On the 2nd of June, 2016, I floated the idea of doing a challenge in which I go from scratch — without using my existing influence and resources — and earn $1,000 monthly as a freelance writer within two months. The idea was overwhelmingly welcomed, with over 400 people expressing interest in the challenge in a matter of days!
I finally kick-started the challenge on the 25th of July, 2016, and I gave myself until the 25th of September, 2016 (approximately two months) to earn my first $1,000. How did I fare? Very well! I did really well because I exceeded the challenge goal in 37 days, and that’s by following just one week (out of eight) of the challenge strategy I outlined.
When I announced in the Facebook group that the challenge has succeeded, lots of people were excited. The announcement post currently has 173 likes — showing that excitement in the group is still as high as when the challenge started:
The challenge officially ended Yesterday. By the time the challenge ended, I have closed $2,480 in freelance writing projects.
That said, I think my success in this challenge is VERY relevant for several reasons. I’m a no-excuses guy, and I believe there’s absolutely no excuses for failing in life. Just read the Forbes article I was featured in and you’ll see what I mean: at sixteen, from one of the world’s poorest countries — with very poor internet access and good electricity — I kickstarted my online career. There were a lot of struggles, but I didn’t give up. I was determined to make things work, and thank God they did!
When I announced this challenge, I got a series of comments including the one below:
Basically, for those who can’t see the image, it is from a reader who was asking if I’d be using a white-sounding name — since I’ll be using a pen name. Now, this comment made something clear: no matter what, we will always give excuses for not trying.
Does white privilege exist? YES. Do I care? NO.
I know “white privilege” exists (no doubt about that!) because I’ve managed enough ghostwriting campaigns for clients, and I’ve gauged responses from my outreaches (even to the same people!) to see that having a white-sounding name is an advantage.
That said, I don’t care.
Without going into a lot of irrelevant details that has nothing to do with this challenge or your success as a freelance writer, I built myself as a successful freelance writer (earning more in a month than many people in “developed” countries will earn in a quarter!) as BAMIDELE ONIBALUSI. Did I add that I also started at 16? From Nigeria no less! Yeah, I’m sure nothing about “Bamidele Onibalusi” is white-sounding any way I look at it. It got me on Forbes, Huffington Post, Fast Company, etc, and it hasn’t stopped me from charging clients $1,000+ per article.
The world is not fair: men are currently advantaged over women, there’s the issue of “white privilege,” and many people completely write off people from certain country in certain professions (just try to be a freelance writer from India to see what I mean!). Is it fair? NO. Does it hinder your success? Not in the slightest!
Due to Natalie’s comment, and the perceived unfairness many people claim exists, as well as comments I will get about “white privilege” if I used a “white-sounding” name, I used the pseudonym Joseph Ola. Joseph is my middle name (I’m Christian!), and “Ola” is a shortened form of “Oladale,” a Nigerian Yoruba name. I simply invoiced clients as “Joseph Ola Onibalusi” to avoid legal complications that might come from using a pseudonym to get paid while working for clients — all technically legal! More importantly, I made it crystal clear that I’m from Africa — and I definitely don’t look white in my picture. Here’s a screenshot of my bio on one of the sites I wrote for (which pays me $150 per article btw, despite the fact that I’m from “Africa”).
I also made it crystal clear on the about page I set up for my writer website that I’m from AFRICA.
The fact that I’m not white, or that I’m from the “third world,” did not stop me from achieving more than double the challenge goal in time.
More importantly, and you can quote me anywhere, I’ve come to find out that the reason many freelance writers fail is because of fear, incompetence or biases we develop and try to project to others. Those aren’t the only reasons. There’s also the issue of know-how: which was what I aimed to address with this challenge. Other than that, EVERYTHING else is just an excuse, or something you personally need to work on — again, quote me anywhere!
On a different note, the other day Carol Tice published an article on her blog addressed to ESL (English as a Second Language) writers. While the tone of the article is a bit harsh, I’m with Carol on most of her points (not that you CAN’T succeed as an ESL writer, but that you SHOULDN’T expect to get paid with mediocre skills. It’s that simple.). I’m an an ESL writer myself and strongly attest to the fact that ESL writers, writers who don’t have white-sounding names (such as “Tin,” “Monique,” etc, who are seeing success since joining the challenge), can succeed. Is it going to be easy for you? Definitely not. But success is possible, and this challenge proves it.
So, going back to the point I made earlier, I think this challenge is doubly important because:
1. I did it with nothing — no name, connection or existing clients/resources. I indeed started from scratch.
2. I did it as an African. Now, if a guy from Nigeria in Africa can do it, what excuse(s) do you have?
Without further ado, let’s go into the specifics of my success. What worked for me and what didn’t? You can find a breakdown below.
Exactly What I Did to Achieve the Challenge Goal and Earn $2,480 in 60 Days
One of the first things I did after announcing the challenge was to outline a strategy for earning $1,000 in 60 days. As I will later reveal (in the Facebook group), the challenge was designed to make it impossible to fail. The strategy was much more sophisticated than is necessary — and that was intentional. The strategy I prepared, if rigidly followed, is more of a $10,000+ strategy instead of a $1,000 strategy: there are also differences in niches, and it had to account for that. There’s NO WAY you can follow that strategy exactly as I outlined it and fail. Absolutely no way. Isn’t that the point of a strategy anyway?
