The #NairaLife Of A Biologist Who Ditched Lab Life For Marketing

December 7, 2020

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.


My favourite first question is –

Hmmm..First memory of money?

Haha. Exactly. 

It was in secondary school. My allowance for the week was ₦250 per day or something. So I got maybe ₦1k a week. I spent it on meat pie.

I was not one of those “I am saving my money.” Tuck shop!

Haha! Do you remember the first thing ever that you had to do for money?

My transcribing job in uni. It was such a sweet gig. Some lady doing her PhD abroad was interviewing a lot of people, and she needed the oral interviews transcribed. 

What year was this? 

In 2015 or so. She was paying me in a foreign currency, and the thing is I didn’t know what I was doing. I was 18.

Wait, how did you find the job?

In my hostel, everyone looked at me like somebody that takes any opportunity she sees. I’m smart, I’m quite the talker, and I find it easy to communicate with people. Someone told someone, who then said I could do the job. 

Hostel clout. 

Sweet stuff. I wasn’t even getting the money directly. The person was sending it to the babe I knew, then that one was paying me. I’m not sure how much they were sending me, but I knew I was getting scammed. 

I was in like 100L going to 200L at the time. I remember that there was a break, and I was doing most of it at home. 

What did you study?

Biology. if you’re reading this, please don’t do it. If you put me in a lab now, we’re all going to burn, hahaha. I can’t mix shit. I don’t even remember the thing they were teaching us. Heck, I didn’t even collect my certificate. 

Hmmm. So, you channeled all your energy to collecting your transcription money eh? 

Yesss. I think the whole money I made was up to ₦600k. I was getting payments after every few transcriptions. I’m not sure how much it was per transcription because of the varying length. 

Hmm. 

I spoilt myself with the money. I even changed my wardrobe haha. That period was the wildest. 

I’m listening. 

My mum knew I was getting money somewhere else, so she stopped sending me money. Omo, she just relaxed and was like, “Peace.” 

Things switched up when I ran into someone during a class – we had a mutual friend – she was ranting about all the pages that she needed to manage on social media.

My friend told me she was going to ask the social media manager to offer me the gig. 

I was like, so I can be posting, and they’ll be giving me money just to post things?

Did you get the gig? 

It never clicked. In fact, I don’t think we talked about it past that day, but a seed was sown in my heart. I went back to my hostel and started researching. I couldn’t stop or sleep, and I just started courses.

Do you remember the first course you did?

Shaw Academy’s Digital Marketing course. I can’t remember now if it was free or I got a scholarship, but it was from an ad. 

I knew I had to practise everything I was learning, but nobody was going to give me a job. My sister ran an event planning business, so I just collected her accounts and practiced. 

But I wanted to work at a place where someone could validate what I was doing, so I started applying for digital marketing jobs. Any small thing: “I’m an avid something-something,” until I finally landed an interview. And what did they say when I showed up? “Your CV is impressive.” Hahaha. Those people are still owing me ₦20k till day. 

Is there anybody that is not being owed ₦20k for work like this? 

And that was actually my first salary o. I went thrice a week, and my transport fare was 19,800 by the time I calculated it. 

Only 200 in real earnings? 

Basically. When I got that job and my friends would ask me, “Are you going to class today?” I’ll say “No, no. I’m going to the office.”

My friend was the one who was taking attendance for me. 

You were clearly uninterested in school. 

Yep. My school didn’t give me the course I wanted to study. And now that I think of it, I’m not sure I’m even cut for the one I wanted to study. 

This new chapter of my life was very exciting for me, and I poured all my energy into it. It was interesting, having strategy meetings, hahaha. 

Tell me. 

My boss would just come in with egg rolls and drinks for everybody. Then he’d gather all of us into his office like, “Everybody gather round, what are we doing in this session?” And me sef, I’ll sit down and be forming strategist. 

What did the business do? 

Sell soup. I was doing photoshoots for soups and posting online, hacking angles and shit. I loved it because everything I was learning, I got to apply. After three months, I quit sha. The guy ran me street because I didn’t know you were supposed to collect salary before you quit.

Why did you quit? 

