Career Story: Jeremiah Ajayi
You have an imposing LinkedIn profile. How did it all start for you?
I’ve been on this journey since 2018, and it’s all been an accumulation of my past effort, trial and errors. I’ve always been a writer. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scriptwriter for Hollywood. Growing up, I realised it wasn’t easy for blacks to penetrate the industry, particularly Nigerians and immigrants, so I stuck with my TV presenting dream and lawyering.
Just after secondary school, I started blogging. Although I had given up on my Hollywood scriptwriting dream, I knew I would still use writing to do something and even author a book someday. On getting into the university, I met a friend who introduced me to freelance writing. It was then I knew you could make money from writing.
Did you start making money from writing immediately?
It took a while for it to all come together, but because of my ambitious and restless nature, I was constantly trying to improve. While I was writing for my friend, I was collecting 1.0, 1.5 per word till I started getting jobs for myself, and I was getting paid 3.0 per word.
Wait, 1.0 per word. What currency?
It was in Naira o!
During that time also, I tried TV presenting, ushering in events and blogged for about 20,000 naira then. I had tried all forms of writing till I finally settled on nonfiction. But it all started coming together in 2019, and it was a heartbreak that triggered it.
Hmmm…post-breakfast work rate?
My life wasn’t going smooth. I was depressed, and someone I really liked just ghosted me. In school, I wasn’t doing up to my best, and my freelance writing career was in shambles. But after my birthday in 2019, I realised I needed to get into my beast mode, and I explained this in my book on online course. I just started taking courses, and the more I took courses, the more I realised there was more I could do.
At the time, I interned at a Law firm, where I met someone that changed my life. She’s my best friend now; Mary Imaseun. She introduced me to how I can write publicly for BellaNaija and all. I basically took my future into my hands, and before I knew it, I got an internship with a law firm in Texas, USA. I was the first Nigerian in the company’s entire history, and it has taken off since then.
Life just began to make more sense. I wasn’t suffering before then, but I was average, and I realised that I could do more. I don’t like being helpless, so that trait pushed me to get my life together.
How did you get your first full-time job?
My first full-time job was in 2019 as an SEO specialist at this small digital marketing agency. My friend forwarded the opportunity to me. I had already applied for many jobs, and I kept getting rejections. My LinkedIn profile was so empty. I’d send connection requests to people, and they won’t respond.
Freelance writing is good, but I was ghostwriting, and I wasn’t earning much. I had also done a legal internship after my first semester, and I knew that law might not be my thing, so I started looking for alternatives. So when my friend sent me the opportunity, I applied. I didn’t know SEO in-depth then, but I was aware of the term from my blogging experience.
So how did you then get the job?
The recruitment process wasn’t a formal one, plus I had done some SEO writing for clients, which helped me get in. I got my first job there, and I did it for about a year and some months.
What do you do presently?
I study law at Obafemi Awolowo University. I work about four jobs: I’m a content strategist at VEC LLC(an agency), head of marketing communications at Forthserve(an energy company), and I’m a content writer at Piggyvest. I work at these three companies for different reasons, and none of it is for the money. I love these three companies, and I know how to deliver value without one affecting the other.
I also have a startup which I co-founded with an amazing woman named Fola Alabi.
How do you balance all of these with school?
I apply what I use in my jobs to my schoolwork. I work three jobs, and I still ensure that I give my deliverables when due and when appropriate. The same applies to schoolwork. I don’t read(I obviously don’t advise this), but I read only when exams and tests are close, so I mostly crash read. I can crash read and still get B’s. I think I’m above average intelligence, and so it helps me give attention to my work ahead of exams and tests. Whenever I have exams and tests, I take excuses from my employers, not to relieve me of work completely but to focus more on my exams.
For my exams, I mostly do four or five papers, so I plan and schedule my reading ahead. So I’m still working during exams, but not with as much effort as outside exam periods. Once I’m done with exams, I’m back to work. My approach is knowing when to give these things my attention. When exams are near, I give school my all; whenever they are not, I dump them.
