Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
This week, we’re talking to a Freelance consultant who’s helping clients gather insights for their business and writing proposals. She’s also pretty invested in her family.
One thing is clear, she’s the hard worker.
What’s the first thing you ever did for money?
I tried to sell company yellow pages directory. I lasted a total of 1 week at that job – 2004 or so. The directories sold for ₦25k and you got a commission for everyone you sold. Actually, I had a job earlier – a year prior. It was a company registration service. I did that for about a week or two too. I can’t remember how much I was paid though.
But, in terms of real work, I think I started working as a kid. My mum had a restaurant, so we used to leave home around 5 am to go to her shop to cook, clean the place etc. Then we’d take our baths and go to school. We went to school late every day, hahaha – notorious things.
My mum used to leave me to run the shop since I was 10.
What were your best and worst days at that shop like?
Well, I hated going to school late, that’s for sure. I remember the headmistress murdering my name every time she wanted to scold me for coming late. But even worse, there were the perverts who only came to the shop when my mummy wasn’t around. We learned to dodge them early.
The best days on the other hand, were the days when I’d bring my friends from school to come eat in the restaurant, before going home. My mum always fed them – they could be up to 5 kids but everyone was fed. You can imagine I garnered lots of friends because of this.
Okay, how old do you remember a plate being when you were 10 years old?
I barely remember – that was about 30 years ago.
I know you didn’t ask me, but 30 years ago I was still an idea.
Hahaha. Let’s go back to a more recent time.
What was the rush hour to the restaurant like?
We were doing well up to 50 people a day. I can’t remember in detail, but there was a time when food was about 50 per meal, then it went up to 100, then later 250. Well, we were in a business district, so a rush hour was usually crazy. As soon we got back from school, we’d get straight to work because customers needed to be served.
Okay, back to the first official job.
I was a volunteer with an N.G.O., and I got paid ₦6k as Program Assistant. But that’s a nice way of saying Program errand girl. This was 2004, and I was 23, already three years post-Uni. 6 months in, and they made me an actual Program Assistant. My pay climbed to ₦15k a month. By the time I left 6 years later, I was Programme Manager.
How much were you earning at this time?
Also, why did you leave?
I was bored. I was 29, in no relationship, and I felt like I hadn’t done anything with my life. So I took a break, a gap year of sorts. And I just focused on having more time for myself. It was tough, because I was unemployed. But I did it still.
Then I got into a situationship, and we ended up getting separated after. But guess what?
I got pregnant. In 2010, I went back to that job I quit.
They were like, oh some people need a Freelance Consultant who can travel across some states in Nigeria. Would you be interested? Of course!
That was my first million ever. Of course, the money included my cost of travel and everything, but it was still a lot of money. Basically, for a feasibility project, you’d get a budget that is supposed to cover everything from travel costs to accommodation.
I left that job earning ₦75k a month, and now here I was, with a more solid deal.
With that ₦1 million, I covered about half the total number of states in Nigeria. The difference for me was that this time, I was sleeping in good hotels.
I’ve been freelancing since then.
I got another gig in 2011. And since then, it just feels like one big gig just comes like every year. There were also a few side gigs that brought more income, like facilitating workshops and all that.
Let’s not forget that some people owed me too sha.
My biggest gig was ₦7 million. Don’t forget that this involves all expenses. This was 2014, and It was also the year I registered my own company. I felt like I’d found the thing I was sure I wanted to do – help people find answers by consulting.
How does one find freelance consulting gigs that make them this kind of money?
For me, most of my work has been by recommendations. I’m recommended then I send in a proposal. Other times I search for Request For Proposals and send in mine. But it has such a limited pool that people always refer other people.
Also, there are development projects that advertise all kinds of Requests for Proposals.
One thing to keep in mind is that everyone is looking for experienced people. Somehow, my proposals still get rejected.
In one month this year, I sent out 4 proposals worth a total of 300k. Dollars.
They all got rejected.
Ouch. You don’t seem to have the ‘luxury’ of thinking of your income on a monthly basis.
