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Oni’s Inspiring Story: How This Nigerian Writer Built a Successful Online Business from Scratch

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When Nigerian writer and blogger Bamidele Onibalusi started his online business in 2009, he had limited funds and no access to electricity, let alone an Internet connection. Throw in the fact that he’s from Nigeria, a country known for Internet scams, and most would agree he was fighting an uphill battle.

But Bamidele didn’t let any of that stop him from venturing into freelance writing and blogging. He found a way around his money and electricity issues by partnering with a local café owner to get access to a computer and a web connection. And when people doubted his credibility because he was from Nigeria, he stayed professional and delivered superior content that proved he was the real deal.

Today, Bamidele makes a great living as a freelance writer, earning four, sometimes five figures per month. His website, WritersinCharge.com, is hugely popular, with some posts garnering hundreds of thousands of page views. He’s also been featured on sites such as Forbes, Huffington Post, and Digital Journal.

Needless to say, Bamidele’s story is incredibly inspiring. So you could just imagine how thrilled and honored I was when he agreed to do an interview with me. In our chat, Bamidele and I discussed his writing/blogging career and I asked him to share his words of wisdom for other writers. Read through it below and you’ll learn:

  • How Bamidele started his writing career
  • How he landed his first client
  • The rates that he charges
  • His biggest challenges as a freelance writer/blogger (and how he overcomes them)
  • His advice for aspiring writers who lack the confidence to go after top-notch clients or projects

Check out our conversation below:

bamideleHi Bamidele, could you please tell us a bit more about yourself and how you got started freelance writing?

I’m Bamidele Onibalusi, a young entrepreneur and freelance writer from Nigeria. I got into freelance writing accidentally in 2010: I heard that it was possible to make money online, so I started blogging. After blogging for a whole year and barely making money, I got my first client and soon had my first four figure month. This made me realize the potential of freelance writing, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you land that first client?

I got my first client through my blog. I’ve gotten a few offers before but never took them seriously, because I had always assumed that freelance writing is the kind of job people bid for on sites like oDesk and Elance, and that it pays pittance. When my first potential client reached out through my blog, I asked him what he had in mind — including how much he was willing to pay. I happily jumped at the opportunity to work with him when I heard what he had to offer.

And the fact that you’re in Nigeria never became an issue with this client, or anyone else? If it did become a concern, how did you deal with it?

It’s rarely ever been an issue. Before I got my first client, I’ve written for some very big blogs including Problogger, ReadWriteWeb and Business Insider. This established my credibility, and my first client (and many clients after) made reference to this when they discuss my services.

I’ve had to deal with a client who wasn’t respectful enough probably because I’m a non-native English writer; he was asking me to prove myself, etc. I eventually had to let him go.

I believe an advantage I’ve always had was my blog. Clients came in regularly, so it is easy to ignore those who are prejudiced against me or those who are not ready to take me seriously. That said, I’ve published articles — and eventually been featured — in some really great publications, so that helped my reputation and credibility.

How did you set your rates? Did you just go with what your first client had in mind?

Yes, I went with what my first client had in mind. Back then, I would have been extraordinarily happy if he offered $30 – $40 per article. He offered $100, so I simply went with what he had in mind.

Have you raised your rates since then? How did you communicate it with your clients?

I’ve since raised my rates, and I’ve charged as much as ten times that amount per article several times. Now, generally, I don’t work at less than $250 per article and I charge client $.30 to $.35 per word on average. It all depends on my availability and several factors.

Often times, I don’t have to raise rates with old clients since new clients keep coming in. I just tell new clients my rates. If I tell an old client my new rate and he doesn’t agree with it, I simply end the relationship if I feel it won’t benefit me anymore.

How does your payment process work, do you charge a partial or the full amount upfront?

Here’s how the payment process works: I usually charge 100 percent upfront for the first few projects. If they aren’t very comfortable with that, I charge 50 percent upfront. Once our relationship is established, I can decide to get paid after work: since they’ve proven that payment won’t be an issue, and if they pay on time, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Sometimes, I break this rule and don’t charge new clients upfront at all: it depends on the nature of work, how much I feel I can trust them and my instincts generally. It’s very rare this happens, but I’ve found it’s safer to stick to my process.

Is your blog your main source of clients? Or do you implement other marketing strategies?

Yes, it is. I’ve experimented with other strategies, too: for example, I embarked on a cold pitching experiment last year and landed a major client. I’ve also gotten a number of referral clients from others.

Other than that, or occasionally for the sake of experimenting, I get majority of my clients from my blog.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a freelance writer?

Hmmm… here’s it in order of importance:

  1. I’ve easily had five figure months, but some months I struggle not because there aren’t opportunities but because I don’t have enough motivation to work. As freelance writers, our income is related to how much work we can do. My biggest struggle has been with motivation; when I am motivated, I earn big. When I’m not, my income suffers.
  2. My projects suffer: When I have a lot of client work, it’s easy to lose track of my own projects. My blog, other projects, etc. They all suffer sometimes due to lack of focus.

