How to start freelancing as a student

In my second year of university – after I settled into my new city and surroundings – I thought I’d try my hand at freelancing. I was studying Politics and always enjoyed writing, but never thought I could make a career of it. After all, writing jobs are few and far between and I simply couldn’t afford to take on unpaid internships. My degree wasn’t in Journalism or English either which made it difficult, but I didn’t want to give up, which is why I started freelancing. It was definitely one of the best things I’ve done. I was always worried I wouldn’t find a job after I graduated – we all know how it is, employers want experience, but we’re never given the chance to get experience. But by freelancing, I managed to build up a portfolio of work I could show to potential employers after I’d graduated. Employers like to see people who take the initiative to achieve their goals and in every interview I’ve had since graduating, my freelance experience is always a talking point. Here’s some of my top tips and things to bear in mind for students who want to establish themselves as a freelancer.

Establish an online presence

Something I made the mistake of doing when I started out was putting a Gumtree advert up without any promotion. To an extent, it worked – I actually found my first paid writing job on Gumtree – but I should have done a lot more. Purchase a domain name, set up a website (a simple Wordpress site is all you need), create social profiles such as Twitter and Facebook, and try to keep them regularly updated. Having a website is important because you can use it to showcase your work and if you’re smart with SEO, potential clients can find you through a simple Google search.

Contribute to as many things as possible

When you’re starting out, you need to build up a portfolio you can showcase to clients. If you’re a writer, contributing to student magazines and publications is a must. They’re always looking for writers so find out what your university or college offer and get involved! If you’re more creative, again, look at what your university or college offer. I know designers whose early work took the form of student union club night flyers – sure, it’s not the most glamorous of work, but it’s all about experience and practicing your skills as often as you can.

Don’t sell yourself short

I always had trouble with deciding if I should be paid per hour or per project. Some clients are wary to pay per hour because it’s nearly impossible for them to track just how many hours you’ve worked. But then paying per project is difficult because a lot of jobs can run on and on, meaning you lose out unless you re-negotiate the cost. It’s tricky. Only you can decide how much you should earn and it’s important to keep in mind that some people will try talk the price down as much as possible. As a benchmark, I’ve seen other writers charge between £20-£50 per hour. Remember, though, that some of your earnings will need to go towards tax – take a look at the Government’s Self Assessment page for more information.

Make use of your social circle

If you have a friend who’s training to be a graphic designer or developer, why not team up with them? A lot of clients I reached out to were interested in content and copywriting, but they were also looking for advice on logo design and making tweaks to their website. By teaming up with a couple of friends, I was able to offer clients a lot more, and for much less than what a design agency would charge. It doesn’t have to be about finding paid work either – I’ve helped out a designer friend with writing their CV and received some business card designs in exchange for my help!

Don’t neglect your studies

Working and earning money is tempting (there’s nothing worse than watching your bank account slowly dwindle and living on budget noodles for weeks on end), but it’s important you don’t put this ahead of your degree. As a student, your schedule is much more flexible, so manage your time in a way that works for you. If you want a job in a certain industry but aren’t sure of the best way in, I strongly suggest you try freelancing to build up some experience. Even if you find it’s not for you, making some extra cash is always a bonus, right? It’s also something you can include on your CV too, and is bound to impress future employers.


  About the author: Natasha Walker is a freelance writer and a politics graduate. You can keep up-to-date with her take on the freelance life on her blog, freelancethinking.co.uk, or on Twitter: @natashawlkr.

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