Due to a few commitments on my part, and seeing that it isn’t even necessary, I decided not to follow the challenge strategy to the T. Instead, I only followed the first week of the strategy. Here are the exact things I did:
1. I niched and created my writer website; I chose the tech niche, and niching made things much easier for me. Many argue against niching, but choosing the tech niche made things easier for me. I followed the exact steps I outlined in this article.
I also created social media profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I created an About.me page, too.
2. I got a sample article published; I decided to get a free sample article published on HuffPost, and I used this as social proof for potential clients. That was the only free article I wrote; generally, I recommend no less than three samples. Due to HuffPost being highly authoritative, it served well.
3. I joined most of the sites on my list of sites that are upwork alternatives — since I did this as an African, from Nigeria, it didn’t turn out well. Some of the sites did not accept my registration, and I got no job from the ones that did.
4. I did the above three steps to build my “foundation.” Once that is in place, I actively sought clients that will hire me. Here are the actions I took:
- I applied to one job offer on freelance job boards (specifically the Problogger jobs board). I mostly found poor job offers that were irrelevant to my niche or that offered ridiculous pay, so I didn’t really do much of this. I also started seeing results after sending a few cold pitches so I decided not to apply to jobs on freelance job boards any more.
- I pitched four sites that pay writers (three from my lists). Two responded. One commissioned me to write two articles at $150 each (for a total of $300). The other (which pays $50 per article) asked for a follow up on my idea and hasn’t responded since.
- I sent a total of 134 cold pitches, I got a total of 11 responses and I landed four clients from my cold pitches. That’s me basically closing deals with a third of the people that responded.
- A client reached out to me through my writer website, commissioned four articles for $200 at $50 each and has made me a regular writer to be contributing articles regularly at $50 per article.
A Quick Breakdown
Without further ado, here’s a quick breakdown of how this all went down:
TOTAL NUMBER OF CLIENTS: 6
- Four clients from my cold pitches. One client by pitching a site from my list of sites that pay writers. One client reached out to me through my writer website.
- Two of the clients are backup software companies, one is a security software company, one is a business software review company, one is an invoicing company and the final one is a popular blog with over 10 million monthly readers.
NATURE OF WORK
- Six articles written for clients under my name — two have been published and the others are scheduled.
- Two blog were posts ghostwritten
- Two guest were posts ghostwritten
- A project involves recurring work of two blog posts and two guest posts monthly (for a total of $800 monthly).
PAY PER CLIENT/WORK
- For the blog posts on the top blog, I charged $150 per article. That’s $300 for two articles.
- For the ghostwritten articles, I charged one client $80 and another $100. That’s a total of $180.
- For the ghostwritten guest posts, I charged one client $400 per article and the other $300 per article. That’s a total of $700.
- I charged the client that reached out to me $50 per article — to be published under my name. That’s $200 for four articles commissioned.
- The $800 monthly project I mentioned earlier involves two blog posts and two guest posts monthly.
- In terms of actual cash in hand, I’ve been paid $1,030 at the time of writing this. The other payments are a bit delayed due to payment terms agreed upon with a few clients.
- I’ve so far written 14 articles for a total of $2,180, and a client hired me to create a content marketing strategy for them at $300. When I did the maths, for the articles, that’s effectively an average of $155 per article. This is nothing to sneeze at for a beginner; I’ll do a more specific breakdown for what each article entails soon.
At the end of the day, the idea behind this challenge is to ensure consistent monthly income and not just one-off income. I think I’m on track:
- The client that pays $50 per article is giving me an opportunity to write as many articles as I want. With the look of things, I could easily do 10 articles and earn $500 monthly with this client. That said, I won’t — since I can command more as myself (Bamidele) and that will be shortchanging myself. I’ve proved my point already.
- The other two clients that I ghost wrote guest posts for promised recurring work, that will exceed $1,000 in monthly income. One already commissioned an $800 monthly project that should start next month. The other most likely will do the same.
- I basically have unlimited opportunity to pitch to the top blog that pays me $150 per article. Pitching two articles a month will easily net me $300 per month from them — I can earn more than this if I want.
The above are the only sure sources of recurring income so far, and they will put me above $1,000 in monthly recurring income. GOAL ACHIEVED.
However, the premise of this challenge is to prove that beginners can do this, and I’ve done so: I charged way lower than I’d have charged as myself, and it won’t be sustainable — or wise — for me to continue doing so. I’ll do a few more of these projects to keep income consistent for a few months — as proof that this is truly a recurring $1,000+ monthly income and not some one-off thing, then I will pull a plug on the projects or try to negotiate higher rates. If I go the latter route, I will keep you updated.