On a scale of 100, which takes more?
I give my job 70%, and I give schoolwork 30%. And it’s working for me.
Let's talk about Piggyvest. How did you get in?
I’ve always loved piggyvest, and I love Odun so much. I listened to the episode on the ISWIS podcast, and their story was fascinating. But I never had interest in working there as a writer because, at the time, they didn’t have a content team. They just had social media, and I am not a fan of handling social media directly.
So what changed?
I think it was in July or August. They just had a new head of content. Daniel Orubo and I have always followed Daniel since he was an editor at Zikoko and admired his work. He tweeted about needing writers at Piggyvest. I sent it to my friends with finance experience because I wasn’t particular about finance writing. Daniel also said they needed someone funny, and while I think I’m funny. My humour doesn’t always show in my writing.
So I forwarded the opportunity to Mary Imasuen because she’s a finance writer and has this awesome newsletter called relish abundance. Mary convinced me to apply, and at the time, I was working a job where I faced intense racism. I knew I needed to leave the place, so I considered alternatives because my termination was imminent. I applied to piggyvest, and surprisingly, I scaled through to the interview stage. The interview went fine, and I was expecting a positive answer, but Daniel informed me that I didn’t get in. I thanked Daniel, and I think that was one of the things that helped me get a call for the second time. I wrote a thoughtful note, thanking him and asking to connect with him, and that was it.
What happened the second time?
I got a message from Daniel months after, offering me an opportunity in his team, and this time he was considering just two other people. I was very excited.
Even though I had gotten another job, I was excited to work at Piggyvest. I had grown to love the company enough to work there. I saw the work Daniel was doing, and I loved how he humanised Piggyvest. I applied again and went through about 4 or 5 Stages. Finally, I was interviewed by the leadership team, and that was it.
I would love to mention that I’m in piggyvest because I want to contribute to the Nigerian tech ecosystem. I’ve mostly worked for international companies, and the Nigerian companies I work for are not at the centre of the tech ecosystem. I took it more for the impact I will have in Piggyvest rather than the money.
How have you maximised the different opportunities that have come your way?
I give my best to whatever I do because I don’t like disgrace or mediocrity. I’m big on selective excellence. I don’t jump at every opportunity because I tend to think long term. I have this pretty good insight, so I know when something will pay me or not. So whenever I know that an opportunity will have an insane return on investment, I tend to give it my best, and I dare say that I’m very good at what I do. I give it my best and make sure I form meaningful connections with the people I work with to earn a significant amount of mind share that will make them remember me whenever they have other amazing opportunities.
You mentioned getting rejections earlier. I’m curious, how do you deal with rejections?
I was really rejected last year, and to be honest, I’m not good with rejections. I attach my happiness and fulfilment to my accomplishments. Whenever I’m rejected, I see it as a rejection of me and not my application. But I’ve learned to improve and see things in a different light by learning to detach myself from opportunities, so whenever I apply for opportunities, I see it as an attempt rather than a right, and that’s how I approached Piggyvest the second time.
I also had a similar experience when I applied to join the Foster writing community. The first time I applied, I was rejected. I couldn’t afford the subscription fees at the time, and my scholarship application was rejected. The second time I applied, I got the scholarship.
That's some resilience…
Well, I believe there is time and chance to everything, and you should learn to detach your identity, self-worth and happiness from rejections. I see it as the opportunity not being for me. I also consider the nuances because I know that I’m not the only one applying for this job. They are equally ambitious people, even more qualified than me, that applied also. So I tend to think that someone better got it, and maybe this is the best fit for them at this time of their career. I’m not the main character in everyone’s story.
I also talk to people. I rant a lot. Whenever I face too many rejections, I rant in my friend’s DMs, and they are always serving as my therapist. I also listen to sad music, inject some wickedness into my system and get back to the awesome.
