 1,000-word blog post.

I earned less than one cent per word in my first copywriting job. To be exact, it was $500 a month writing 95,000 – 100,000 words.

Insane stuff right?

But that’s how folks in the western world continuously take advantage of African writers. We let them because we don’t know our value.

I honestly thought that $500 for 100k words was a great price until I joined some writing communities and I saw how much money folks with half my expertise were charging.

So, I left the slave trade work (disguised as an agency) and set out as a freelance copywriter.

The first prospect who reached out to me offered to pay $30 for 1,000 words. He wanted high-quality content that would go on the SEMrush blog.

For that price? I think not!

And there were more prospects who tried to take advantage of me. At the time, it was easier to say no because I had a government job with a stable income to fall back on.

But the more I grew my business and higher volume of clients I was bringing in, the less I was concerned about any given lead trying to take advantage of me.

My volume of leads and clients became my leverage to say no to underpaying clients.

There is no magic formula for getting past the color barrier. But I’ve realized that there are awesome humans who’ll work with you based on your skillset. In the same vein, there are scumbags who seek out copywriters from developing countries because it’s easier to exploit us.

Focus on the good guys. Show up on LinkedIn every day. Build your network to include your ideal target audience. Engage with prospects you want to impress and don’t be afraid to start conversations.

Most importantly, own your heritage. Never feel shame or regret about your background. You’ve got this!

This article is authored by Chima Mmeje

Want More Help Building Your Writing Business?

Hi, my name is Jacob. If you’d like more help building your writing business, I’ve put together a 2-week copywriting crash course that I think you’ll love.

Enter your email below, and I’ll send it your way.

 





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