How do you deal with these challenges?

I’ll be lying if I said I have a permanent solution, especially to problem #2. However, I use the same process to deal with both challenges: I set goals and prepare a schedule. I then let myself know that sticking to this schedule isn’t a matter of will or want, but something I have to do.

It’s not always been easy, but it works. For example, I recently used this to motivate myself to work on a almost 30,000 words project for one of my clients within 2 weeks.

It also helps if I have a major goal: For example, my farm. I have some expansion goals for it and this needs money. Naturally, if I don’t work there won’t be money so I have to work. These kind of goals motivate me to work more than anything else.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers? Particularly those who lack confidence because they’re not from developed countries like the US, Canada, UK, etc?

Yes, I do:

  1. Be confident: I get MANY emails from non-native English writers who are afraid clients won’t take them serious. Often, it is in their heads. They haven’t even tried. I believe they’ll get great results if they start focusing on what value they can offer to clients instead of where they are from.
  2. Build social proof: Even if you’re a native English writer, things won’t necessarily be easy. I know countless native English writers who can’t charge a fraction of the rates I’ve charged, so it is not all about being in the US, Canada, UK, etc. Sometimes, social proof can make a lot of difference. Look for really big blogs and publications and get featured on them. And don’t tell me you can’t: if you’re a writer and can’t get published on one or two major blogs/publications, then do you really have anything of value to offer clients?
  3. Be Tenacious: Rejections will happen, and people will ridicule you. Instead of seeing it as something that has to do with your race/nationality, see it is a challenge that requires you to prove yourself. Be resolute, and don’t give up no matter what.

Key takeaways

Hopefully you were able to pick up some actionable insights from our interview above. Bamidele provided tons of excellent nuggets, and some of my favorites include:

  • Get into guest posting. It’s a great way to build credibility and social proof. Plus you can get great portfolio pieces while you’re at it.
  • Commit to your writing goals. If you lack motivation, get yourself on a schedule and stick to it. Also, don’t let naysayers kill your motivation. View rejections or ridicule as challenges to prove yourself.
  • Don’t get too caught up in your disadvantages (ex: not being a native English speaker). As Bamidele puts it, you’ll get great results if you focus on the value you can offer rather than where you’re from or what you can’t do.

Your turn

What did you think of the interview above? Got your own inspiring story to tell? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Francesca Nicasio

  • It was awesome to see Bamidele here. I’ve followed his blog and derived helpful advice from it for close to two years now 🙂

    His story is inspirational – Thanks for doing the interview Francesca! The one major negotiation tactic I’ve repeatedly encountered in freelancing articles is focusing on value the businesses derive from your services.

    But most times, businesses aren’t comfortable sharing numbers (so that I can calculate the ROI). Any advice on that?

    • Hi Chintan, I think the best way to calculate ROI is to see what price their product/service is selling at, and then show them how much traffic the article can drive, at what percentage it may convert and roughly how many sales they can expect in the long-run…

      You don’t need their real numbers to do this. Create a believable hypothesis to explain your point. Show them how much value they can get. Focus on the results. This may actually make them share their real numbers with you. Hope this helps!

      • Hi Mustafa,

        Thank you for your answer. I do hypothesise and use industry standards for calculations (where possible). That’s how I managed to close one client 🙂 I’ve two concerns:

        1. What if I don’t know the products/services the business is selling from the content? This has happened with me – there is no product or service the client website lists.

        2. I’ve got an argument from two clients stating that traffic isn’t directly related to my writing efforts. Rather it depends on how much money and efforts go into promotions. And I believe this point is difficult to counter. Your thoughts?

        • Hi Chintan,

          Yes, like what Mustafa said, running hypothetical numbers could work. Additionally, if you have a solid ROI numbers from your other clients, you could use those as case studies.

          Regarding your follow up questions:

          1. I don’t understand how a company would have a website and not be clear about what they’re offering. If they don’t discuss their products/services, then what do they talk about on their website?

          Personally, I would be wary of companies that don’t talk about their products/services. I don’t think I’d want to work with them in the first place.

          Instead, I would go after companies that have a clear business model.

          2. It’s true that content alone isn’t always enough to generate traffic. Content promotion is also critical to driving page views/engagement.

          That said, unless you offer content promotion services, then this shouldn’t be a big concern for you. As a freelance writer, your job is to produce kick-ass content. You set a price on your services, and the client decides if they can work that into their budget.

          It’s then up to the client to promote that content and ensure that they’re able to get the most out of what you’ve written.

          On a separate note, if you find yourself haggling over ROI, content promotion, etc., I would suggest that you look for clients who already know the value of great content. I’m referring to larger, more mature businesses that are familiar with content marketing, demand gen, etc.

          They’re way easier to work with.

          • Thanks for your response Francesca 🙂

            1. Brands can use content marketing to establish credibility and build an audience. Look at Red Bull. They’re an energy drink, but they’re known for their content over anything else.

