2021: The Year I Learned Audacity

I’ve always known I was Black. I was born in Nigeria and lived there my entire life surrounded by other Black people. However, the colour of my skin was an irrelevant detail and not something I actively thought about until I decided to freelance and work with foreign clients.

I could have taken the easy route to write for Nigerian and African companies. But I’m too ambitious to be satisfied with what’s within reach.

So, rather than start small, I set my sight on US clients because they have a better appreciation for SEO content with the budget to pay well.

However, there’s a mind fuck that comes with working with White people when you’re Black and African. It was the biggest roadblock standing in my way for so long. It kept me small and made me believe that I was only worth $500 a month.

My mindset as a Black woman who grew up in extreme poverty and hustled my way through life was this – be thankful for work. Don’t complain. You’re lucky to have enough for rent and food.

See, I was raised to only seek the next meal, to survive, stay grounded, keep my head above water. Anything else was a luxury.

It has taken years of unlearning poverty mentality to grow from servitude to being audacious enough to see my worth.

Audacity.

It’s the first thing that changed when my conditioned mindset became free.

Audacity gave me the courage to raise my rates 3x in the middle of a pandemic right after losing all my clients.

Audacity is why I charge $1 per word for content writing and $1,000 for my topic authority course. It’s not because I’m better than everybody else or I have proven my worth, but simply because I can, and I do.

Before I go too deep, let me tell you a short story to give you context.

2020 Was a Cluster Fuck of Epic Proportions

I know we’re well into 2022, but 2020 remains fresh in my mind, and it’s not just about COVID 19. I started 2020 in the feast or famine mode but was eager to get out.

By the start of March, I was on track to sign my first retainer client while enjoying the best month of the year.

When April rolled by, I had lost all my clients in the space of one week. I was devastated and unsure of what the future held.

I felt lost.

But amid the chaos, I found clarity.

I learned I was working with small businesses that couldn’t afford to stay afloat during a pandemic. I needed to work with more prominent brands if I wanted more.

Here’s the big problem. I was serving everybody and didn’t have a niche. So, I attracted leads looking for an affordable, full-service agency. They walked when they found out that I…

  • Didn’t offer as many services as they thought
  • Was not cheap
  • Was Black and African ( Can’t tell you how many clients I lost in the early days because of location and skin colour)

This meant I was jumping on endless calls with folks who weren’t the right fit. The leads were pouring in, but it was useless.

By the third quarter of 2020, I picked a niche and focused on writing long-form SEO content for SaaS companies.

My rates went up immediately to reflect my new status as a specialist. I went from charging $200 to $600 as a minimum price for content.

However, solid work didn’t roll in until September. So, that’s five months of:

  • Inconsistent work
  • Saying no to shitty pay
  • Holding my grounds for better projects
  • Believing I was worth more

It was not easy.

I was also dealing with:

  • Anxiety from a robbery incident in May
  • Tying to raise funds to move houses through GoFundMe
  • Finding accommodation in a safer neighbourhood
  • Providing for two dependents while broke

Like, I said, 2020 was a cluster fuck of epic proportions.

I kept working at it, even when I didn’t see the results

Amid the chaos in my personal life, I showed up on LinkedIn daily with great content. I built relationships with SEOs, content managers, copywriters and many experts in the industry. There was so much to learn, and these folks were happy to share.

I also knew that these relationships could pay off in the future. If I built expertise, remained consistent and shared results from the projects I’ve worked on, they would trust me.

If they trust me, they’ll refer work or hire me to write SEO copy for them.

There were many days when I considered quitting LinkedIn and Facebook. Months when nothing happened. But the hard work I did in 2020 paid off in 2021.

11 Things I Did Right in 2021

1.      Referrals brought in most of my income

A copywriter in my network tagged me to a post where Wix was hiring SEO content writers. $5k project. Some amazing humans on Facebook recommend me for two SaaS projects. The first project brought in $6k and the second one over $30k.

That’s a small picture of the power of referrals. It cuts through the bottlenecks and immediately positions me as the expert for the job. The prospect trusts that the person referring me is an authority who will only recommend another authority.

Getting to that place where people trust me enough to recommend me to their clients is the highlight of my career.

