From Teaching to Freelancing: Struggles and Wins

If there is anything the general populace struggles with in Nigeria after graduation, it is getting a good job. Added to that difficulty is my identity as a Muslimah, made apparent by my hijab – there was always something wrong. “Can you work with us without the hijab?” I got asked repeatedly.

Then, low-paying jobs are abundant where your employers want you to work like you were earning the world. I’ve worked as a teacher for multiple classes with a take-home of N25,000. I’ve worked as a primary school class teacher, where I sometimes doubled as the sports administrator/Taekwondo teacher (my skills were still top-notch) and sometimes as the school bus minder.

I’ve also worked as a teacher where I taught not just English Language to multiple classes but also ICT with a take-home of less than N35,000. This particular school had great staff welfare. The pay was small, but they made up for it in how they treated their members of staff.

I was also a teacher in another school that paid far less than the above but wanted me to deliver the world. Yet, they treated their staff like the administration could replace them with the next person who comes into the establishment looking for a job.

I have worked in different schools, different work environments, and different experiences. One thing was evident; I wanted more than that! I wanted more than what teaching gave to me. I wanted freedom, flexibility, and control over my time and how I worked. That was when I began to research and learn more about freelancing.

After a few weeks and some health issues due to my pregnancy (where my current employer couldn’t even bother to find out why I had been absent for almost a week but was preparing a suspension letter for me instead), I resigned from my teaching job, took a leap of faith and started freelancing full time.

 While freelancing may look like a rosy path to other people who are not freelancers, it does come with its struggles, especially for us here in Nigeria. I’ll touch on a few.

STRUGGLES

Freelancing struggles

1.     Power

“Up Nepa”

“Down Nepa”

“won ti muna lo” (The power supply has been interrupted)

“Power Grid has collapsed again.”

 “The feeder is faulty and will take up to 72 hours to be fixed.”

These are general terms associated with power supply that everyone is familiar with here in my country. For a freelancer, however, they feel like death sentences – they can make you go from happy to sad, they can make you lose jobs, miss meetings with clients, and even regular chat appointments.

Through video calls, you are constantly worried about when power will be interrupted. When there is no power supply, you are worried about when it will be restored and how long it will take.

In summary, when you cross the phase of the newbie freelancer, you are left with no other option but to start creating your power. Ta-Da! The Generator comes in, and if you have made much more money, you upgrade to getting an inverter. You set up a solar energy system if you have even more money.

If you don’t do any of the above – your growth as a freelancer would largely be determined by the country’s power supply.

2.     Network Data Subscription and Speed

Thank God the network has improved over the past few years but is still not very affordable. As a freelancer, you are consuming anything between 20GB to 100GB plus. Why? You will need to be online constantly. You are now different from your friends who only need a data connection for social media.

You will be taking courses to learn new skills, upgrade current skills, and just anything to continually refresh and be in the know. As a result, you are streaming large video files and downloading same. Heck, some services like video editing and maybe website development are data-consuming.

I’ve lost jobs in the past because right at the point of starting a meeting, the network would suddenly disappear. As a newbie, you may not have a separate device for network connections, so you are using your phone’s hotspot for your laptop/personal computer. A call comes in, and you are back to square one.

As you make money, you save towards getting a mi-fi from any of the major networks, or you get a universal one. If you have some extra cash, opt for wireless setups but have a mi-fi as a backup for when they disappoint. Essentially, you need to have the SIM cards of the major networks that are excellent in your area – preparing for rainy days.

You will also need to save towards data subscriptions. To do this, you need to identify what you consume averagely in a month and opt for data plans that cover that. Trust me, as a freelancer, your data subscription spending starts from N5000 upwards monthly.

3.     Receiving Payments

Oh yes! You’ve worked your ass off, and now it’s time to get the money – Problem! Other times, it is even before you work, and you end up losing the job before you even start it because there is no way to get your money.

Freelance marketplaces have set up payment systems that allow getting your pay easy but move to look for clients by yourself, and there comes a barrage of hurdles in how you get your payments. Did you say PayPal? PayPal only allows us to pay and not receive payments except if you open one by crooked means.

You may have a payment system set up, but your prospective client says that’s not a convenient one for them. You are running helter-skelter to set up one that would be a win-win for you and the client, or you give up altogether and hope the next client isn’t as selective as your current.

While payments used to be very difficult, it’s getting better with new payment platforms springing up. However, there is the issue of security, sustainability, fluctuating, and sometimes poor exchange rates for your earnings.

4.     Country’s Reputation on the Global Stage

When foreigners hear the words “Nigeria” and “Nigerians”, they think of one thing and one thing only – Scammers!

Our reputation precedes us – Nigerian prince, yahoo yahoo, g-boy, yahoo plus – are there any more terms I’m unfamiliar with?

As a freelancer, this is trouble for you. You meet a promising client and pitch your services to them. You are pretty good and have the skills they need, but they ask where you are from, and you respond, “Nigeria,” and… crickets!