Your story is filled with references to different friends. How much impact has relationships had on your career?
I think relationships have helped me all my career. As I said, my friend introduced me to my first freelancing opportunity. I got my BellaNaija feature through my boss and my mentor Kelechi Udoagwu. I got my Wonsulting job by developing a relationship with Jonathan Xavier through Paloma, a good friend. My present job at VEC was through a formed relationship on LinkedIn. I sent something to my employer, Victor Eduoh, about how I loved his work, and he said I should join the company. I just reached out to him that I wanted to have a chat about his work and thought process.
I don’t apply for freelance jobs. I mostly get them through referrals. Even with my startup, focused on helping ambitious applicants land jobs and build meaningful friendships through community. I’m doing it with my friends, and we are trying to build the next big thing in the recruitment industry.
What advice do you have for young people looking to build meaningful relationships for their careery
The best way to build meaningful relationships is to give before you ask. I feel like many people in my generation like to k upfront. Yes, it would help if you were audacious but always offer value because relationships are a two-way street. It’s not just for you; the other person has to gain also.
One way I develop my relationships is I send people helpful articles, resources and referrals whenever I think it’s relevant to them. That would mean I know a significant amount of information about people in my network, and I try to reach out to them when necessary. When reaching out to strangers, remember that they are busy people, so make your cold pitches short, concise and valuable.
Give before you ask. Give value, then ask later. And don’t focus on how you’re not getting anything yet because most times, it takes a while for people to eventually offer you value because you’re still building trust with them, so be patient.
Let’s narrow it down to your industry now. What tips would you give anyone just starting in the content writing/marketing industry?
For anyone just starting the content writing or marketing industry:
- Read: Read a lot about the industry. Don’t just read articles. Read Classic books on content marketing. Read about 4 or 5 of them.
- Study your mentors: Identity those you look to in the industry and study their career paths. Go to their LinkedIn, study their trajectory. Read their tweets and blogs.
- Study job descriptions: Go through the job descriptions of your dream roles. Identify the skills you have, the ones you don’t, and then take courses to develop yourself.
- Network with your peers and mentors: This is what I call horizontal and vertical networking. Network with your peers because they are the next big thing. Network with those ahead because you need them to recommend you for specific big opportunities. Attend events and join communities where your mentors are.
- Build capacity for rejection: It’s simple. You would get rejected a lot.
- Build in public: Promote yourself, promote your work. Share your mistakes. I think that is one thing that has helped my career. While writing for BellaNaija, I shared my mistakes, and I shared my story. It made people aware of me and my skillset.
What resources would you recommend for anyone just starting
I wrote an article on this. You can read it here.
As a writer, how do you approach writing any piece?
It depends, but my general approach is developing ideas and writing them in my phone note. I research existing content on the topic and look at areas people have not addressed. I note them down, then I create an outline.
Clear writing is clear thinking, and clear thinking is not just you regurgitating what is out there but also adding a new perspective to it. So I also read, form a view on that topic and look for new ways to approach it or even retell what is already old into something new, and this is where my storytelling skills come in.
I can be a messy writer, so while doing my research, I create an outline to guide me, and I include links for each point I want to make. I do my research before writing, so when I start writing, I free write and then edit. I spend 60-80% of my time editing what I’ve written. I feel like that’s the best way to write. You first write trash, then refine it into something great.
Freelance or in house writing. What’s your advice for a newbie in content writing?
I think in house writing is great for newbies who want to specialise because it helps with networking and gives you more credibility than just freelancing. Anybody can freelance, especially freelancing in Nigeria, where you ghostwrite for peanuts. Use freelancing to establish a groundwork of experience so that you can qualify for an in house job. Once you are eligible, start chasing in house roles.
What other things do you love doing?
I love talking, reading, watching tik tok videos, constituting a nuisance on my WhatsApp status, and I love dancing.
Thank you for your time, Jeremiah.
See you soon.
Jesutofunmi from UPFOLIO.