Referrals happen when you’ve earned trust. People see my content, and they know I can write. They see the results I share, and they know my strategy works. I am consistent on social media because I want people to think of me when they hear these words:

  • Long-form copy
  • Topic clusters
  • Content strategy
  • SEO copy

Remember, I was showing up daily on social media with valuable, authoritative content, even when I wanted to give up. That’s because consistency is everything in freelancing.

Soon, other copywriters would reach out to say, “Hey, I found this post very useful”. From there, we’d talk and become friends.

Sometimes, I’d be the one reaching out to someone I greatly admired. It was genuine, and I went into every conversation expecting nothing in return.

Later on, I started doing these zoom chitty chat calls with women that inspired me on social media.

It was an incredible way to know people behind the screen and get a peek into their lives. I enjoyed every moment. I felt honoured that folks would take time out of their busy day to chat with me for 30 minutes.

But here’s the thing. You can’t go into relationship building with the mindset of “this person could generate leads for me tomorrow.”

If it’s not organic and genuine, people can smell something fishy from a long way off, and you’ll only get crickets.

2.      Connect with the right people

I know it sounds tacky, but your network is your net worth.

Here’s how I connect with people on social media, specifically LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

  • LinkedIn – I connect with copywriters, marketers, SEOs and SaaS leaders.
  • Twitter – I connect with SEOs, marketers and copywriters
  • Facebook –  Just copywriters

The goal is to connect with people who understand and interact with my content. I don’t see the point in connecting with an accountant, petroleum engineer, or furniture company founder. Also, they are not my target audience.

They’ll be completely lost when I talk about link building, SEO copywriting or content marketing because it’s not their area of expertise.

Copywriters have a general understanding of my message. It’s enough to build authority and get them to recommend me for gigs they’re passing on.

The folks who hire me are leading content, marketing or SEO teams. SaaS leaders could mention my name when someone in their network is looking for specific skills.

It’s essential to connect with the right people for your message to have an impact. It’s the first step in building a formidable network that does three things:

  • React
  • Engage
  • Convert 

3.      Build relationships within your network

I’ve already mentioned zoom calls and reaching out privately to folks I admire. These techniques work when people know me.

But in the early days, I spent a lot of time engaging with content from people I liked. That meant seeking out their posts on LinkedIn and writing thoughtful comments. I did this until we could talk comfortably around each other.

If they actively posted content on their website, I said what I learned from the post in the comment section.

On Twitter and Facebook, it was easier because people could let loose, unlike LinkedIn. All I had to do was follow the folks I wanted to impress and talk with them in the comments.

I would wait a few months into talking before reaching out privately to strike up a conversation. From there, we’d be bantering like old friends.

These relationships led to:

  • Referrals
  • Podcast appearances
  • Speaking engagements
  • And best of all, real-life friendships

4.      The juice is on social media

You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been talking a lot about social media. I’m not saying you should ignore your website, but social media is the fastest way to establish authority, build a loyal audience and attract a relevant client base.

SEO and ranking take longer because competition already exists for a few places on search engine result pages.

I created a lot of content early by executing topic clusters for my primary keywords. By the second year of freelancing, I ranked for most of them.

Search leads weren’t always the best fit. So, I took the content on my blog and repurposed them into helpful social media posts for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

5.      Impact over virality

It’s important to share content around your expertise on social media more than you talk about meaningless viral content that doesn’t drive conversion.  

I see a lot of people make this mistake. They share bullshit inspirational stories that would only work in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While heartwarming, there’s no insight into your core skills or the benefit of working with you. Instead, they get crazy engagement without leads.

Damn, I’m itching to share screenshots of what I mean, but I’ll resist the temptation for now.

The result-driven approach is to create a mix of content that shows:

Personality

Who is the person behind the profile? I talk about a range of things, including my love for cooking, Tom Bro (my White alter-ego), passion for money, and BIPOC issues. People connect with people. They are more likely to do business with someone they get along with than a total stranger.

Vulnerable side

Vulnerability is my greatest power because it shows strength, not weakness. Everyone can empathize when I let my guards down and express myself openly.

Mistakes

I make a lot of mistakes. It’s part of the learning process. I’m always careful not to romanticize what I do so people understand that while most of my tactics drive results, there are mad crashes along the way. Mistakes humanize my process and show that I am not perfect.