My boyfriend. He was like, “Baby girl you don’t need to do this, you’re stressing yourself.” The job was in fact stressful. 

When I actually quit, I was already looking for other jobs close to me and that’s when I got the job that I feel like made the difference. It was a Digital Agency, my real bootcamp. I interned with them for 6 months. I didn’t feel like an intern to be honest; they didn’t even regard me as an intern. 

I feel like I learn fast because to be honest, I was not bad at my job. I got a ton of accolades, and most importantly, exposure to managing big Nigerian brand accounts. My salary was ₦20k, but because of how close it was to where I lived, transport in a month cost about ₦4k. 

By the time I finished my internship, I was in my third year and was supposed to find a placement for my industrial attachment from school. Then I landed a social media manager role. I was doing social media calendars, SEO and chopping insult on top of ₦20k. 

By Year 4, I got a job with another agency that paid ₦70k. Omooooo. 

Mad o. 

That was when I really felt like Omooo. I started working with them around the time when I was working on my final year project – this was 2018. I was working during the day and sleeping in the lab. When I finished my project, and I left the agency too – I was there for three months. 

Why did you leave?

My mum’s house was closer to the outskirts of Lagos, and I just couldn’t continue like that. Leaving home early, getting home late. I needed to move out, but all I had saved up was ₦200k, and it wasn’t enough. 

The second reason I left was because I got a remote job. The owner of the business is Nigerian, but they registered their business abroad. Now, I use that in a lot of interviews like, “I’ve also worked with a US agency as their social media strategist.” The pay was ₦50k. 

What came next? 

I applied for another job and got it. This one was on the island, and now I had a solid reason to move out. They were paying ₦140k. 

What year was this?

I think 2018. I moved to a hostel of sorts that cost like ₦250k a year. Also, I left the company after three months. 

Why? 

The office was horrible – we were always sweating. I don’t like suffering. I also think the people that owned it didn’t care about the company. It felt like they stumbled on an idea and then, “Omg, we got so popular, we can’t stop doing it now.”

I joined at the time when they were still trying to figure out if they were a hobby or a company. This was early 2019, and I was 22. 

For my next job, I saw a tweet for a digital marketing role at a startup. I applied and got the job at ₦250k a month. In six months, it was increased to ₦392k or so. Because the startup was building for users, it exposed me to real life things that matter. Growing numbers, making things that customers want. It also gave me a career capital. 

In between, I had side projects that contributed to my income. 

2020?

Because of the pandemic, I took a pay cut, so my last salary was about ₦320k or so. But I was not really relying on that because I had this client in Hong Kong that was paying me about ₦700k monthly.

For?

I wasn’t earning the whole ₦700k. Part of it was paying staff salaries because I had a small team. I feel like there are so many small gigs I didn’t mention, but I’ve almost always been working on small gigs. I even registered a company at some point in 2018, which I ditched when I joined the startup in 2019. 

Interesting. 

We used to work on my client projects and handled social media for companies. There was the graphics designer, social media manager, etc. So let’s say I get paid ₦250k; I supervise, run ads and then we split the money. 

This is how I ran the Hong Kong gig. They were a company trying to break into the Nigerian market. When they asked me early this year whether I wanted to get paid in naira or dollars, I said naira. 

Ouch. 

I just became smart o. Anyway, I did that for about four or five months, but it just made me more stable for the year. I have a flatmate, and our rent is ₦1 million. We split 50-50. 

Anyway, I quit the startup in the middle of the year, and the next jump happened.

Are we there yet? 

Yes. I went from earning ₦320k monthly to earning $4k monthly. I wanted to run mad. We had been doing the whole interview –

Let’s start from how you found the job.

I had a lot of offers from Nigerian companies, but my eyes were set on the international market. One company offered 650k, but I no do. With the startup I worked at, I needed something that felt like a jump. 

When did you want to start collecting dollars? 

I was okay earning my naira jeje, until I heard what my flatmate was earning. I was like “SIS! Put me through!” She’s still my oga, but I don’t think I’m doing badly. The first company that interviewed me abroad said they couldn’t hire me because I’m Nigerian. Basically, they didn’t want to go through relocation trouble. 

