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.
For almost 10 years, the 30-year-old writer in this #NairaLife saw every job as a hustle he could wing. Sometimes, it worked out. At other times, it didn’t. Interestingly, he’s grown his income by more than 5x in the past two years. What changed?
What’s your oldest memory of money?
My mum used to work as a contractor for a multinational and helped them push their products, mostly electronics to the customers. This meant a lot of market runs and sometimes, she dragged me to the market with her to help. To incentivise me, she’d go, “If you do this, I will give you X and Y.” I was less than 10 years old.
Helping my mum out with her job shaped my thoughts around what it meant to make money. My mum was always calculating money or talking about the cost of something, and this experience taught me that business is marginal. Very quickly, I started to see everything as a hustle.
Fascinating. What was the first thing you did for money?
Right before I went for NYSC in 2011, I worked as a marketer for a microfinance bank for a few months and earned ₦23k/month before I quit to go for NYSC. When my service year ended, I returned home and started looking for a job. After two months of consistently sending out job applications without any success, I decided to do something I’d helped my mum do at some point when I was younger — selling and refilling gas cylinders. I had built relationships with gas plants when I worked with mum, so I figured it shouldn’t be difficult.
What were the next steps you took?
I spoke to a couple of friends who confirmed that it made sense. One of them even loaned me ₦60k to use as capital. I kicked things off and went to a business centre to print a couple of cheap business cards, and I just started sharing with people around the area. Boom, I was in business. I used to do about 12 refills a week and try to sell at least four brand new cylinders weekly.
I made more money from cylinder sales. My margin from refilling a 12.5 kg cylinder was ₦1200. But I could easily make ₦5k from helping someone buy a cylinder. Although this paid more, it was through refills that I got most of my customers. On average, I made about ₦12k per week after settling all expenses.
Three months after I started this, someone sent me a DM on Twitter and was like he liked my writing — I had published a couple of articles on the internet earlier that year. He came with an offer to write for a blog. ₦30k/month, and I took it.
The deal was five articles per day, which wasn’t a problem for me. It was an additional source of income to complement what I made from the gas hustle. Down the line, I got a teaching job that paid ₦35k.
You were working three jobs?
Yes, I had to work three jobs to make ₦80k – ₦100k per month. But the money was good — this was 2013, and naira had more value. Also, I wasn’t paying rent or for food.
Another thing that gave me context about money was that I met teachers who had been teaching for three to four years at the school and were making ₦50k. In a way, I felt like I had it easier than those people.
The person I was writing for came to see me as dependable and bumped my pay to ₦40k, then to ₦50k. The teaching job also increased my salary to ₦40k. However, between both responsibilities, I didn’t have enough time to sell gas like that anymore. So, I settled for the lucrative deals that would come from time to time and faced the writing and teaching jobs squarely. Life was decent. I didn’t have a lot of expenses except hanging out with my friends every weekend.
I kept the teaching job until the end of 2015 when I got a promotion at my writing gig and figured that it was time to drop teaching.
Could you walk me through how it happened?
The owner of the blog called me one day and said that they wanted me to be an editor at the blog. They were also going to hire a bunch of writers they wanted me to supervise. The pay was ₦110k. I resigned from my teaching job on the same day I got the offer.
I should say this — I took the job even though I knew next to nothing about digital publishing. The way I saw it, I could do any job as long as someone else had done it before me. I wanted to commit to it, but after my salary was delayed for no reason in the first two months, I knew it would be a miracle if I did three months there. So, I started looking for other jobs like my life depended on it.
How did that go?
I don’t remember the number of jobs I applied to, but I interviewed for a social media role at a publication that just started operations. The CEO was impressed by me and offered me a job, and the pay was ₦120k. One week after I got this offer, I was sacked at the blog I was writing for.
See, I saw it coming. I had stopped going to work for a while after they didn’t pay my second-month salary on time. They weren’t going to let that go.
Anyway, I already had a backup. But it turns out I’d get another job before my start date.
Oh. How did this happen?
A friend who had been helping me put the word out reached out with news of an open role at another publication. At first, I didn’t want to go ahead with the process, but he convinced me that I had nothing to lose. I took the interview and got the job. When I heard the offer, I knew I had to drop the other job, which was what I did.
₦160k. My role was to supervise a team of other writers and the mandate was to move the publication from a content mill that republished articles from other publications to one that would tell original stories. This was June 2016.
The problem was that the other writers weren’t very open to the idea of producing original content, even though we had long conversations about it. The arrangement didn’t work out the way the owner hoped, and he didn’t have the patience to see it through. On my own part, I didn’t have enough skills or experience to explain to him what was happening. Fast forward to December 2016, they sent me a termination notice on New Year’s Eve.
Yes, it was mad. It was the first time I didn’t go for crossover service. In January 2017, I hit the job market again with a vengeance. You know, I was coming from a job that paid ₦160k/month, so I assumed I’d easily get another job easily. This didn’t happen. By February, I had become so desperate that when someone at a digital out-of-home advertising agency offered me ₦85k/month to write ad copy, I took it. However, I spent only five weeks there.