Results

Results solidify authority. It removes barriers and builds instant trust with prospects and other experts in the industry. Potential SaaS clients can see themselves in the results. Experts in the industry and copywriting colleagues trust that I will deliver similar results when they send referrals my way.

Approach to problem-solving

There’s something innately satisfying about sharing knowledge. The process is just as important as the result. Sharing my method makes it possible for anyone to implement a similar technique in their operation. I want folks to think, “Hot damn! If she’s giving all this knowledge away for free, imagine what she can do for us?”

6.      My brand is an extension of me

I was unsure of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to say on social media in the early days. I was worried about people’s perceptions of me. Would they think me uncouth if I used expletives in my post or talked like I do in real life?

It took a while, but I soon learned that being authentic is the best thing I could do for myself and my brand. It was like breathing new life into my content when I started using expletives on LinkedIn of all places. Nobody died, the LinkedIn police kept it moving, and my audience ate it up like a delicious chicken.

I am my brand. There’s no separating the two. My brand is personal, and that’s the best kind, in my opinion.

I’m not saying you should use expletives on social media.

Instead, be yourself and let loose. The version of you that exists offline, bring that online. I promise you people will love all of you.

7.      Sell strategy and packaged services

Before May 2021, I was satisfied with selling one-off content and topic clusters. I wanted to increase my income, but I was stumped on how to do it.

The solution?

 Do both strategy and execution for my clients instead of one option. For example, I pitched the topic cluster as a content strategy in the past, and the client would outsource the writing to cheaper content writers. From May, I started pitching for clients to let me handle the entire process.

  • I created the content strategy
  • Executed the cluster as long-form content
  • Made sure each piece of content was optimized for on-page SEO
  • Partnered with a link building agency to build links to the content pieces
  • Advised the client on content distribution

This technique enabled me to:

  • Own the results from the content strategy and use it as proof that topic clusters work
  • 3x my monthly income and establish a recurring revenue process through repeatable work
  • Have more control over what happens before and after publishing content

My rate card became a powerful sales tool to show prospective clients how the package works, what they get, and the cost analysis breakdown.

Packaged services are significantly higher than one-off gigs. Hence, I share my rate card with potential clients before the call to avoid wasting time. The discovery call is an opportunity to upsell higher value services instead of justifying my price tag.

PS: my rate card and my technique for upselling 5-figure packages are in the 10x Topic Authority Course. Consider buying the course if you’re looking to move from selling only content to adding strategy to your offering.

8.      Learn to say no more than yes

90% of freelancing is standing up for yourself. The other 10% is spent on doing the work. As a Nigerian woman who grew up with a survival-first mindset, learning to say no, was pivotal to changing my mindset.

In my first year of freelancing, I quickly realized that most White prospects specifically targeted freelancers from developing countries because of cheaper pricing. So, I would raise my rates and lower them in the next breath because I needed to eat.

Nothing else mattered.

But something incredible happened when I allowed my mindset to develop beyond the next meal and the next paycheck.

For the first time in my career, I stood my ground even though there were short-term consequences. I went for several months without work in 2020 because I refused to lower my rates. I was dealing with:

  • Prospects who tried to guilt-trip me into thinking I was expensive for charging a minimum price of $600 for copy (at the time)
  • White people who told me I didn’t need that much money to thrive in Africa
  • That asshole marketer who laughed in my face when I shared my rate card with him during a zoom call

Things like this can fuck with your mind on a deep level. Soon, you start thinking maybe they’re right. Perhaps I don’t deserve more. Maybe African writers have no right to big numbers.

But I have coconut head for a reason, and I stood my ground until the tides turned.

And when they turned in my favour, boy did the wind blow plenty of blessings my way!

None of the success I enjoy today would be possible if I:

  • Constantly lowered my rate when famine threatened
  • Gave into clients who wanted add-ons before signing my contract
  • Allowed scope creep to pile on the work because I was afraid to say no
  • Offered discounted pricing for bulk work
  • Took projects from niches or copy types I didn’t specialize in

In other words, stand your ground even when the floor is filled with lava. The payoff is better for your long-term growth.

9.      Become a niche specialist

I was terrified at the thought of specializing. However, I had read tons of LinkedIn posts from successful freelancers, and in-house experts who said specializing is the first step to meaningful growth and higher earnings.

