#FreelanceFriday: Freelancing Tips for College Students

November 10th, 2017 by Chris Henson

This blog is part of our Freelance Friday series, where we discuss everything and anything related to freelancers. For more freelance information, tips, and trends, follow us on Twitter.

College is expensive. Tuition is sky high, textbooks cost an arm and a leg, and everyone needs a little extra income to go out and fully enjoy the college experience. Even with scholarships and saving accounts, it is nearly impossible to avoid some kind of financial strain during these years pursuing higher education.

So, with time and experience typically at a premium for students, are there any legitimate ways to make some extra money on the side?

Yes! Freelancing!

Freelancers, digital nomads, work-at-home parents, and all independent workers currently comprise 33% of the U.S. workforce (approximately 53 million people). Freelancing is an umbrella term that encompasses writers, editors, graphic artists, designers, photographers, videographers, and many more people with specialized, in-demand skills. And, what’s great about freelancing is that it is open to anyone, including cash-strapped students.

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Freelancing is a great way to get relevant work experience, which–whether through part-time jobs, internships, or freelancing–is incredibly important for a college student.

Where freelancing offers a distinct advantage over a normal job is in its flexibility. Most jobs have a fixed schedule, whereas freelancing (in most cases) offers you the chance to work on your own schedule. It also allows you to work from anywhere–your dorm room, apartment, library, classroom, or when you go home for the holidays.

If you decide to give freelancing a shot (and you totally should!), here are a few things you need to consider first, as well as a few things you need to do to position yourself for success.

Figure out How Much Extra Time You Have

Life as a college student is busy. You are already balancing classes, labs, papers, exams, presentations, and various extracurricular activities. Adding freelancing to the mix is only going to make you busier.

A commitment to weekends and holidays will help you as a freelancer, but no matter when you work, prioritization and productivity are key. Because you are a student, schoolwork should also come first, but beyond that, you will need to figure out how to find more time in your schedule to freelance. You can prioritize your freelance work based on things like deadline, pay, research/planning/setup, estimated time to complete, and other markers.

Determine What You’re Good At

Your freelancing side gig does not need to relate to your major, but it can’t hurt. Freelancing opportunities can fall into all, one, or a combination of three things: something you are passionate about, something you are knowledgeable or skilled in, or something that is in high demand.

Every topic with a web presence needs content creators. There are tons of niche markets you can work your way through, especially as a writer. If you really want to flourish, especially at first, stick to what you know best, but don’t be intimidated by exploring something new. College is the time when you should be exploring new things to help discover what you want to do in life.

Identify Your Goals

What do you want to gain by freelancing? More money? Of course. Experience? Always a plus. But what else are you looking to gain from this? Are you looking for a gateway to a full-time job? Do you just want to try out a field before committing to it? Will you continue freelancing after college?

These are all great questions to ask yourself before and during your time as a freelancer. The answers should not dictate whether or not you do it, but they should provide guidance and purpose to what you are doing.

Get the Right Tools

What do you need to be successful as a freelancer? For most, a computer and reliable internet access should go without saying, but what else?

Well, that depends on the field you are operating in. For some, that is all you need. The internet can help with the rest. Other more specialized skills will need more–graphic designers may need the latest software programs, while photographers will need a good camera, lighting, and other equipment.

Know what you need upfront and familiarize yourself with these tools. Freelancing may be a side job for many, but that doesn’t make it any less important when it comes to planning, preparedness, professionalism, and time management.

Understand You Will Have to Start From the Bottom

This is a tough pill for many to swallow. Like most jobs, you have to start at the entry-level position. It’s a nearly unavoidable rite of passage. Accept it and work your way up. Thankfully, ascending the freelance food chain is typically easier and quicker than climbing the corporate ladder.

It is important to build your skills and constantly improve your services and presentation. The more you freelance, the more you will learn how things are done, what you should and should never do, etc. Reaching out to other freelancers for advice and support is always a great idea.

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Once you have been working for a while, it is important to create a portfolio of your best work as an example of your skill and proficiency. This is a crucial tool for landing other gigs. You can even include some pertinent school assignments as well, especially when you are just starting out.

Creating a personalized website or blog as well as engaging on social media are also great ways to showcase past projects and seek out new work. Many freelancers today use Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on industry news and find relevant opportunities.

You shouldn’t feel bad about this kind of self-promotion. It is a crucial part of freelancing. And speaking of the importance of self-promotion, check out our freelance Twitter account. We frequently share the latest freelancing trends, tips, and best practices.

Build Your Professional & Adult Skills

Freelancing can help you build valuable workplace skills. Just like school, deadlines are extremely important, as are promptness and efficiency. Similarly, freelancing often calls for collaboration with a wide variety of people. While you may already be using these skills in school, freelancing will allow you to put better hone them in a more professional setting.

As an independent contractor, you will learn to deal directly with your clients and gain valuable experience handling a variety of situations as they arise. You will also learn more about contracts as well as taxes.

Treat Freelancing Like a Real Job

Many people have made this mistake, especially those who have never freelanced before. They contract for a little while before quickly realizing that it is a real job. You are getting paid to provide a skill or service. You have to consider deadlines and often collaborate with others. How is that not a real job?

In essence, freelancing is even more than just a job. You are essentially starting your own microbusiness. If you go into it knowing this, you can somewhat avoid the learning curve and work through any missteps early on that could cause you to lose clients, doubt your own abilities, or even quit.

Use Your Freelance Career to Jumpstart Your Post-College Career

Because freelancing is a real job, don’t be hesitant to include it on your resume and discuss it a significant positive in job interviews after you graduate. The work you’ve done has given you experience in the workplace–use that to your advantage! Be confident about your transition into the job market. You will have more experience than your fellow graduates.

Of course, you can also continue, and likely expand, your freelancing business after school. You have spent the time and effort to build these relationships and skills, why not continue utilizing them!


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