            A blog might also help in sustaining personal brand value for individuals with a high net worth.

            2. I offer content promotion. But for ghostwriting gigs, the client takes care of all the marketing.

            Yes, mature businesses have huge marketing budgets and would pay more. But irrespective of the scale, I like getting involved with the businesses I work – understanding how a project affects their bottom line and quote my price on the basis of that 🙂 I read a great article by Brennan Dunn on pricing for consultants – http://doubleyourfreelancing.com/value-price-or-value-anchor/

  • What a wonderful success story! 🙂 Congratulations!!!

  • Very inspirational story. Well done to Bamidele!

    • Yep, he’s an amazing guy. I’m so glad he agreed to do the interview!

  • manish

    Inspiration for non-native writers.

    • Yep. As a non-native English speaker myself, I could relate to some of Bamidele’s experiences.

  • Inspiring interview, Francisca. This just goes on to show that any limits and boundaries that we have are set by ourselves. It’s all in the mind. You need to think big to do big.

    Freelance writers need to go out there and hustle to realize how big the world is, instead of slaving off on content mills that don’t realize your worth and seriously under-pay you.

    • “It’s all in the mind. You need to think big to do big.” –Yep. Mindset plays a HUGE role in freelance writing success (or any endeavor for that matter.) My income only started to increase once I realized that there are clients willing to pay top dollar for content. Had I not shifted my thoughts, I would’ve been stuck writing for peanuts.

  • Julie

    Thanks Bamidele and Francisca. Great interview, I’ve learned a lot. Mostly that I shouldn’t let anything stop me from achieving my freelance writing dreams.

  • I’ve been lucky enough to have some first-hand experience with Bamidele’s wisdom, and I can honestly say he is a great inspiration. When I was planning to suck it up and stop writing, I emailed Bamidele about it.

    He took the time to talk to me. He communicated to me a little about what I should do, and assure me of his own troubles that he’d faced starting out.

    While I’m still not excelling, and have yet to beat my 4-figure month record (or come close), I’m a much more confident business professional for it. Bamidele is truly an unsung hero to a lot of beginner writers, myself include.

    Thanks Francesca for the post. Hopefully more aspiring writers could benefit from you both!

    • Hi Jake, it’s easy to give up as a writer, especially when things are going slow. But reaching out to inspiring people like Bamidele can and will make a huge difference. The bottom line is: go out there and network as much as you can with bright minds in the writing world and some of their brightness is bound to rub off on you 🙂

  • Diane Cecilia de la Cruz

    Thank you, Bamidele and Francesca. I’ve been a subscriber of both of your blogs for quite some time now. I’ve been skirting around the idea of submitting guest posts. My fear of rejection has always been my biggest obstacle. Today, I’m going to start pitching my ideas to blog owners. This blog post gives me a much-needed dose of encouragement and inspiration.

  • Ely

    Hi Francesca,

    Thanks for putting up this interview.

    I’ve been following Oni’s blog for quite a while now. Needless to say, he’s totally an inspiration. I’m an ESL writer from the Philippines, so guys like Oni (and you) tend to become my heroes 🙂

    What really strikes me with Oni, though, is that he takes the time to talk to everyone, I believe. He’s gotten famous, a lot busier and all, but I can see his willingness to help others. I know because he has responded to my emails–even if my questions were then superficial. To me, nothing beats that kind of “reaching out,” the heart to help out.

  • dandollars

    Bamidele is my country man. His story is very great. We are all encouraged by it, especially helps peeps to look beyond the perceived erroneous prejudice people tend to have about Nigeria and online scam.

    And by way, Nigeria is not known for online scams as you say. Every country have their share of bad eggs, try checking online scam stats and you’d be surprised at what you’ll find.

    All the same, great interview. Good work. I’m glad I’m asking many of my students to join your mailing list and download your book.

  • Rajani K

    Very useful tips and inspirational post.. Sometimes I lost focus may be due to stress and other things. Planning a schedule really works at that time.. Maintaining more clients needs good planning indeed. I think having one or two good clients is much better option than having more..Ya they must be paying good.

  • MaliQue_NG™

    Thanks Francesca for this wonderful interview, Bamidele is one person i really cherish and adore in the freelance writing space. I was really looking forward to the question of how he process payments as Nigerian’s are blacklisted from most of the international payment gateways (paypal and the likes), This is a major pain in the ass as there are still few Nigerians out there who venture into ethical and legitimate online businesses. BTW i love Blog, looking forward to starting one soonest.

  • Hey Francesca! Thanks for posting this interview! It’s always inspiring to read about non-US/UK/CA based writers succeed in the realm of freelance writing.

    Seeing as many successful freelance writers I know of are based on one of those three countries, I find it hard to believe sometimes that a non-native English speaker/writer like me can succeed. So kudos to Oni Bamidele for making it and inspiring others that they can do the same!