But I was in survival mode, which meant taking everything that came my way. I thought specializing meant leaving money on the table, and that fear crippled me.

As my mindset evolved, I realized that specialization was the key to financial freedom. It meant that I could work with clients in a specific niche. I would do one thing for them and do it better than anyone else.

The hardest part was passing on leads or saying no to gigs that weren’t a good fit. Poverty makes everything harder. But I learned audacity, which meant saying no to survival and yes to abundance.

In 2021, I generated fewer leads, but the quality was so damn good!

Folks were sending referrals my way because I first came to mind when their clients needed content strategy or long-from SEO copy.

It’s easier to get referrals when you’re a specialist. Clients are also more likely to trust and believe in your skills because it’s so specific.

Take a look at the trajectory of my freelance career:

  • January 2019: I became a freelance copywriter. The minimum price of $100 for copy
  • January 2020: Toying with the idea of specialization, but still generalizing. The minimum price of $200 for copy
  • July 2020: Now specializing in SEO content for SaaS. The minimum price of $600 for copy
  • January 2021: Getting traction from popular brands. The minimum price of $900 for copy
  • September 2021: So darn busy with work. The minimum price of $1500 for copy

Did you notice the growth trajectory from being a generalist to a specialist?

I niched in SaaS for three reasons:

  • SaaS companies are well funded
  • There are many SaaS companies springing up every day that finding work isn’t difficult
  • I love money, and they can pay my rates

There’s no profound reason for it. I’m in it for the money, and I find it easy to write for SaaS companies.

To quickly establish authority, I did a few things:

  • Changed my headline on all social media and my website to reflect my new speciality
  • Removed all service pages from my website that referenced me as an agency and reworded it to focus on my speciality as a SaaS SEO content writer
  • Updated my website to build trust and show authority
  • Rewrote my LinkedIn bio to show results based on SaaS SEO
  • Created social media posts around solving content SEO problems for SaaS companies
  • Appeared on podcasts, industry roundups and conferences to speak as an SEO content specialist
  • Published guest posts on Hacker Noon and other sites my ideal clients might find relatable
  • Said no to gigs that weren’t related to SaaS, tech and content SEO

10.  Create passive income

I started thinking of passive income in March 2021. I was looking at the slides I created for an online conference and said to myself:

“Chima, this shit is too good to give away for free.”

So, I shared the first part of the presentation at the conference and packaged the rest as a course. This is the foundation of the 10x topic authority course.

Figuring out pricing was the hardest part. I didn’t want to make it cheap because the direct value from implementing the course was worth tens of thousands of dollars.

I started small, selling at $300-$500, and within a few months, I raised the pricing to $1,000-$1,500

Why?

  • Value
  • I can, and I did
  • Folks who buy the course will get their money back with the first topic cluster they sell
  • Audacity

As with everything else, getting to that point where I felt like I had the right to charge for my knowledge wasn’t easy. Being Black and African affects everything I do.

It’s exhausting.

But I was leaning into audacity as the guiding word for 2021, so I put it out there, and folks loved it.

Build authority before you sell a course. There should be a trail of knowledge and expertise showing you know what you’re talking about so your audience trust you before they make a purchase.

Damn, is trust the secret of everything in freelancing?

11.  I have people who pump me up imposter syndrome creeps in

I did a roundup post that features advice on dealing with imposter syndrome. But there will never be enough content in the world to get over imposter syndrome. Sometimes, I get an offer to write complex content for some highly-rated SaaS companies, and my mind goes to a dark place.

What if I can’t do it?

Have I been a fraud all this while?

Do I have to return their money?

Shit, I’m in over my head!

I turn to people who lift me when I’m feeling down. Crystal Carter is one of my favourite humans in the world. I don’t often struggle with writing content, but she’s my go-to person when I do.

Crystal has confidence in my skill. It’s almost like she believes in me more than I believe in myself. Having people like her, who lift me, tell me I’ve got this and pep-talk me to get out of my head is the booster I need when imposter syndrome strikes.

There are other folks on LinkedIn and Facebook that I run to when I need a morale boost. I can’t tell you how important it is to have a community when you’re running a solo business.

