Be Inspired: This 24-Year Old Nigerian Without a University Degree Makes More Than N3.5 Million a Month as a Freelance Writer

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I don’t remember for sure when and where I first read about Bamidele Onibalusi. It could have been in this 2015 Bellanaija post where he wrote about four ways to make money online. Because he is a success story in a field I am considering for a side hustle–freelance writing–I have been following his works through his blog Writers-in-Charge for the past few years. You can read more about his tale of rags-to-riches in Forbes (featured when he was only 19) and in this Huffington Post interview (2015).

Last year, I joined a closed Facebook group Bamidele created where a challenge required participants to make their first $1,000 as freelance writers in two months. Bamidele took the lead by taking up a pseudonym, not leveraging his reputation as an established writer, and solicited clients as a budding writer. Bamidele finished the challenge well before two months. Several other participants went on to establish their freelance writing careers as a result of that exercise. My other commitments did not permit me to follow through with the challenge. However, the challenge motivated me to contact and do a Skype call with partners from one of Nigeria’s top law firms about a business idea; I moved my blog to my domain name; and with Bamidele’s guidance to all participants, I got my first publication on Huffington post.

Yesterday, I got an email from Bamidele (I am only one of his 55,000 subscribers) and reading the email, I was reminded again of how far one can go if they persist in pursuing their goals. I had recently read portions of Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, a seminal work that shows that grit (:firmness of mind or spirit :unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger), not necessarily hard work, is the most essential element for success. In the email yesterday, Bamidele wrote that he made five figures last month (he lives in Nigeria but has clients in U.S. and charges in dollars). The email inspired me to reflect on my own goals. Here’s the relevant part of Bamidele’s email:

“Hey,

It’s Bamidele Onibalusi here.

It’s probably been awhile since you last heard from me: I’ve gotten emails from readers who have been missing my updates and wanted to check in to see if I am okay.

Yes, I am okay.

This year has been a very different year for me – in a good and challenging way:

First, I incorporated my offline business and took things to a whole different level (I had as many as 14 full-time employees at a point), and I have been scaling my business gradually. If you have read a bit about me, you probably know about my offline business (the catfish farming business). I took things to the next level starting late last year and got into crop farming, too. This meant I started planting yams (over 30,000 heaps), cassava, rice, maize and plantains. Managing the farm as well as my employees wasn’t easy – it takes time to get the hang of things, but I had solace in knowing that once I put a system in place I can slowly withdraw myself.These days, I don’t work at the farm as much as I did in the early days so I’m obviously doing something right. However, it is one of the major reasons I have been silent over here.

Second, schooling; I am doing a degree program in Psychology. It’s fun, and I’ve learnt so much that I blame myself for not having started sooner! However, it takes time too – especially when you decide you want to get distinctions all through (as I decided). I’ll probably finish the program early next year, though, so this will soon be out of the way.

Third, my health; this year hasn’t been the best for me health wise. My health hasn’t always been perfect, but you should see my energy! Even without the best of health, I do significantly more than very healthy people on the average day! 20-hour days have not been uncommon this year, and even on days that I do not work I usually put in more hours than people working a 9 to 5. Not because I am compelled to – by God’s grace, where I am today (thanks to income from this freelance writing thing that I’ve carefully invested into other areas), I could easily decide not to lift a finger for several years and I’d be perfectly okay. In fact, I spent the first two weeks of this year relaxing with my family, doing nothing — simply “being”. The sky didn’t fall over, and my businesses kept growing. However, I’m not gunning for “okay”; I want to be the biggest farmer in Africa and in the world, and that takes some sacrifice… which I’m more than happy to give. When there are health challenges, though, I have to put some things on the backburner even if I’d have loved to do them.

 

… I still actively freelance (just last month I pulled in five figures in income from my freelancing business – despite being busy with a host of activities). I also have really cool stuff planned for you in the coming days and weeks… especially if you are a beginner freelance writer, so you can stay tuned for that.”

Now, the exchange rate from Nigeria naira to U.S. dollar is about N350 to a dollar. If he made five figures, (I know it’s in dollars because I have been following his works and that is closer to what he regularly makes; also he writes for an international audience and so uses American currency as references) that’s at least $10,000 he made in September. That’s how I came to the N3.5m in the title of this post.

As you may have gleaned from his email, Bamidele has qualities that set him up for success. Having followed his works for a while, here are five lessons I have learned from Bamidele on how to be a success story.