You really were bouncing from job to job.
I was. The new job was also content-related and my salary was ₦220k. A month after I started there, I was named the lead in a project that had 40 people. This was an interesting opportunity but no real learning happened. To me, it was just another hustle and I was still thinking, “Shebi someone don do am before, I go run am.”
During my whole time there, I sensed that I wasn’t very good at the job, but I wasn’t horrible either. That wasn’t the reason I quit though.
Why did you quit?
The boss was a bit of a hothead, and he used to insult the staff a lot. I mean, he drove grown-ups to tears. I always knew it was a matter of time before I left. One day, he came to the office and started screaming and cursing everyone out. At the end of it all, I was like, “I’m not doing this. I can’t work here anymore.”
People do this when they have a safety net. Did you?
I had saved about ₦500k, which I thought was enough to live on for a while. Then I had this idea to go set up my own media business — a football blog. I raised ₦300k from a friend and sunk more than half of my savings into it.
How did that work out?
Lmao. It ran for four to five months but didn’t quite take off. I thought writing good content was where it was at and didn’t think too deeply about distribution. And because of this, it was hard to attract or retain users. When I and my investor’s money finished, I started looking for another job.
This was now 2018. I was watching the money in my bank account reduce from ₦60k to ₦30k, then to ₦20k without any lead. Luckily, I got an offer to sell a product before the money ran out.
It was one of these “Go to school abroad” solutions. I knew even before I joined that they didn’t have tight processes to deliver on their promises, but I was too desperate to care. They offered me ₦40k at first, including commissions on sales. I refused and negotiated ₦150k/month plus commission.
During my first month, I closed six leads. In my second month, I started manning the phones and at the end of the month, I closed 26 leads by myself. I was both a digital marketer and telesales agent. They had never seen that level of performance before.
Two months after I joined, I struck a deal with the company. I’d hire two people and train them. But I was also going to get a commission on every deal they closed. They agreed to it. As I said, they hadn’t seen that level of performance before I joined.
How much were you making now?
My base salary was ₦150k/month, but I was taking home benefits of up to ₦300k every month. The thrill wore off after a couple of months and I couldn’t in good conscience continue working there — they were making too many basic mistakes for supposed experts. I quit at the end of my seventh month.
I’m not sure how much I had in my savings, but it was over ₦1.5m. I took a major step and got my own apartment, which set me back by ₦700k.
What happened after?
I looked at what the last guys I worked for were doing and saw that it was a simple service. People just wanted to pay to have their applications sent to schools abroad. I decided to set up a similar business.
I got two partners, and we struck a deal with a union that was representing six schools in Europe — they agreed to pay us $1k for every successful applicant that paid tuition. My partners and I dropped ₦400k each, got an office space for ₦250k/month, hired three people and business was on. Omo, it was harder than I thought.
We assumed that the process would be straightforward because we had important relationships with a couple of people. I’m not even joking, it’s still hands-down one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. We didn’t close a single sale in our first month and money had nearly dried up. We borrowed money to cover rent for that month and salary for the staff. My partners and I couldn’t pay ourselves a salary for the first two months.
Fortunately, things started to go fairly well in the second month. By the fourth month, we could afford to pay ourselves a small salary. We would go on to do this for a little over a year, but it never seemed like we were really out of the trenches. We were always fighting for our lives every month.
I feel you.
That was the reason I took the next job offer I got. Again, I got the lead on Twitter and it was an ad for a reporter at a publication. I didn’t even think much of it: I just applied and went for the interview. I didn’t expect to get a callback.
I could tell that I was bullshitting people who were used to hearing a lot of bullshit, so they weren’t falling for my act. But they called me back and offered me the job. I started working there in October 2019, and the salary was ₦200k/month, which was less than what I typically made at the last gig. However, I just wanted to work and let someone else worry about finding the money to pay me.
My KPI was two articles per week, and it wasn’t bad. One thing I didn’t count on that happened was that I cared about the job, unlike the other places I had worked.
Growth. Why do you think this happened?
Prior to the job, I had worked in places that had shitty employment practices or bosses. But this was a change. For the first time, I was in a place where I could look around the room and there were always intelligent people around. That does something to you.
My first year was a learning curve. Mid-way into my second year, a conversation I had with a colleague about the impact of our work changed how I thought about it. For the first time, I stopped thinking about my tasks as KPIs and started to go for stories people cared about. It signalled a very interesting change for me because I wrote a strong article that month and someone reached out to me on Linkedin just because of that article.
What did they want?
They liked the analysis in the story and wanted to offer me a part-time job as their technical assistant. ₦150k. This gig and my 9-5 redefined what rigour meant. Subsequently, I started reading about things particular to both jobs and taking online courses.
The thing about upskilling is that you start to get all of these opportunities. On the side, I was doing one-off content side gigs that were bringing in extra money. I was barely touching my salary in this period — I was living on what I was making from the side gigs.
Great. How was it going at your 9-5?
