Tom Mwiraria is a pen and paper wielding Kenyan and Pan-Africanist, passionate about a peaceful, healthy, democratic and prosperous Africa. Additionally, He is a lover of humanity, folklore, wildlife and heartlands. Currently, He is an affiliate member of Writers Guild of Kenya; Short story writer at Kasoma Africa, Freelance Writer at Optlinx Writers (Founded in 2011), Freelance Writer at Upwork.com, Non-profits fundraising advisor and a servant leader at Friends of Green Earth, a community-based organisation he founded in 2015.
Enjoy our interview with him!
How long have you been writing?
Ever since I can remember.
One evening in 1992 I was playing with elder sibling and randomly I scribbled consonant ‘A’ on the sand. The next day, my parents took me to kindergarten. I had a penchant for stories and so I couldn’t wait for the day I would be able to read. Reading many stories at a tender age played a huge role in my shaping my passion. All through Primary School, Secondary school and campus I would write only various platforms available. My writing career formally started in Jan 2012.
How long have you been freelancing?
It’s been six years now. I started in January 2012 after a short stint in banking.
In the course of your freelancing, what are some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
I faced challenges such as bad debts from clients. In many occasions, I would do a task for a client and some would out rightly fail to pay, some would pay less than agreed upon. I overcame this by being more intuitive. I can easily tell a good client after a few email exchanges or after a brief conversation. For instance, if a client says. ‘Do this job for me and I will pay you something’ that’s a red flag. I insist on a definite figure or trust your gut feeling and decline. I also came up with a payment method where I insist a 50% down payment before starting.
Working professionally is key. If you do it causally, clients will treat you casually.
So I did brandings such as business cards, professional social media profiles, documentations such as quotations, invoices and receipts, reliable email and phone and executing the work with speed, reliability and creativity. Another challenge I faced is a shortage of assignments. I overcame this by rigorous advertising both online and outdoor using posters, business cards and a word of mouth. My best marketing strategy is referrals. A happy and satisfied client on average brings three more. Once I get a client I strive to retain them. Relationship marketing is key because it ensures continuous inflow of work and actually getting a new client is harder than retaining a client. Another challenge in freelancing is pressure and burnout. I overcome that by delegating. Sleeping after finish a task (sleeping at intervals) to refresh and being nomadic. I take walks and frequently change locations so as to stay productive. I often take trips to interesting places around the country and write from there.
What are your favourite tools for working?
My beloved corei5, hp revolve 810 is such a worthy companion. I have named it Hunting . Hunting was a sword given to Beowulf by Unferth in the ancient Old English epic poem Beowulf. Beowulf used it in battle against Grendel’s Mother. Well, a high speed laptop will get the job done fast and without many hiccups. High speed internet connection is too is second nature to freelancing. Online tools like grammarily.com, turnitin.com, online2pdf.com, convertfree.online are very important for plagiarism checking, conversion of documents from one form to another. I use stick motes and a to-do list. I’m not without some beverage, bites and soft music.
Tell us about your works.
I have two non-fictions, ’Beauty and Lamentations of African Wilds, ‘Enchanted Kenya and ‘Black wind blowing -an anthology of short stories. The books are published in print and as eBooks on Smarshwords.com, and Amazon.com.I will be launching ‘Black wind blowing’ in July. I have unpunished anthology of poems and am working on a non-fiction entitled,’a thousand online freelance opportunities ‘.
How do you motivate yourself to write?
I have a set of principles. I tell myself these phrases, ‘Tom, push yourself’,’ Writers write’,’. I also write strategically. For example, I can plan to write three short stories in a week and stick to that goal. If say I plan to finish a book in six months, I will fix my eyes on that. I usually break the goal into weekly objectives, monthly milestones and discipline myself to achieve that. I overcome Writers’ block by using writing prompts and getting well-deserved rests or trying some new hobbies. Many websites such as Writers digest offer writing prompts. Travelling also accords me the opportunity of gaining new perspectives, observations and experiences which I translate into creative writing.
What is something you’ve learnt about freelancing that others can learn also from?
Being self-taught is priceless. I add new skills by scoring through the internet, listening to YouTube tutorials, podcasts and reading eBooks. Some amazing eBooks on Amazon and Smashwords are as low as $0.99. Those are resource mines. I subscribe to relevant magazines and by so doing, emerging ideas and tips are delivered right to my inbox. There are also many online platforms such as Udemy, Philanthropy university and Eminus Academy that offer free courses. Increasing knowledge and making practical use of it equips one to handle to stay ahead. Execution of your traditional task would also be enhanced by adding more skills and who knows you would find a way of innovating. Over a short time I have added an immense set of writing skills on many genres now my next focus is to be a writing instructor even as I sharpen my writing. Build a strong repute by doing an excellent job and your freelance career will snowball.
Tell us about one of your works you consider as your favourite.
The anthology of short stories ‘Black wind blowing’. I have posted a few stories from the anthology on the social media and literary platforms and they have been received well. Once entry, a 200-word flash fiction accorded me an opportunity to participate in Short Story Africa, ID flow forum in Addis Ababa this year. I was also approached by a filmmaker seeking to make a film based on some of the stories. We are still discussing it. The book will be launched on end of July this year and it will be available on Amazon and Smashwords.
What is your best writing tip?
Read avidly write daily, it gets better if done if consistently.
What is your best freelancing tip?
Identify a niche, study widely about it, and write consistently and prolifically. Do not shy from new and challenging tasks. Be an authority and expand after that. Build a strong profile and use it to pitch for the next big thing.
What advice would you give to a budding freelancer or writing?
Strive to delegate and work with others.The work could be so much, so stifling and inhibit your growth. Delegating empties your hand so that you are able to pursue bigger projects and at the same time open revenue streams instead of growing on a linear path. Execute tasks to a logical conclusion. Set goals. Develop a thick skin and learn the art of persistence. Sometimes success dawns at the darkest moment you are about to loosen the grip. Keep doing it, do it.