Never Give Up

Like Linda Ikeji, Africa’s richest blogger who blogged for more than five years before earning money from writing, Bamidele blogged for at least two years before he made it. As we marvel at his success, it may be easy to forget all the hard work he did in the early years of his career. He succeeded because of his persistence. If Bamidele had given up at any point before his big break, he would not have been the success story he is today. In his quest for success, Bamidele wrote 270 guest posts in one year! He also wrote 30 posts in one particular week. Even though it looked at the time like his efforts were worthless, they did eventually pay off beyond his imagination.

Just like the Chinese bamboo tree I wrote about here, which doesn’t show much sign of growth until much later, all the efforts we make do add up in the long run. If this is true, and if it is also true that we have no crystal ball to determine when we will get our big break, quitting at anytime could be likened to digging for treasure underground, going several feet in, and giving up when the treasure is mere inches away, not knowing that removing a little more dirt will reveal the prize. So Bamidele’s story has taught me to never give up, and that grit is more important than hard work.

Quit Making Excuses

Bamidele started freelance writing around 2010 when internet service was still unstable and a luxury in Nigeria. He wrote from a computer center. He could have easily given up on his goal because of poor network and the money he spent pursuing a goal he wasn’t certain at the time would yield results.  When his freelancing career eventually took off, he wasn’t deterred from writing for American clients even though English is not his first language. He didn’t give up when he realized that PayPal is not supported in Nigeria. His resourcefulness led him to figure out how to produce content comparable to that of native speakers and to find other alternatives for receiving payment for services he provided. Despite the challenges he faces working from Nigeria, Bamidele is more successful than most freelance writers in the U.S.

Confidence

You may have noticed that in real world, it is not always those who excel in school who go on to be the most successful. In my experience, people with type-A personalities, (You know, the confident, aggressive, ambitious, proactive, highly organized, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, preoccupied with his status, time-conscious, workaholic who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence (thanks Wikipedia) and most-likely-to -get-an-MBA type) are more likely to succeed.

An otherwise intelligent hardworking person may not be as successful as Bamidele if they were not as confident as he is. The tone of his email above gives a glimpse into his personality. Bamidele is among the most sought-after freelance writers because he is confident in his skills and has somehow managed to convince us that he is an authority in freelance writing. And he knows his onions. Even when he was still coming up, Bamidele started a blog aimed at telling writers how to become successful bloggers. It took confidence for him to know his worth and establish himself as an authority. He  charges premium rates and command more rates than some writers who are more experienced than he is. I am not the most confident person but seeing how Bamidele exudes confidence and even toots his own horn where necessary,  I now remind myself that no U.S. president (arguably the most difficult job in the world) had experience on the job before they assumed that role. So I have learned to be more confident in my abilities.

Giving Back

Most successful people have passion for helping others which is usually how they achieved success in the first place. Amazon is dominating retail because of Jeff Bezos’ commitment to making the company earth’s most customer-eccentric business. Bill Gates of Microsoft spends most of his money on philanthropy. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has committed to give away 99% of his wealth.  Selflessness underlines the success of these innovators.

In his own way, Bamidele is giving back to the writing community by showing writers, among other things, how to charge what they are truly worth and not settle for peanuts. He committed his time and other resources to run the Facebook challenge for free last year and I can tell you that till now, testimonies keep coming on the page from people who have successfully established freelance writing careers because of his guidance during the challenge. So Bamidele has shown by example that we succeed more when we bring others along with us.

I Already Have What It Takes

Sometimes, fear keeps us from getting what we want. We tell ourselves that we need to get that certification, that degree, that connection etc, before we can succeed. Bamidele pursued a freelance writing career without having a university education. (He is getting a higher education now). I imagine there are many of us who have postgraduate degrees who still feel they are not sufficiently equipped to succeed. Bamidele’s example shows us that we are more competent that we realize; that success is more a function of our attitude than our aptitude.

Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’tyou‘re right.’
I agree with him.

I hope Bamidele’s story inspires you like it inspired me.

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2 thoughts on “Be Inspired: This 24-Year Old Nigerian Without a University Degree Makes More Than N3.5 Million a Month as a Freelance Writer

  1. Bamidele’s story has really inspired me. Yes I can! Thanks Anne. You have always pushed me to take steps without looking back through your writings. Keep doing the good work.

    Like

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