I was just applying sporadically to things. Sometimes, I’ll just google “Successful companies in X industry,” then check the career pages of all the companies listed. Working remotely helped me have time for this. 

I just organised my portfolio around the work I did at the startup in detail. In fact, I made it into Google Slides.

There was this company that I was very sure I was going to get the job, but they ghosted me. Then I found one other company scattered across a few cities in the world. I can’t even remember how I found them, probably on one of those sites for remote job opportunities. I looked at the job description, and I was like, I can do all these things na!

They gave me a test, and I literally sat down for hours working on that test. The scope of the test they gave me? I’d never done it before. So, I just did what I’d been doing – 

Google. 

Yes! I put everything together in a document. I know I did a good job. The next day, we had a call. Once I knew I would get it, I texted my flatmate: “I’m in!” But I knew she was going to come running and screaming, so I followed it with “Still on the call.” I can’t even remember anything they said after they confirmed me. 

When people talk about how 2020 has taken a lot from them, I just stay silent because this year has brought a lot for me. My job win made me forget all my past difficulties. After I got the job, I blew all my savings for rent. The first thing I did was book a massage. 

Haha. How much did you have in your savings?

About ₦500k. My rent was ₦500k. I can’t even remember what I spent it on. I was just having ideas and ordering food. There’s the dress I bought, the tattoo, and even a gym subscription. Then I had an annoying gynaecologist miscellaneous that cost ₦200k. 

That’s how I’m spending my money now. I’m ridiculous.

How do you get your money?

I had complications with getting my money in the first month, but I ended up using my bank. Everyone around me was sad for me because the exchange rate was definitely not the best deal. But when I looked at my account balance and saw plenty of zeroes, I didn’t even hear what they were saying. 

First of all, I got paid more money for only seven days of working in a month than my previous salary. Then they sent money for me to buy a new Macbook.

I think I got a little over ₦1.3 million. Right now, I haven’t really set up any saving structure. I’m just vibing. The salary after that first one is still in dollars. 

So, this is the part where we break down your expenses. 

So, the thing is that I’ll be moving in 2021. I don’t feel very settled right now. In fact, there are purchases I want to make — like a monitor — but why should I buy one when I’m moving soon?  I’ve just been spending on vibes. 

What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought since you collected your first salary on the new job? 

I randomly bought solid speakers for my situationship. But that’s not the most; it’s a lot of tiny things. Like for example, I gifted random people 15k each. 

See ehn, I think everyone should do two things: 

  • Have an emergency fund 
  • Then prioritize enjoyment. 

Some days, I’ll be lying on the bed and I’ll just open my app and be smiling.

Between 2015 and now, how have all of this has shaped your perspective of money or opportunity. 

My current mindset is that there’s nothing that I want that I can’t get. All my career moves have been wild. My mobility has always been: “I want better, and I take steps to get that better.”

As for money, just go and look for ways to earn more money. It’s a priority to earn more. There’s only so much you can do from saving and investing. 

What’s something you want that you cannot afford?

To be honest, nothing o. Except to japa. Even the Japa sef, it’s not something I was seriously planning until my company relocation came up. 

If I wasn’t going to leave Nigeria, my answer would have been moving to another apartment and  a car. I’m so comfortable now with the things that I have, and I’m just living in the moment. 

What is something you wished you could be better at financially?

All these investment stuff. But to be honest, I feel like if I wanted to, I’d do it. The options are there, but right now, I don’t think I’m not ready for it. I might have a spending problem, but I think it’s because I’m a nice person. My friend’s birthday can come up and I’ll be like, here. 

Do you have any financial regrets?

If I regret something, somebody should actually slap me because all the money I’ve made in my career, in a few months, I’ll make everything again. Abeggi, I no regret anything. 

What’s something you bought recently that significantly improved the quality of your life? That just made you feel comfortable.

My chair, my Macbook. My gym sub too because I like how I feel when I work out. 

Last question, on a scale of 1-10, financial happiness?

I done tear the scale mehn. I’m happy!

Fu'ad Lawal

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