How a First-class Petroleum Engineering Graduate Become a Freelance Writer

how to become a content strategist

I am Uwemedimo Usa, a certified Content Marketer and Conversion Copywriter. In 2018, I graduated from the University of Uyo in Uyo, Nigeria, with a first-class degree in Petroleum Engineering. During my undergraduate days, I joined Upwork as a freelance writer to improve my financial situation. Fast forward 4 years later and I’m still writing. Not only because it pays, but also because I love it. Here is my story of how and why I started out to become a freelance writer, and the lessons I learned along the way.

My Story

While most people know me professionally as a Content Marketer, Conversion Copywriter, and Content Strategist, others know me as a Digital Marketer, Petroleum Engineer, Associate Cloud Engineer, or an all-round tech guy.

And no, I’m not a jack of all trades but one with particular interests in tech, persuasion, writing, and engineering.

Plus, I see all endeavors I start to the end.

My professional journey started with some failures. As a teenager about to get into the university, I wanted to be a data entry officer at a tech company.

I got rejected on the first attempt. The interviewer even advised me to focus on my studies instead and come back when I was done. I took the advice, but somehow I never went back.

In my fourth year in school, there was a compulsory Industrial Attachment course where for 6 months, we’re expected to land an internship at an industry-relevant company and report our experience back to the school.

This is where I worked as a Technical Operator at a tank farm in Calabar, Nigeria. It was a fun and challenging experience that exposed me to my first taste of a “normal job.”

You know the normal job? One where you’re expected to show up at a certain time, handle a set of responsibilities, and get paid a certain amount at the end of the month. Only that we weren’t paid what we were worth — that’s the thing with internships, right?

That was 2017. In 2019, I embarked on my compulsory (yet again), National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). It’s a program in Nigeria where graduates from tertiary institutions below the age of 35 are required to serve the country using their skills and academic experience. Usually, this ends up being you, the corper, teaching in schools or working in a company for stipends (or more commonly, for free). But the government helps in footing your bills by paying the minimum wage. They always pay. Kudos to them.

I worked for one of the power distribution companies in the south under the enumeration unit. My responsibilities there were varied. It is safe to say I was everywhere doing everything.

The burnout was quick and intense. But the experience was vital in instilling a great work ethic in me. I learned the value of doing my best to create an exceptional experience for my employer (or these days, my clients).

In my life, I’ve observed that every event and experience served a purpose in catapulting me forward if I opened my mind to benefit from it.

In the next section, you’ll see how I started doing what I’m doing now. Where the timeline overlaps is where I was running these two pathways concurrently — making little time available for leisure.

The Event that Pushed Me Over a Cliff and into a Sea of Freelance Goodness

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Jeff Bezos Career Advice video

2015 was a tough year for me. I was in my second year in school doing great academically, but the funds were running out. Too frequently I’ll fall in and out of debt… then I did something about it.

Leveraging my high-flying academics, I applied for a lot of scholarships and got awarded three. Yet, the funds didn’t arrive on time.

My friends knew me for better-than-average writing skills. So when I asked what I could do to make money part-time, one of my friends, Aniekan, told me, “Upwork dot com.”

This was a hot afternoon in February 2016, and we were standing in front of a notice board where she wrote it down for me. That’s all I needed.

I registered for an account immediately and got approved as a freelance proofreader and editor at $1.50/hour (back then this was possible).

My thinking was that the lower my rates are, the easier it’ll be for me to get hired. I was wrong.

Nothing happened on my Upwork account for months, despite all my applications. 

But to be fair, I wasn’t fully dedicated to the course as I should have been (I had some competitions keeping me busy in school — we won all of them).

While some successful freelancers on Upwork said it took 50 or 65 proposals to land their first job, mine was only 15.

How did I move from a quiet freelancing career to one that’s buzzing even on weekends?

How did I land that first job and pivot into content marketing and copywriting?

How I Grew into a Conversion Copywriter and Content Strategist

One of my first freelance jobs had nothing to do with writing.

I think that’s the first mistake people make when starting out on a platform like Upwork. Your first job doesn’t have to be exactly what you want. It could be a simple task that pays little. Do it diligently and get that first great review.

As a professional video editor, you expect to land a video editing job. But you’re more likely to land a small contract for $5 or $10 to do something that’s not video-related.

For $100, I created a Facebook group for an adult education company. I can’t remember the details of what I did, but it took me about a week. And that money went a long way in solving some of my problems at the time.

After this, I glided into the longest professional relationship I have ever had. It was a small contract at first for a digital marketing agency to write short blog posts in a number of varying niches for 9 companies.

I did my first week, and it wasn’t awesome. My client spotted errors and grammar mistakes. Needless to say, I didn’t feel good about my level of service delivery.

But this is one of the first jolts in the right direction. You may think you’re the best at what you do until you go into it professionally.

This kick-started my endless journey of courses, studying, and trying out new things. It wasn’t long before my clients trusted me to handle everything from conceptualization of content ideas, outlining, writing, editing, and publishing. Because I’d proven that I can handle it smoothly, without errors.

In about a year, I was managing about 19 blogs, updating them on a weekly basis, and making enough money to focus on my studies and live comfortably for a student. I picked up some clients along the way, increased my rate, and skills.

During this time, I’ll take several courses so I can deliver more value to my clients.

When you understand the place of content in a business, you do more than just writing. This higher value gives you more reason to charge higher rates.

From being a plain content writer, I moved to Content Strategy. I then capped it with a diploma in Digital Marketing from Shaw Academy (before they changed).

Then I found HubSpot Academy. I took HubSpot’s courses and earned certificates in Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing. I’ve also learned Google Analytics from the Analytics Academy and Copywriting, Writing, and Editing via Udemy.

I’ve never stopped and I’m still going forward. I keep up with industry authorities like Joanna Weibe of CopyHackers, Copybloggers, Jeff Bullas’s blog, HubSpot, Neil Patel, Brain Dean of Backlinko, and many more. This way I am always up-to-date on the best practices for writing content, copywriting, SEO, Digital marketing, and business.

Being in a rapidly changing industry, you have to keep up to date and stay ahead to remain competitive and give your clients valuable results.

$1.5/hr to $50/hr: What I Learned Along the Way

Even though I sprinkled a few lessons in the stories above, let me give you a concise outline of the best lessons I’ve learned during this exciting and sometimes frustrating 4-year journey:

  • Working from home doesn’t mean you should throw away self-discipline and time management. More than ever, you need those two.
  • Clients don’t care about you. They care about themselves. Show them you care about them and you’re instantly better than 95% of your competition.
  • You cannot fake a positive mental attitude. Grow a positive mental attitude and let it follow you through all your challenges. If you’re rejected, it’s either it wasn’t meant for you or you have to get better.
  • Open your mind to opportunities. You may end up never using your certificate. And you may end up doing something totally different from your first career path. Follow what feels right.
  • Confidence is more important than anything else. Cultivate it by doing great work you’re proud of, assure yourself you’re valuable every day, and charge rates above your comfort range.
  • In the initial stage of your freelancing career, you’re not your own boss. Your bills are your boss.
  • There are only 3 reasons to offer your services for free: To build your portfolio, to build your authority in your niche with guest posting, and for charity.
  • To be a great writer, you need to write every day. And read 10 times more than you write.
  • Don’t burn bridges. 82% of the money I’ve made has come from repeat business. Keep the doors open for your client to come back to you when a contract ends.
  • How you deliver your work is as important as the quality of work you’ve done. Practice some presentation skills.

Books I’ll Recommend Reading

On Business and Leadership:

On Writing:

More On Career development. Checkout Business Development

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