For today’s writer interview, we interview Walter Akolo who is a successful freelance writer, blogger, internet marketer, and the founder of FreelancerKenya where he helps aspiring Kenyan freelance writers make a healthy living writing.
Walter is an inspiration for many writers and shares some valuable insights on growing a business, picking a niche, finding clients, improving your English writing skills, dealing with limiting beliefs, and much, much more.
We hope you enjoy the interview.
Hi, Walter. Please, will you tell us a little about yourself and your career as a writer?
Hi, Nick. I’m a family man as well as a freelance writer and internet marketer. I’ve been working online for the last 6 years and I’m well known for my blog FreelancerKenya which has been featured in many websites and publications.
I also do a lot of social media campaigns to help people learn more about online business. It is my hope that by 2020 we’ll have more big online businesses in Africa that will rival Uber, Netflix, and Google among other top online brands.
Did you grow up wanting to become a freelance writer and how did you break into the industry?
No. I once wanted to be a doctor, then later I developed a deep interest in psychology. For the longest time in high school, I wanted to be a lawyer.
After getting good high school grades, I didn’t get selected for law in public university as I had hoped. I got a course that I could barely understand, let alone practice.
I later dropped out of campus and started doing all sorts of odd jobs as a broke person trying to get by.
I always remember the day a friend told me she writes and makes money through a certain online marketplace. This brought back my writing passion.
I was always a good writer, straight from early school days. My write-ups used to score the highest grades. Some high school friends even had me write or proofread their letters to girls to make sure they had the best impact.
I immediately felt like being a freelance writer was my calling. I then started writing in April 2011 and never looked back. Knowing all the struggles I went through as a young writer, I decided to also support other upcoming Kenyan writers through my blog, social media and training.
What were some of the biggest challenges and barriers you feared would get in the way?
I was first confused and scared of scams. I didn’t know how a beginner would get by. Information was scanty in 2011. However, I actually managed to get clients pretty fast, but eventually once lost a lot of money to rogue clients.
Receiving payments from sites like PayPal and Skrill was a problem at first as well. Now it’s smoother, thanks to some local advancements.
Another notable challenge was the fact that some high paying freelancing websites didn’t (and still don’t) allow writers from non-native English countries to work there. I’m glad that we’re now able to circumvent that by getting even higher paying clients directly through cold pitching, blogging, referrals and social media.
Were these different from the actual challenges and barriers you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Oops! I see I answered both questions in the above response. Those were the actual challenges I faced when starting out as a writer.
Eventually, as a businessman who hired writers and also earned from my blog and online campaigns, I faced a few other challenges, namely:
- Getting writers who would provide high-quality content.
- Marketing my new products and services.
- Getting people out of the “online worker” mentality to the “online business” mentality. See, a good writer can easily become a good blogger and affiliate marketer. He can also create and sell his own information products.
- Driving traffic to new products.
- Selling to countries/regions where PayPal, Skrill, Payoneer and other modes of online payment are not available.
Note, I even once stopped writing for clients and just focused on my internet marketing (IM) career. I later decided to bring it back and do both i.e. writing for clients and my IM stuff so that I balance my active and passive income streams.
What techniques did/do you use to grow your business?
I run and grow my business in a couple of ways.
- I get clients who need bulk writing services (such as affiliate marketers with multiple sites) and manage their website content. This means I hire other writers to write for them, make sure they deliver quality and forward the content to the website owners.
- I get high-paying writing clients who I write for myself.
- I sell my own products and services through my blog, email marketing and social media marketing.
- As an affiliate marketer, I market other people’s services at a commission.
- The best benefit of being an established writer is the fact that I also get referrals from other people.
What does your daily writing routine look like?
As you’ve seen above, I manage so many things at once. I balance my writing and my internet marketing. I don’t have a fixed routine but I try to ensure I write at least 2,000 words a day for either my own internet marketing campaigns or my clients.
I work 4-8 hours a day but may work more when I’m creating a product or I get an urgent order.
What limiting beliefs must ESL writers get rid of in order to achieve success?
Below are some limiting beliefs that ESL writers must get rid of immediately:
- They should stop believing they can’t command high rates because of where they come from. This is not true since clients just want excellent content, regardless of where you’re from.
- They should stop assuming that their destiny ends with writing. I’m more of a businessman than a writer. I believe other writers can also scale up and do more as bloggers or online businessmen. They can easily create and sell their own information products such as eBooks and courses.
- They should stop relying on freelancing websites. Some sites are great to start with, but one can get better results and earn more when they mix up strategies.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
I wish someone had advised me to start blogging and internet marketing immediately. I would have started them sooner. They really help you to become a brand, bring a positive change in the society, and earn more semi-passive income.
What advice would you give other aspiring freelance writers who want to make money, freelance writing?
They should be careful who they listen, or else they may not survive their first year.
The truth is that there is no single way to succeed as a writer. You can get clients through freelancing websites, social media, blogging, referrals and cold pitching among others.
Sadly, most experts will only prescribe ONE way, which is wrong and may keep them in the rat race for a long time.
A quick example is this:
Two experts emailed me a few weeks ago.
One stated that Upwork is the best and ONLY place where writers can find long-term, high-paying clients. Another stated that Upwork sucks and ONLY cold pitching works. They all had solid data, graphs and figures.