Actually, I used to think about it in terms of yearly income. Because even when I registered the company, we could still go months without having any gigs. Also, I was doing side projects that were not in my company’s direct purview. There were also clients who would say that they didn’t want to hire a company, but an individual.
And person must wack.
Last year though, I started paying myself a salary from the business, ₦250k a month. The ₦250k is not regular, but when we get gigs, I pay myself in arrears. Still, because of side gigs, I earn up to ₦600k on average.
But there are the extraordinary months. In November of 2018, I earned ₦1.8 million. But somehow, I’m always broke sha.
I have to say though, I always seem to get gigs. Maybe that’s why I’m not prudent. Although my husband always says it’s because we don’t have a lot, that we’d save more if we did.
That’s interesting. How about we attempt to break down your monthly expenses on an ideal month?
Easy. I use a tracking app, so I kind of know where everything is going. ATM cash is “I can’t kill myself” money. Let’s just work with the screenshots. Let’s use my expenses from a few months ago, before my income jumped.
Let’s do a quick married people trivia. What are some interesting things about the places your finances intersect with your relationship?
Whoever has more money just does what needs to be done. I generally earn more so I do more.
I buy groceries more because I’m always thinking about food, and having food in the house. It comes with having kids. They are always hungry.
I also pay the Help, probably because we’ve been working together even before I got married.
Do you ever think about that first job you had, the 6k? Like what does this trajectory of yours to a person’s perspective?
I guess this is where I’m supposed to say something motivational, hahaha. To be honest, if I had stayed in a non-profit, perhaps I could be earning more.
My colleagues in the same position are 10 years younger. But then again, there are people who have been in the NGO sector, with my level of experience who are happy and lucky to see 400k a month.
So I’m aware of my privilege, but I also know I’ve worked very hard with every opportunity I’ve gotten. Still, I have leaned on friends, family and even professional associates for opportunities. Even my new job, I was headhunted because someone recommended me as a good fit.
So if you ask about what I think about my trajectory, maybe that’s how it should be.
I just got a new job with an International NGO, it means I would have to stop actively running my business, but at least I’m certain of ₦1 million monthly. Asides from perks.
That’s awesome! What’s something you really want but can’t afford at the moment?
I think a vacation. Honestly, I’m not even liquid enough to afford anything right now, haha. But I’m positive that whatever I want I can pay for in only a matter of months.
Okay, maybe a house. I can’t afford that right now. Send me something bros na, enu gbe.
Be laughing o. Rent is due soon.
Ah, what’s the plan to raise it?
Well, salary will enter just before it’s due, so I’m good. Rent is ₦800k.
Be laughing o. Rent is due next week.
What’s something you honestly wish you could be a better level.
Easy – not procrastinating and managing money properly. Sometime last year, when I earned ₦1.8 million in one month. One month later, I was down to my last ₦10k, and chasing a client for an advance. Besides the ₦800k rent, I can’t say what I used to rest of the money for. I don’t shop so much. But it’s those many small things that the money just disappears. There’s a family member who needs money. There’s that toy to buy for the kids. They all add up.
I’ve taken the first step to fixing it, which is tracking my expenses.
Then the other one is to get a job where one can plan. So if I earn the equivalent of 1m monthly, I can live in ₦600k and save the rest.
Sometimes you have ₦20k and then you have ₦200k but the thing is that when you had ₦20k you incurred debts against your future earnings. Because life doesn’t stop, kids must eat, gen must run, the internet must be paid for, staff salary must be paid.
My next salary has already finished, and it hasn’t entered. My next salary should get things stable and I get a buffer. Fingers crossed.
The thing with working for yourself is money ebbs and flows.
Tell me something random.
I use loan apps, shit gets mad addictive. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do so. You pay it off and then get another one. If you are not disciplined, it could get out of hand.
Happiness, on a scale of 1-10?
I think my years of being a freelancer have taught me never to despair too much about money. One day you have ₦200 in your account and the next day you have ₦200k. So I try never to stress about money. It will come.
Give me an 8 over 10.
Is it okay to say you’re winging this whole money thing?
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Every story in this series can be found here.