A College Student's Guide to Freelancing
I began freelancing in December of 2015. I was a freshman in college and was approached by a mentor of mine that needed help with social media and content creation for an in-browser video game he made. Nearly four years later, I still have that client; but more importantly, the work I have done for that one client has opened up opportunities for me as a freelancer, now having worked with over 50 different companies ranging in social media creation, logo design, copywriting and consulting. By the way, I'm still in college.
Freelancing is a great opportunity for college students to gain skill sets before officially entering the workforce and make a little extra money on the side.
The biggest excuses I hear from students that I approach about freelancing are "I'm too busy," "I'm not good enough to be a freelancer," and "That sounds difficult and complicated." While yes, freelancing can be difficult and stressful, that knowledge (and sometimes money) you gain from working with clients is rewarding and in the end, worth it.
So here's my College Student's Guide to Freelancing:
Find Out What You're Skilled At
When I say "skilled at," I don't mean "a master at," because you don't need to be in order to freelance.
When I took my first logo design client, it was for a paving and sealcoating company in New York. At that point, I had taken one college class on graphic design and 4 months of self-taught instruction. I got to a point where I felt confident that if I was asked to design a logo for somebody, I could do it. I knew Nike or Apple wasn't going to be asking me to design something, but for a small startup business or personal brand in need of a logo, I thought I could rise to the occasion.
I felt the same about writing articles. I have always been a skilled writer and knew that if I was approached about ghostwriting for a blog, I could deliver something I would be proud of. This led to me being a long-term contributor to a blog that wrote about men's fashion and lifestyle tips. Over the course of one year, I had written over 80 blog posts.
The first step is finding the skill(s) you feel confident enough in that you could deliver a finished product that you're proud of. (Bonus Tip: Don't worry about the client. Most clients will find something to critique, no matter how skilled you are. Ask any freelancer that.)
Set Yourself Up For Success...Early
Unless you plan on only having a Fiverr page (more on that below), you are going to want ways to display your services and portfolio for clients to see. For me, my website and business Instagram page is where my clients find me.
My business Instagram page has a little over 2,800 followers, though I don't post there much anymore, and contains a large chunk of logos I have designed for clients, and for fun. If you're a photographer, cinematographer, logo designer or any other creative, Instagram is going to be a great, free way to display your work. You can even have a highlight on your page detailing services, eliminating a need for a full website.
For writers and social media content creators, you have it a little more difficult. To display your work, you're most likely going to need a website or blog. I display my writing through a section on my website, highlighting a wide ranging of topics I have written about. For social media content, I have case studies, showing impact of campaigns I have created.
No matter who you are as a freelancer, potential clients like to see results. If they see that you have grown a social media presence by 2000% over the course of a few months, they'll be more inclined to hire you than if you just said "I do social media."
Set yourself up for success by creating a proper portfolio or way to display your work. That way when you go looking for clients, they already have a way to see what you do.
How To Land A Client
Okay, so you have come to the conclusion that you're going to give this freelancing thing a shot. Now, you have to decide how you're going to market yourself and land that first client. I was fortunate that a mentor of mine was willing to give me an opportunity from the start. This doesn't happen to everyone.
If you're a logo designer, for instance, and don't feel ready for a major client that's going to require logo design specification packages, try marketing yourself around campus! Depending on the size of your campus, odds are there is going to be a percentage that are either looking for a logo for their business cards or are starting a business of their own and need a help with branding.
You can also start where others do -- fiverr.com
I used Fiverr for about a year. It's a great place to attract small, short-term clients that will help launch a freelance career. There, you're able to set prices, create packages, and see what other freelancers charge for similar services. Note that Fiverr does take a small percentage of what your client pays, but it's minimal.
If there's a community board in your area, post a flyer stating your services and your contact info.
With today's digital presence, there's a plethora of ways to market yourself and reach potential clients.
Okay, you have a client. Unless you're on Fiverr or another in-site freelancer service, you're going to want a contract. That's scary, especially at the beginning. Thankfully, there are excellent resources for freelancer contracts that you can utilize and adopt. I will post a picture of a contract that I use for reference.
A contact doesn't have to be 20 pages long like in the movies. My contract that I use for clients is 2 pages, not including the cover page. Take a moment to look over key points that I have included. Things like due dates, cost of revisions (if applicable), services I will be providing and how I accept payments.
If you don't feel comfortable writing a contract on your own, find a pre-law student around to help you write it! Or offer a trade like I did. I had a pre-law friend of mine look over my contract to make sure it was okay in exchange for a logo and business card design to help market himself.
Well, now you begin freelancing!
While I tried to simplify what it's like to start freelancing, it's important to remember that a lot of what you'll learn, you'll learn through personal experience and not through blogs like this one or from others. I didn't learn what it's like to navigate all client relationships just through reading about them. Each client is different and will require different attention.
I know you're probably hesitant on starting, but what have you got to lose? Worse-case scenario? You may not land a client but at least you just built a great portfolio for future employers. So go out there and give it all you've got, I know you won't regret it.