It was sad to read those since both Upwork and cold pitching work. Experts should not limit people to their methods. I believe it’s wiser for them to give their methods and acknowledge that their followers can also try out other methods to succeed.
Therefore, new writers should make sure they keep their minds open to trying out new things.
As a writer, I’ve earned well from all the methods I mentioned above, though blogging is my favourite since clients look for me, instead of me looking for them. You also earn in other ways through the blog. But I wouldn’t tell people to ONLY look for clients through blogging or that blogging works for everyone.
Who are your biggest influences and people you admire in the freelance writing industry?
My favourite freelance writer for a long time has been Kristi Hines. She has written for some of the biggest sites in the world. Her writing is amazing.
I love the fact that she not only writes for clients, but she has her own company that has done many great things on the internet.
Bamidele Onibalusi is an excellent writer and blogger who I look up to. I learnt a lot from his recent Earn Your First 1,000 challenge.
I also admire Brian Dean of Backlinko, who was once a copywriter and later created Backlinko, now a million dollar business. I like the way he thinks outside the box.
The person I’m currently following and admire the most right now – and would love to work with one day – is the Zimbabwean billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa. He’s not a freelance writer but he writes inspiring entrepreneurship posts on his Facebook page, trying to raise other African entrepreneurs.
I generally consider anyone who tries to improve the lives of the masses a friend.
What’s your opinion on choosing a niche?
It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not mandatory. As stated above, not all writers are created equal. Some work better in one niche. Others are like me who write well in multiple niches.
So first time writers should not confine themselves to a niche yet. They can first try out as many niches as they can. They’ll then see clearly which ones they perform better in. Later they can narrow it down to a few favourite (and profitable) niches.
What would you say to those writers who are struggling to pick a niche?
Once again, they don’t have to. They can write in multiple niches.
The main metric to look at here is how many deals they close per month and how much they earn. So, if their target is to earn $3,000 per month from writing, they can earn that from one niche or multiple niches.
And once they earn the $3,000, they can go ahead and target $10,000 and keep increasing. We need more million-dollar online ESL entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give to those who want to improve their English writing skills?
I believe all writers need to improve their writing skills. My advice to both veteran and struggling writers is that they should always keep learning how to get better at the trade.
This can be done by getting paid training or using the numerous free resources online that will help them improve. Writers should always learn how to write better headings, introductions, subheadings, body content and conclusions.
We can always learn how to become better at something we’ve never done. For example, if you specialise in SEO article writing, you can start learning how to do direct response copywriting, business writing, sales copywriting, or even writing eBooks.
Things keep changing so we should always keep in step with what the world wants today. Some things that used to work when I was starting in 2011 no longer work now. Learning should never stop.
What’s the most effective method you’ve used to find new clients?
Blogging is my all-time favourite. It helps me get clients who are already sold out to my service. Such clients don’t ask for samples or proof that I can write or market. They just come with a direct offer.
I however diversify and still look for more clients through the methods I’ve mentioned here. Writers should not just use one strategy.
Tell us a little more about FreelancerKenya.
FreelancerKenya is my blog where I teach Kenyans how they can make money online through freelancing and internet marketing.
I started it in April 2012 to guide freelancers so that they don’t make the same mistakes I did. And to show them how to overcome some potential challenges.
90% of the resources in my blog are absolutely free. I, however, have a few paid resources that go real deep. They help people succeed faster and work smarter. They also help me keep the site afloat.
Name one book, one tool, and one article that have helped you in your writing career.
One book: None on freelance writing. I mostly read articles online about that since they’re more up to date. I’ve read a few books that are not related to freelance writing, though. One of the best I’ve read recently is “The Richest Man in Babylon”. This is a timeless guide to personal finance.
One tool: The best tool I ever paid for is AWeber Email Marketing, an email marketing software and autoresponder tool. When well used, it’s an excellent tool for lead nurturing and conversion.
One article: This article by Jon Morrow is one of the best I’ve ever read.
The book and article above are more on life lessons than freelance writing. I guess that’s because I’m already an established writer and I find lots of meat and inspiration from stuff that’s not related to writing.
New writers can get lots of writing tips from some of my favourite sites listed below:
Apart from FiveFigureWriter, the rest are owned and run by ESL writers.
You recently launched PenStars, tell us more about it.
PenStars is a content assessment service. This is where writers and website owners can send in their articles and web content for professional assessment and feedback on where to improve.
The idea was born out of a challenge that wasn’t getting addressed:
The fact that some people’s writing is not sellable yet. For that reason, clients reject their work or their blogs/websites don’t come out authoritative enough, thus they don’t sell much (or at all).
How do they know that their content can’t sell? Do their friends tell them their writing is not good enough? Sadly no. And some of the friends who may tell them the truth may not actually be knowledgeable enough to pinpoint all the mistakes made.
Spike Wyatt and I decided to create a platform that changes all that – PenStars. Here, we have seasoned experts, including native English writers with lots of experience.
If you submit your content there for assessment, our experts go through your content, score it and give you specific feedback on what you need to improve on.
We then work with you to ensure your final outcome is what the reader will actually love.
What are your future plans?
My biggest plan is to take things to the next level and create a thriving online business that solves the needs of millions of people all over the world. I would love to soon either create or be a major part of something that will grow so big that it will rival Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and any of the other top 10 brands worldwide.
As always, we’d love to hear from you. Leave Walter or the WriteWorldwide team a comment below.