Just a short time ago, telling someone that you plan to make freelancing your career would result in head shaking and mocking. People didn’t have the same grasp on the gig economy and what freelancing would become in today’s society. There are still those that are stuck in the past with an out-dated view of freelancers, but most are familiar with how up-and-coming the gig economy is becoming.
In fact, about 53 million Americans noted they were freelancers back in 2016 which was about 34 percent of the entire American workforce. That number is estimated to rise to about 43 percent by 2020. That’s almost half! So, you may be asking how do you prepare for a career as a freelancer? The good news is that no matter what stage of your life, there are things that you can do to jump-start your freelance career.
It may seem too early to be thinking about becoming a freelancer, but high school can be the perfect time to start learning and implementing freelancing skills. If you babysit your neighbor’s children or do dog walking, you’re already a part of the gig economy. Not every high school is created the same when it comes to their offerings, but there are plenty of opportunities to hone your freelance skills.
High School Vocational Programs
Vocational courses are great for freelancers that want to work with their hands without being employed by someone. Get involved in the wood shop, automotive class, child care, landscape program or other offerings that will get you experience before you branch out into the world. Many young people are skipping being hired by a company and jumping into owning their own business during their high school education and beyond graduation.
Many high schools are offering more varied computer courses with some even starting high school students on coding. Take advantage of classes that teach about software, coding, typing, and more. Knowing how to build a website using HTML and CSS can come in handy even if you’re not planning on being a web designer or developer. It can make it so that you can create your first website hawking your service to your local community without having to pay someone else to make it. Being willing to add to your arsenal of skills is in a freelancer’s best interest.
Check out if your school offers any business classes as being a freelancer means that you’ll not only need a marketable skill, but you’ll also have to be able to handle all of the of the office tasks that come along with being a freelancer. There are some schools that are going so far to have entrepreneurial classes where the students run a business for the school. Classes that are adjacent to business can also be helpful in getting you started on your freelance career. Things like public speaking, communication, accounting, and more can be beneficial.
High School and College Combined
For some high school students, they can get the best of both worlds. More high school programs are realizing that their brightest and focused students are better served by being able to take college courses at the same time they earn their high school diploma. Some of these programs even result in the graduate not only having a shiny new diploma but a certificate or associate degree from the college they attended.
What Comes Next?
After graduation, it’s either time for the real world or to enter college. Your choice is really going to depend upon what your goals are in being a freelancer. Some may need a four-year degree to help them get their freelance career jumpstarted while others may be good with their diploma or community college certificate program. Not all freelance opportunities require you to have a degree.
Always do your research on what other freelancers have under their belt when it comes to experience and what clients are looking for in their freelancers. There is a big debate going on in the country when it comes to higher education with things like debt, and it’s important to try to make the right decision for your future based on the research that you do now.
College is an excellent time to consider your future as a freelancer. Actually, plenty of freelance enterprises were started in college dorm rooms to help pay tuition. If you tutor other students, write articles for websites, design websites for your friends, work as a housesitter, or other gig jobs, you’re already a freelancer. That being said, there’s plenty that can be accomplished to help you advance your potential freelancer career while earning a college degree.
Picking Your Degree Program
You’ll be hard pressed to find a Bachelor of Science in Freelance. That doesn’t mean that there are degree programs out there that are highly suitable for people that want a future in freelancing. Journalism, business, technology, and similar certificate and degree programs are excellent choices for those that are planning on a future in freelancing. It’s important to find a degree program that supports the type of work that you’ll be doing.
Taking Advantage of Electives
You probably selected your elective based on what you want to do after you graduate. For instance, those that want a career in writing will probably select a degree program in journalism, English, or creative writing. The courses that you take that are mandated by your degree program will help to prepare you for your career in freelancing.
However, one of the pieces of advice that just about any experienced freelancer will give to someone just getting started is that you have to remember that you wear all the hats in a successful freelance business. There is no separation of tasks, especially at the beginning of your career when you can’t afford to pay for a service to handle tasks.
Think of it this way. When you work for a company as a writer, you just get to write. There are a few other tasks you may have to do in conjunction with your writing, but you do not have to run the entire company. The sales department brings in new clients to keep you busy writing. There’s a department to handle the human resource tasks like payroll and insurance. The accounting department is there to invoice clients to make them pay for the work you provide, pay the bills, balance the books, and prepare tax forms. Don’t forget the IT department that keeps your computer equipment working smoothly or tech staff that gets the website up and running to bring in clients. As a freelancer, you are the company. That means all of those tasks are your tasks.
That’s where electives can come into play. Being able to take electives that support you in learning other tasks can go a long way towards helping you to be able to do these things for yourself in-house. That basic accounting class or web design class may not fit in completely with your courses in writing, but they will come in handy at a later date.