Wrapping up: There’s always someone willing to pay more

2021 was a great year. I learned so much about selling freelance services and building audacity in everything I do. I am ambitious, and I will always want more. Nothing wrong with that.

White folks are charging $2-$5 per word for content. Large brands with deep pockets are paying for their services. I want to keep pushing the limit until I normalize earning a shit ton of money for my skills.

When I feel nervous about my pricing or a few prospects walk away after seeing my rates, I remind myself that there’s always someone willing to pay more for content. As long as these SaaS companies exist, I’ll do just fine.

56 thoughts on “2021: The Year I Learned Audacity”

  1. You and your content are inspiring. Joining your stack community (FCDC) has rekindled my freelancing career. You obviously know what to do, but I’d say it nonetheless. “Keep up the great job“

    Reply
  2. I really love this article. The most important thing every freelance should have is confidence. Believing in yourself is the key thing here. I have been going around in circles since 2016. I have declared that 2022 will be my year too.

    God bless you Chima for the wonderful work you’ve been doing for us freelancers. I have read this post enough times and I will still read it again.

    Reply
  3. Thank you Chima for sharing such an in-depth, encouraging, and really insightful journey. Bookmarking this as one read isn’t enough! Found your blog through Linked In. Am now an ardent follower who looks forward to your posts!

    Reply
  4. I never leave comments on website articles but I guess this one’s a first.

    You really inspire me and the fact that you have a big heart and are opening up opportunities for other BIPOC freelancers is really cool. It literally brings tears to my eyes.

    Not many people will be willing to do what you do so I sincerely want to thank you for the amazing work you do.

    This post is on a league of its own and I’m bookmarking this post. It has become my freelance bible.

    Reply
  5. I see how far successfull you are and wish I’d be like that someday. But what I hardly know is the struggle behind your success. Kudos to you Chima. I really admire you. And to say you’re also a Nigerian is surreal.

    Thanks for the value you add to my life. Having read your story this far, I believe I can make it too.

    I’ll keep working hard
    Thanks for the hope

    Reply
  6. I wish I can tattoo this empowering message in my brain and heart.

    You have achieved sooooo much from that first time I met you on LinkedIn. Yet, you are still consistent in lifting others with you, in being courageous and ambitious.

    Thanks a lot for all you do for others.

    Reply
  7. Oh, Chima! This is everything. Freelancing (and moving to a non-English speaking country) gave me a lot of social anxiety, making it extremely hard for me to make connections or post on social media. When I do try, it doesn’t sound like me at all!! Layers of fear are injected into every interaction.

    #2,#3, and #6 prove that genuine intentions will shine through.

    Thank you for this amazing read.

    Stay amazing and a BOSS!

    Reply
  8. Wow!

    I love every part of your story, truth to be told the way you grew is an inspiration to me and to all Nigerian and black freelancers all there.
    You’re my role model!

    Reply
  9. This is the most detailed post I’ve ever read about growing as a freelancer writer. God bless you, Chima! This piece is immensely valuable!

    I’m currently in the standing-your-ground phase and honestly, it’s the toughest thing. I resigned working with an agency where I got constant projects to fully be on my own, enjoy this freelance thing and make good money.

    Raised my rates by x2 and now looking for clients is almost like searching for water in a desert. But, this post is hope for a frustrated me. Thanks for sharing every step of your journey!!!

    Reply
  10. Chima, you’re amazing!! You’ve done in three years what took me eight. And you did it in the face of prejudice and against greater odds! And you’re bringing others up with you. Wow.

    Reply
  11. White folks charge $5 per word. The truth is: that intrigues me, I’ll confess.

    Thank you for the efforts you willingly invested to help out with this piece I’d call a raw gold.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  12. I bless the day I can across your profile on Twitter.

    Whenever I read your posts, I always feel the energy and the tremendous courage behind them.

    And thank you for always sharing your stories.

    Reply
  13. This is the most comprehensive and hard-hitting article I’ve read about being a Black Writer

    The Audacity, Honesty, Clarity, Practicality, and Rawness are exceptional

    Thanks for this

    I am truly grateful

    Reply
  14. Thanks so much for sharing your journey. You inspire freelancers globally, not just in Nigeria, Africa, or other developing countries. Keep on aiming high, nothing at all wrong with being ambitious.

    Reply

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