Gbenga Onalaja on Life as a Nigerian Freelancer

“There are no weekends, life is a constant stream of workdays”

The Freelancer Deck is a weekly post, where we spotlight Africans who are pursuing their dreams and passions through independent work. Freelancing in Nigeria isn’t easy. But somehow, amidst the crazy traffic and long commutes, economic crunch and erratic power supply, these Freelancers make it work.

Today’s interview is with the former Managing Editor at TechCabal and current Content Lead over at VConnect Nigeria, Gbenga Onalaja.

Here we go.

Buffrspace: What type of freelancer are you? What’s your niche — journalist, social media manager, ballerina…?

Blogger and Journalist.

What kind of projects have you worked on?

Perhaps the only project I have done that sticks out is the MTN PR project I pitched into leading up to their 4G LTE launch. Working on that project revealed another side to Nigeria’s journalism I had been oblivious to up until that time. It’s a fact that as much as 80% of the content you see in leading newspapers are paid for. It was a painful realization.

You freelance Fulltime or Part time?

Part time.

How do you find the time, after long traffic hours, insane weather and an 8–5 job to still do freelance gigs? Share some of your tricks and tips.

Finding time isn’t a problem, I think. At least for me. I like how the projects I work on expand my worldview. Some of the topics you are commissioned to write are not what you are familiar with. Researching these new subjects makes it worthwhile. And I find time for what’s worth my while. Sometimes I stay up all night reading up on some arcane concept I needed to deconstruct.

The problem, I think, is the sheer size of some of the work. And for that, deadlines are perhaps the most effective trick in my bag. And lists too. I find my productivity and writing speed increase by like 4X when a deadline is looming. Anyone who’s ever done any creative work knows this. When I have a lot on my plate (which is like every time), I create a list of all the things I need to do and single-task like a Cyclops till I have run through the list.

How did you get started on the freelance circuit?

It all started in 2015. As the year wound down, I was rethinking what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was getting older, and getting restless. Odd, right. Because, it’s usually young and restless. Anyways, the fact that my job felt like drudgery didn’t help. So I resigned, not knowing what I wanted to do next. I went off grid for about a month visiting friends and family. It was around that time someone introduced me to new a content platform that was looking for a freelance writer. That one connection led to others like it.

How do you land freelance jobs?

Mostly through my immediate network. I have never actually pitched for freelance work before. Usually, a friend calls to ask if I’m interested in a project. If my desk happens to be a little less cluttered at the time, I tell them to “bring it on.”

What’s your favorite thing about freelancing?

The sense of freedom, I think. I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a 9–5. I used to feel that a lot when I didn’t freelance. You know what I’m talking about right? You feel freer to do pretty much anything you want.

What’s your worst?

There are no weekends. My life is a constant stream of workdays.

Tell me about your worst and best client so far. What made them so good/bad?

Best client has got to be the PR firm that commissioned the MTN 4G project. They paid well. : ) Worst client: err…I don’t keep record of wrongs.

For you, what’s a typical working day like?

~6–7am: Sing in the shower and spend some time alone with God.

~7–8am: Freewrite and read my Feedly.

~8–9am: On the bus to my 9–6. Reading my newsletters subs — The Hustle, TechCabal Digest and BuzzFeed mostly.

~9am-6pm: 9 to 6 — Coffee. Work. Brunch. Work. Work. Water break. Work. Work. Meetings. Work.

~8pm-11pm: Freelance work, dinner, (replace all these with movie on Fridays — movie night)

~11 — Zzzz

~Weekends: No plan. But mostly occupied by freelance work. And some Tennis on good weekends.

Do you listen to music while you work?

Yes.

Can you give us your top 5 songs you love to work to:

This is hard, because I don’t have top fives that stay for a long time. I really just have micro-obsessions and major obsessions. Right now, I’m obsessed with Switchfoot. The month before, it was Jain. The one before that, I think it was Halsey. Or perhaps Alessia Cara.

Just obsessions.

If I have to make a list, though. Right now, it’s got to be:

1: Float — Switchfoot

2: Jain — Makeba

3: Bull in a China shop — Switchfoot

4: Ophelia — The Lumineers

5: Kill For You — Skylar Grey

Any advice for new or aspiring freelancers?

Let’s see. Not much of an authority. But here’s what I’d tell my nephew if he wanted to do what I do: don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face in failure. Sometimes, clients just don’t like the work you’ve done. Take the feedback and dig back in.

Gbenga Onalaja is a Content Strategist at VConnect and blog.vconnect.com. He specializes in long-form content, email marketing, SEO, and reporting compelling brand stories. He’s also an extreme introvert, oatmeal guru, seasonal Tennis player and a constantly curious learner of things.

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