Networking and Communication Skills
The adage of it’s not what you know, it’s who you know can often come into play greatly as a freelancer. Of course, it’s important that you understand the core of your freelance niche as poor quality work will cause you to shutter your freelance business just as quickly as not having enough clients, but knowing the right people can help your career greatly.
As mentioned in a previous section, there is no sales department that will bring in new clients to your freelance business. That’s completely up to you. One area where college can be so beneficial for you is in expanding your social circle and getting practice in speaking with others. Networking and communication are the skills that will help you in building your business. You can take courses on these topics and look for networking opportunities, such as student mixers.
Some people skip these events. To them, these types of activities may not seem like actual networking events as other students are probably not going to become your clients that day, but these events can still serve a purpose. Your fellow students are going to graduate eventually and may already be working while going to school. There’s a chance you may make a connection with someone now that helps your freelancing efforts. However, even more likely is that student mixers and other networking events at school are helping you with your networking skills.
It can be hard to market yourself in a conversation and create these types of connections. It can be even harder when your business is on the line trying to get someone to sign on the dotted line. Practicing while you’re in school can help you in doing this for yourself. It can help you to make this a more natural step.
Don’t think that it’s impossible to jump into the freelancing game later in life, but in fact, many are doing so to change their lives. Whether you’ve already been in the workforce for a while and love the benefits of being a freelancer or are in school, but don’t have as many options for classes that will help your goals, there are sources outside school that can be beneficial.
Not only has the internet created the perfect environment for freelancing opportunities, but it’s also created the perfect classroom for freelancers. There are so many schools online that can teach you the skills you need to be an effective freelance worker taking advantage of the gig economy. These online courses are available on one topic, or you can take a whole course that leads to a certificate.
You can take advantage of free courses offered through actual colleges and universities and other sources. There are paid courses available, as well. You can find people that teach just about every niche of freelancing. They share their knowledge and experience in exchange for a course fee or membership. Not all of these opportunities are created equal, so it’s important to do some research before spending any money. Look for reviews and information outside of what they’re giving you on their website or in their marketing emails. This effort can help you to find courses that offer value versus those that just rehash information you could’ve found for free online.
It can often feel like there’s a great amount of competition among freelancers. That can make it seem as though there isn’t a community feel to freelancing and that you’re going at it alone. That’s not the case. There are plenty of opportunities for freelancers to connect with others. One of the best places you can connect with other freelancers is the Freelance Union. It’s free to join and offers a chance to get to know others in the community. They share articles on being successful, help get you in touch with great deals from partners and keep you informed about your rights as a freelancer. Other places to look for connections with other freelancers is social media, such as Facebook. Not only is this a good place to connect, but to find potential gigs in the future.
Your library is an excellent source that often gets overlooked. There are some great books being published on being a freelancer and taking advantage of the gig economy. Check out what your local library has to offer. Often, all you need to sign up for a library card is a driver’s license with your current address and maybe a utility bill. If you can’t find any books about freelancing or your niche at your branch, speak to a librarian. Most libraries have agreements with other libraries to share books. This opportunity can allow you to have access to a larger collection of books. They can show you how to set up a request for books located at other branches or locations.
Physical books aren’t the limit of what your library offers when it comes to books. Many libraries are now offering eBooks as part of their collection. This ebook option is an excellent one for busy people. You can have eBooks delivered right to your phone, computer, tablet, or Kindle. It helps to keep your place, and you can highlight passages. Plus, once your loan is up, the book is automatically returned. That means no overdue fees or having to make an extra trip to the library to return a physical book.
Don’t stop there. Your local library is more than just physical or eBooks you can check out. They offer so much more that can help to jump-start your career as a freelancer. Many libraries offer computer classes, speakers, networking events and more to their patrons. Some libraries have online resources, such as membership to paid courses offered for free. Pop into your local library and check out what they may have to offer. It may even just be a bulletin board that you can post your business’ information to get some new clients.
Community colleges and similar learning institutions can be another great place for someone that’s not in school to brush up on the skills they need to be a freelancer. If you have already gotten a degree in your niche, you may think that community college isn’t right for you, but that’s not necessarily true. For instance, taking an accounting class through the adult education program at your local community college can be a good option. It’s often very affordable and works well for people that are already busy working since they are intended for working adults. These types of courses can help you to round out the skills you need to run your own freelancing business. Check out their website to see what they have to offer or ask for their flyer or course catalog.
Jumping into the freelance environment isn’t easy, but there are some things that you can do to help yourself accelerate your learning curve. The thing about freelancing is that you’re always learning what it takes to be successful in a gig economy. No matter how long you’ve been freelancing there’s always something new on the horizon that can change your business for the better. Keep your mind open to these changes, especially when you’re starting out.