How to Start Freelancing-
Try juggling a part-time job, four classes (or lectures), and a buzzing social life, and one of these things will suffer.
Your life suddenly becomes an exhausting combination of four-hour afternoon shifts, last-minute cramming, and prioritizing power naps over Friday night football games.
But this trifecta can still work for a 20-something looking to earn extra money while earning a degree. The trick is ditching the rigid supermarket shifts and taking the freelance route instead.
In this guide, we’ll review tips for inexperienced college students looking to snag a freelance gig and earn a livable wage.
Create a Professional Online Profile
Welcome to the freelance community!
Whether you’re hopping on the Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer.com, or People Per Hour bandwagons, you don’t have a career until you build at least one online profile.
A good one.
Don’t start applying for gigs until your profile has the basics, like:
- A professional-ish headshot
- Volunteer work, completed courses, or internships
- A soft skills list (Are you a skilled communicator? Research-savvy?)
- Samples of completed projects, capstones, or research papers
Once it’s all stitched together and tidied up, send the link to a diligent professor, parent, or friend who knows you well.
Ask for constructive criticism.
Are there grammatical errors you overlooked? Is your real-life “persuasion” skill as impressive as you described? Are you truly an HTML master?
Look for Gigs Under Your Major’s Umbrella
Thousands of gigs post daily on every job platform, most of them mindless or requiring minimal skill.
A $13/hour gig addressing 1,000 envelopes from your dorm room is undoubtedly “easy money.” But you could be doing more and learning more.
Before you fire off a job proposal and waste your Upwork Connects, ask yourself:
How will this help me down the road?
If you wouldn’t add it to your professional resume or ask them for a reference letter in the future, pass!
Instead, filter your job results with keywords related to your major or expertise (ex: “writing” for an English major or “stock photography” for an art major).
By the time you graduate, your resume’s “work experience” section will be plumper and more competitive than your peers, who worked an unrelated job as a summer camp counselor or grocery store clerk.
Don’t Lowball Your Rates
The college student stigma can be daunting to overcome in the freelance world. Some clients will assume that, since you’re hardly 21, you’d accept scraps if it meant snagging beer money or road-tripping next summer.
Don’t undersell your skills.
Craft competitive rates that you can back up with your skill set, experience, and drive to learn. If you set your hourly rate to $17/hour, a $16/hour offer would be reasonable, but $9/hour would be insulting.
Negotiation skills will help you in the future as you finagle for a higher — more deserving — salary after graduation.
Remember: School Comes First
Juggling multiple freelance gigs and a full collegiate course load will catch up to you eventually (if it hasn’t already!). That $20/hour freelance gig is mindblowing for a teenager used to pocketing half that at a local boutique.
But always put school above your freelance career.
If accepting a gig and hitting the deadline also means cramming for a final and skipping group study sessions, the potential risk isn’t worth it. Limit your weekly work schedule to 12-15 hours a week and leave extra time for:
- Going to class (of course)
It’s impossible to please every client.
But it’s also 100% within your right to say “no” and live the traditional college student life, too, where sleeping and eating rank higher than freelance work.
Press Your Comfort Zone
College is all about exiting your comfort zone and engulfing yourself in the unknown. As you’re scrolling through freelance gig listings on your preferred job platform, you might notice a trend:
You nail most of the criteria.
But the rest is still “well above your paygrade.”
Don’t assume that lacking one out of the eight listed requirements means you aren’t qualified for the project. Many passionate industry clients will teach newcomers the ropes if they’re willing to stick around long-term.
Growth is only possible by pressing your comfort zone. Unless they’re specifically requesting industry veterans, there’s no harm in applying! You might just learn something new.
Create a Daily Schedule
The only way to balance your separate social, school, and work lives is by setting a daily or weekly schedule that you commit to. Maybe your hectic capstone courses and fraternity lifestyle leave rogue openings like:
- 4-6 PM on weekdays
- Between your morning and afternoon classes
- Only Saturdays
- All-day Monday
Let your prospective clients know when you’re available to work and don’t accept jobs that branch out of these “free slots.” It can be emotionally draining to realize that your next “break” is spring break, three months away.
Take Time to Make the Transition
Jumping feet-first into any career is challenging, but even more so for a college student craving balance and free time. Ease into the freelance world by not taking the classic bait:
Don’t apply to dozens of jobs at once and cross your fingers. You might hear back from every single one offering a deal, and saying “no” bluntly is hard.
Seek out freelance positions one at a time, track how long it takes to complete projects with your few clients, and ask yourself whether you can take on more.
If possible, look for clients seeking long-term work or weekly freelancers. That way, you have a steady workflow (and income) without applying for new positions every few weeks.
Stock Up On the Right Supplies
The only thing more essential than your skill set and industry knowledge is having the tools to succeed.
What does a person in your industry need to be hireable?
A high-speed internet connection, computer, and cell phone data? A printer or fax machine? Textbooks, workshops, or specific software?
Whatever would set you up for success without completely draining your bank account, get! The only thing that makes you more prepared for a freelance gig is having tools that make success easier.
It’ll pay itself off after a few weeks on the job!
Your freelance journey might begin on Upwork during freshman year, filling in those long stretches between lectures and during that endless 10-day spring break. But don’t look at these gigs as just extra cash in your once-bare pocket.
Instead, view freelancing as a stepping stone to your future career.
Fine-tune your work ethic, select gigs related to your major, and collect industry references that can vouch for you after graduation.
Hey, you might just stay the freelance path like 35% of all workers while your peers battle for 9-to-5 office positions.
Don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail!
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer specializing in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Copper Beech at Ames to help them with their online marketing.