While some foreigners in the global marketplace will give you the benefit of the doubt and trust you to do your job, you will get more rejections based on your nationality than anything else.

What does that mean for you?

You will have to work twice as hard than other freelancers in other countries to get noticed and be appreciated for the value you bring to the table. You also need to be extremely good at what you do.

Wrong is wrong, do not support crime in any form as crime only makes things harder for everyone.

5.     Time Difference

I thought twice about including this one, but it is a struggle, especially when you are just starting. You will meet clients from all over the world in different time zones. The difference in time zones may affect the ease of communication and your comfort.

Time differences can range from 3 hours to 10 hours. The bottom line, you will need to sacrifice some good night’s sleep to keep in touch with your clients and provide them with updates. It is also a factor to consider when pitching new clients – you won’t be getting a yes, most likely if you are pitching for a business with someone who is about to head to bed.

6.     What is it you do? Freelancer!

Similar to how we are perceived on the global stage, most Nigerians believe that once you are constantly on the laptop and claim your earnings come from there, you are into “yahoo yahoo”. You are viewed as nothing but a scammer, playing around, or you do not understand what you are doing.

It gets even worse when strangers and acquaintances ask what you do, and you say you are a freelancer. They look confused and ask you to explain, but no matter how hard you try, you can see that look on their faces where they’ve summed you up and believe you are up to no good.

Few people are open-minded about your explanations and genuinely try to understand what you do and why you are sticking with it. I’ve had a family member tell me years back that what I was doing was “a child’s play”. When I’m done playing, I’ll look for a real job.

It hurt me at that point, especially from the person it came from, but I held on to my why and kept pushing. Freelancing is like starting your business; it gets hard before it gets easy.

WINS

Yes, those are the struggles, but what about the sweet parts? Let’s take a look at the wins.

Freelancing wins

1.     Work From Home Or From Anywhere

This is one of the significant benefits of being a freelancer. You are not boxed into a specific physical office like a regular job. You primarily work from home. Other freelancers who need a bit of motivation choose to use co-working spaces.

Essentially, one can work anywhere that’s comfortable, provides you with a place to set up needed tools like your laptop primarily, and is private enough for you to focus (that depends on the individual).

2.     Work, Home, and Life Balance

One of the things working women bemoan especially is not being able to spend adequate time with their little ones before becoming grown-ups. Freelancing made it possible to work from home while I got to plan my time around my family members and home activities.

I have to tell you. It can be overwhelming sometimes as your families may find it hard to reconcile you working from home with not being available all the time. They love that you are always there and need you even when you are working. That’s also where the time freedom comes in.

You can always leave work (so long as deadlines are not approaching) to attend to the needs of your family and return at a later time.

On a Monday morning, you are not rushing out of the home to face traffic, nor worry about running late. You even have some leisure outings and engagements during the week – things a 9-5 takes away from you.

3.     Sweet Earnings!

One beauty of freelancing as a Nigerian is that your earnings come in a different currency and a higher exchange rate.

So, you may earn a few hundred dollars, but when converted to Naira, that’s five to six figures! Be careful though – many freelancers get trapped here and spend as they earn – big fail! Save and prepare for rainy days because they’ll surely come.

Also, some freelancers ignore economics and keep praying for the exchange rate to keep increasing. Inflation is doing its thing, and you assume freelancers are wealthy. Nah, inflation affects everything, it may seem like we are earning more, but we are also spending more as the prices of things do not remain the same.

A Freelancer? Yes!

Irrespective of the struggles I’ve encountered and will still face in the near future, I would still choose to freelance over and over again. It allows me to work using a schedule I’m comfortable with, and I’m my own boss, literally (I put on many hats!).

Latifat Abifarin

Latifat Abifarin

I am passionate about growth for businesses through creative and engaging content.

I specialize in creating custom, creative and engaging content for businesses. My goal is to help entrepreneurs and businesses increase their brand awareness, brand reach, visibility, and sales through creative and engaging content.

10 Responses

  1. Hi my name is mustapha but am also call kayode
    Pls I have no idea of the freelancing..pls can anyone put me through..I will love to know it and make my self useful when am less busy..I learn aluminum ..pls my WhatsApp is 09086071296 or 09152562262

  2. Freelancing is difficult and being a Nigerian freelancer is twice as difficult. freelancers from other parts of the world do not have some of these factors as challenges which makes it easier for them to excel.

    But as a Nigerian, as you have said, must work twice as hard to be successful.

    Your story is a true motivation, thank you for sharing.

  3. BaarakAllahu feeh wa feek…. I am actually inspired and I hope to be a freelancer soon…. I just need to work on myself and quit procrastinating

    1. Yes, freelancing does not discriminate against your age. However, you do need to be computer literate and also acquire a digital skill that you can offer as a freelancer.

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