What Matters Most
I have never really doubted that I will succeed at this challenge; while I won’t reveal specifics, as it is now, I (as Bamidele Onibalusi) comfortably earn five figures in freelance writing income monthly. The likelihood of me succeeding at this challenge has at least been at 99 percent from the start. What mattered most to me, however, was seeing other beginners succeed. Seeing comments like this one from people like Henry Tamale Words:
“You really are God Sent! You helped me achieve in 60 days, what I had failed to achieve in 3 years”
Or seeing success stories like the ones below posted in the group (from people who haven’t earned a real income before this challenge):
See, with comments like the above (oh, and there are more! And that’s not counting the people who decided not to comment.), even if I die right now I know that I’ve made an impact!
That brings about the end of the challenge.
Where Do We Go From Here
One question I was asked a lot during the challenge is what happens after — especially for people who couldn’t join due to one responsibility or the other. I was also asked by some to create a resource/product out of this challenge that they can always refer to or use at their own convenience.
My experience in product creation has taught me a serious lesson, though: if there’s no demand for it, DON’T create it. This challenge was a massive success because people overwhelmingly wanted it. How about a product aimed at helping people earn their first $1,000 as a freelance writer? Well, you never know. I surveyed members of the group and so far here’s what I got:
90.3 percent voted “Yes,” and 9.7 percent voted “No.” What is your vote? Express your interest by signing up at YourFirstOneThousand.com. I’ll only create a resource/product out of this if there is enough demand.
I’ve been asked a few questions about what will happen now that the challenge is over. Below are my answers:
1. What happens after the challenge? Will I do another challenge soon?
Answer: NO. I think I’ve proved all I need to prove, and I most likely won’t do another challenge anytime soon. That said, I’ll keep the profile I created active; sometimes I’ll want to experiment with things like raising rates, etc, from a beginner standpoint and I will use that profile to prove my point.
2. Will I be creating a resource out of the challenge?
Answer: It depends. A few people have asked me to create a sort of resource — ebook, course, etc. — out of the challenge that can serve as a more comprehensive roadmap for people who want to earn their first $1,000. Whether I’ll create this depends on demand; it’s been a while since I created new a new product here due to an increasingly busy schedule (and there’s demand for more of my products!). Seeing the success of, and response to, the challenge, I’d definitely love for my next product to be about how to earn your first $1,000 as a freelance writer. Again, whether I do this or not depends on interest. If this sounds interesting to you, you can signify your interest here: YourFirstOneThousand.com
3. What happens to the Facebook group created to the community?
Answer: It was tough contemplating this. I’m not a social person, and I created the group because I felt it will be the best way to help as many people as possible benefit from the challenge. It was — there were lots of success stories, friendships were made, people got results and countless people said it is the best group they’ve ever been in.
To be honest, I had initially planned to kill the group after the challenge ends. I wanted to stick to the goal and kill the group after the challenge is over, but I can’t bear to. I can’t bear to kill the memories created in the group, and I can’t bear to kill the community that has developed as a result of the group. I will keep it.
However, it is a secret group now and new members won’t easily be able to join. The only way in is to get someone from the group to invite you; there are over 1,900 members, so maybe you could get someone to invite you.
4. What has changed since I started as a freelance writer?
Answer: The aim of this challenge is to see if I’ve been out of touch with the reality of beginner freelance writers. Naturally, an important question to address is if anything has changed since I started six years ago.
My answer might surprise you: NOTHING has changed. I didn’t get my clients on Snapchat or any other latest social media fad. I got them through plain old email — mostly via cold pitching. The top blog I mentioned (that pays $150 per article) was first featured in my list of sites that pay writers about four years ago.
Nothing has changed.
Yes, it takes having the right strategy to succeed. That’s a given, but nothing has changed.
5. Which part of the process do you see as the most challenging or might be the most challenging to newbies?
Answer: The most challenging part is getting social proof, and getting your first client. It’s hard to get your first client, but having social proof makes it easy. It’s hard to get social proof, though. Very few people want to give you a chance when you’re a “nobody.” Thankfully, this challenge helped at least 100 people (that I can see through the Facebook group — possibly much more outside of the group) get social proof. Many got on Huffington Post, some got on Engadget, and others got on other major blogs.
6. Is being from a certain race/color/country preventing people from succeeding?
Answer: No. Some people are naturally more advantaged than others — whether due to looks, gender, height, race or other factors. That’s life. It has always been so and it will always be so. Get over it. If your race or skin color or whatever else is your excuse for not succeeding as a freelance writer, then I can’t say much about your prospects. I’ll also recommend changing that attitude to succeed in anything else in life.
7. How can I get support from you regarding the challenge/earning my first $1,000 as a freelance writer?
Answer: I’m afraid my answer isn’t what you’re expecting. I’ll only respond to people in the group (when I’m able to — thanks to a very busy schedule). If you didn’t join this time around, I assume you have your reasons. I have an increasingly limited time, so there’s currently no guaranteed way to get a response/support from me. If I do create a product around this based on demand, those who buy it would naturally get support — as I’ll be obligated to give them support. You can express interest here if this is something you’d like to see: YourFirstOneThousand.com
8. What was your biggest regret during this challenge?
Answer: Not hopping on a call with a potential client that requested it. If I had, the challenge goal will have been met within the second week of starting. I didn’t, and it cost me the gig. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone!