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Challenging the Traditional Career Choice: Kenyan Freelancers’ Struggles

Photo by Brandy Kennedy from Unsplash

The unemployment rate in Kenya is staggering not because young people don’t have the skills required, but because there are only so many opportunities that can cater to the 50 000 graduands churned from public and private universities annually.

The challenge of unemployment has birthed a different line of work that previously wasn’t an option at all; freelancing. Somewhere in between closed doors and banging others to open, the gods of employment saw the struggles of Kenyan youths and opened up countless opportunities in the online marketplace. Many dived deep into this gold mine. Graphic designers, content writers, virtual assistants, transcribers, academic writers, digital marketers, copywriters, and SEO experts found a haven online. 

On the surface, versatility and flexible work schedules make freelancing hotcake. However, when you dig deep into the nitty-gritty of making a successful career out of it, the sheer number of challenges will blow your mind.

So, what exactly do Kenyan freelancers go through to bring that dollar home? 

Longer working hours

When one starts freelancing, there’s a notion that being your own boss comes with the privilege of doing as you please. Well, this fantasy is usually short-lived, as you soon realize that there’s more to freelancing than what meets the eyes. 

Sometimes your body is in overdrive, and you feel energized to keep working and working and working some more. This is okay because they’ll be days you won’t feel like lifting a finger. 

Other times, freelancers work for long hours because their clients are in different time zones. On other occasions, the long hours are because of taking too much work that one can hardly deliver on time.  

Longer working hours translate to little time for self-care, family, and social life. If one is not careful, freelancing can completely cut you off from the outside world. 

Finding clients

The biggest challenge you’ll ever experience is finding clients. There are many freelancing sites to find jobs, but when you don’t have work samples to show what you can offer, landing your first client can be long, tedious, and discouraging. 

When pitching for gigs, selling skills, which most of us don’t have, is paramount to articulate one’s expertise. The majority will fumble around, failing to explain the value they offer clients and ultimately fail to secure worthwhile projects. Many beginners give up barely one month into freelancing. 

Lack of steady work

Whether you are a transcriber, graphic designer, data entry assistant, content writer, or virtual assistant, there are high and low moments. Today, you might have a fully packed schedule, and tomorrow you don’t have any projects. This is what freelancers refer to as feast and famine. 

Self-discipline

Lack of self-discipline is the reason one will watch the whole Bridgerton series in one sitting or read through social media posts without a care in the world while there’s work to be done. Lack of self-discipline is the undoing of most freelancers. 

Self-discipline allows you to take a break when you should and resume work when it’s time. It guides you to say no to things that don’t add value to your work. Self-discipline helps you go beyond the distractions and focus on your goals.

The responsibility that comes with this being your own boss can be overwhelming. Click To Tweet
Time management

On the surface, being your boss sounds appealing. However, in practice, the responsibility that comes with this privilege can be overwhelming. While being online is always great, it has its downfall. The appealing headlines will beckon you to click blog posts that have the least value to your work, and before you know it, you’ve spent hours flipping through internet gossip. Pop up social media messages is not making the situation any easier.

Poor time management leads to late work delivery, which can cause you to lose clients. Again, poor time management will derail you from meeting the needs of your work schedule. You’ll carry forward work, delay appointments, and become stagnant in your career. 

Low payment

Kenyan freelancers struggle to secure well-paying clients in different industries. The market is competitive, and there are many freelancers out there with A-game. This problem is further compounded by the fact that the various platforms charge a service fee for every job done. As if this is not enough, you’ll find companies seeking free services in return for your ‘exposure’. 

On the flip side, the low payment is our own doing because we quote peanuts in our proposals. It’s difficult to pay someone more when they don’t know their worth. 

The low payment is discouraging, especially for beginners. But like with any other job, that’s the starting point. The situation gets better with time. 

Late payment

It’s one thing to get little payment and another when this payment is late. Some clients pay late because of simple disorganization. Others delay payment because their finances are held up. Then, others deliberately delay payment just because they can get away with it. Such clients hope you grow tired of asking for the payment and let go. The last group is the notorious client who will order work only to disappear once you deliver the project. 

Mourine Odongo
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