That place made me sit up. However, I always got the feeling that they didn’t think I was particularly valuable. From my own end, I saw myself as important to the company.
To them, I was just another person in the room. When it was time for a raise, it didn’t happen. I was mad at first, but I reasoned that it wasn’t that deep. If I didn’t think I was being valued, I could easily hit the job market again.
Let me guess, that’s what you did.
Yup. I started throwing applications left, right and centre. In between all of that, they gave me a ₦50k raise. My salary at the technical assistant job paid ₦150k and another small business I was working with paid ₦150k, bringing my combined income to ₦550k/month.
Finally, I got an offer from a financial situation to work in their comms department in June 2021. The salary was ₦550k.
What was it like there?
It was a change of pace for me. The job was different — I turned from a journalist to a PR person. But for me, the framework was the same. I’d gotten to a point in my life where I set out to be very good at whatever I did.
I stan. How much was your combined income at this point?
About ₦700k to ₦800k/month. I still had the technical assistant job that was paying ₦150k and an extra ₦100k was guaranteed to come in every month.
Great. Back to the job?
In my first two weeks, I realised going to work there was probably a bad idea.
I was coming from a startup where the set-up was to do more with less. On the other hand, this was a big organisation that could afford to hire 10 people to do the same thing. I went from being perpetually busy to being bored all the time. One month in, and I was already thinking of working somewhere else. Later that month, I started a half-spirited job hunt. Fortunately, more people had started to know me and were reaching out to talk to me about open roles. But when I heard how much I wanted, they would run.
Haha. How much were you asking for?
₦1m. In September 2021, someone slid into my DMs and asked for my number. During our first conversation, they were like, “Look, I’m going to cut straight to it. I know you’re bored where you work. There’s this thing I’m creating, and I think you should come and join.” We had a series of conversations after that. At the end of it, I knew I wanted to join the team. At the end of September, I joined the startup.
What was your role here?
Content strategy and brand storytelling. The salary was ₦800k/month, but there were other perks — they moved me to another country on the continent and paid for my living costs, including rent. There’s also a $400 allowance per month for feeding and stuff. Also, we agreed that we would review the salary in a few months. This happened in November, and I got a raise to ₦1m.
Nothing much has happened between then and now.
The thing about getting to this level is that I now get to pick and choose what I want to work on for my side projects. I still work with the small business that pays ₦150k/month, even though the money has almost stopped mattering to me. I like the work and the fact that I helped them build the business to what it is now.
God when? What does your combined income look like now?
It’s very hard to keep track these days. I’d say about ₦1.3m comes in every month from three regular income sources.
Well done. I’m curious about how your experiences shaped your thinking about work and money?
Up until 2019, I was just trying to survive. The problem with survival mode is that there is hardly an overarching goal. You’re just living without a plan, and if you don’t have one, you just keep bouncing from one job to the other.
I started to think long term in 2019, which in turn made me intentional about the kind of jobs I wanted to do and how much I’d like to make.
One major thing that has helped how I see money is my friends. As time went on, I started to have successful friends. It wasn’t just that they were earning more, they were also managing money better and taking more chances. Having ambitious friends rubbed off on me and expanded my thinking of what earning well means. With them in my corner, I know my finances can always be better.
That makes sense. A segue: what do your monthly expenses look like at the moment?
I don’t spend much of my salary at the moment. I live on my allowance from work, so I spend about $400 on food and an extra $200 the few times I go out in a month. Most of my other expenses are family-related and swing between ₦150k – ₦250k per month.
I’m curious to know where your salary goes these days.
For the first time in my life, I have money I don’t always need. The question I ask myself now is “What do I do with this money?” Thankfully, I have friends who give me investment advice. So far, I’ve not invested in anything they advised me to and regretted it. Of course, I do my own research as well. They’ve been really big on crypto recently and have been trying to get me into decentralised finance. We’ll see how that goes.
Fingers crossed on that. Let’s come back to your income. How much do you think you should be earning now?
Combined income? I honestly think I should be doing like ₦2.5m. That’s a medium-term goal.
Love to see it. Back to the present though: what part of your finances do you think you could be better at?
I could do better at tracking what I make from my side gigs. It’s very easy to forget. I’ve been meaning to open another account and only use it for my side gigs, but I’ve never followed through.
Is there anything you want right now but can’t afford?
Off the top of my head, there’s nothing. I don’t have a lot of wants.
The last major thing I bought was a TV, and that was because a friend pressed me to buy it. I almost always need people to make me purchase things.
There’s something you spent money on recently that improved the quality of your life though, isn’t there?
I would say moving into a new country, but that wasn’t even my money. The only thing close was a phone I bought in December 2019 — a Pixel 5, which I bought after my old phone broke.
LMAO. What would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 0-10?
7.5. I think I can afford most things I want, and I know how much of a privilege that is. Perhaps the only reason I’m not at a 9 or a 10 yet is that my income is still largely in naira. Also, it’d be great to earn enough to make a big investment once a quarter rather than saving for it per month.
I think I can do some of this now, but maybe I just need the security of earning well for six months before I start.