Freelancing As An Undergraduate – The Ultimate Guide

You know those financially independent undergraduates? The ones who can stay months without calling home? I am one of them. I can't remember the last time I requested for pocket money. I do not to care if my parents send me money or not. I can fend for myself.

You know those financially independent undergraduates? The ones who can stay months without calling home? I am one of them. I can’t remember the last time I requested for pocket money. I do not to care if my parents send me money or not. I can fend for myself.

Contrary to the undead trope about independent youths, my financial independence is not a result of cybercrime or other shady affairs. My father has confronted me timelessly about this as he always sees me on my laptop. Rather, it is freelancing! I’m a freelance writer, and freelancing is how I earn my money.

Many undergraduates want to earn money or start freelancing. And several reasons inform this desire. While some students want financial independence, others don’t cherish troubling their struggling parents.

On the other hand, there are undergraduates who desist from the idea of freelancing like it’s a plague. Mostly, such people may have spent all their life listening to the cliche Face your book. Study hard. Don’t let anything distract you” advice. And so, they stick to what they know.

There are many reasons why you should freelance besides the monetary gain. Some of them include:

  • You gain work experience and professionalism

More than ever before, employers prefer candidates with work experience. According to NACE’S Jo Outlook 2017 survey, 91% of employers prefer job seekers with work experience. Ergo, the labour market is fiercer than ever. Employers want employees with the required career skills for success.

Freelancing gives you the platform to build these needed skills for free, and get paid.

Unlike academics which emphasize theory, freelancing instills professionalism and work ethics in you.

When you freelance as an undergraduate, you build the transferrable skills needed in the labour market. Unlike academics which emphasize theory, freelancing instills professionalism and work ethics in you.

  • Serves as complement to your studies

Freelancing is a platform to become street smart, thereby complementing your education. While being book smart is great, having additional “worldliness” propels you to work your way to the top. Street smarts offer you the adaptability and survival skills needed in real life as an adult.

Freelancing is a platform to become street smart, thereby complementing your education.

When you are street smart, you are better positioned to take more risks in life.

As a freelancer, you become street smart as you negotiate and manage people (your clients).

  • Allows you to pursue what you love

As young people, virtually everyone advises us to pursue what makes us happy. Our passion. However, while we might want to pursue what we love as adults, it might not be enough to cater for our expenses.

As an undergraduate, the reverse is the case. Since you don’t have substantial adulthood responsibilities, your time belongs to you, hence… you can pursue what you love.

Freelancing is a rare opportunity for you to earn and learn and pursue what you love.

In your prime, you can offer freelance services without incurring huge risks. If you love taking pictures, you can freelance photograph. If you love writing, you can set up a freelance writing business. Freelancing is a rare opportunity for you to earn and learn while pursuing what you love.

If you are interested in freelancing as an undergraduate, and I hope that you are; here are some required tips for success:

Before Starting Out

  • Determine what you know, then niche

Since there is no strict regulation in the freelance industry, it is easy to proclaim yourself as a freelance writer or programmer despite not knowing anything about the field. But, if you must make a stable income even as a student, the first step is to establish a robust groundwork of knowledge. Each freelance domain has its areas of specialty

Unless you are a genius, your knowledge of your chosen field is usually little at first. This is normal. As you advance as a freelancer, you will acquire new money-spinning skills. For instance, while starting out as a freelance writer, creative writing and blogging were my strengths. So, I concentrated on them. However, as my career advanced, digital marketing interested me. Since then, I have niched into copywriting, content marketing, and SEO.

Unless you are a genius, your knowledge of your chosen field is usually little at first. This is normal.

  • Consider your availability

Not all undergraduates have the privilege to freelance because of the various complexities each discipline has. While a medical student might want to become a freelancer, he/she might not have enough time to explore freelancing like contemporaries in other fields. So, before starting a career in freelancing as a student, be realistic. Examine your schedule and question if freelance activities can fit in.

Before starting out as an undergraduate freelancer, ask yourself, “Do I have the time?”

  • Take few volunteering/starter jobs

Charged with excitement and enthusiasm, you might want to jump into freelancing without establishing credibility. Sadly, such decisions always end in tears. As a newbie freelancer, don’t expect or pursue big jobs at first. Instead, you have to be willing to learn and exercise patience. No client would love to give his/her work to her a novice with no credibility. To establish such credibility, you have to be willing to produce, produce, produce, at whatever cost, and this may include taking low-paying jobs. Yes, this is hard but it is necessary for growth.

Before prospective clients accept your proposals, they demand work samples. How do you supply such work samples without prior experience? By creating, volunteering, accepting low-paying jobs and positions – while we learn.

You do not have to take on more than you can carry. Simply ensure you give it your best shot.

If you are not comfortable with low-paying jobs, you can establish your credibility by creating personal projects only. Work towards adding value, joining the community and building your name in your space. If these turn out well, they provide the necessary groundwork for success as a freelancer.

As a newbie freelancer, don’t expect the big jobs at first. Instead, you have to be willing to learn and exercise patience.

  • Set up your portfolio

After getting the required work samples, the next step is to create your portfolio. An excellent freelance portfolio makes you stand out in the mind of your potential client. When creating your portfolio, ensure you feature your best work. Asides work examples, you can include excerpts of school assignments. This approach works mostly for freelance writers. You can include essay assignments where you had an outstanding grade. Also, include mentions, testimonials, and details of your services.

Asides work examples, you can include excerpts of school assignments.

  • Pitch your services

Reach out to prospective clients and employers. If you have no idea where to find potential clients, start by searching on sites for remote jobs. Asides online platforms, networking at events, and sending cold emails can bring you desired clients. To make it as a freelancer, you have to be shameless and confident. Don’t be afraid to pitch yourself and skills.

To make it as a freelancer, you have to be shameless and confident.

As A Freelancer

Starting a career as a freelancer is not enough. Here are some actionable tips that will ensure your success.

  • Avoid overpromising

As an undergraduate freelancer, you must remember that while you have to meet the deadlines of deliverables, you have other important activities to tackle.

For that reason, try not to take too much by overpromising. Be transparent with your clients and let them know if a deliverable is possible or not. The moment you overpromise, you risk under-delivery.

  • Seek retainers

Unlike adult freelancers who might need five clients to cater to their numerous financial responsibilities, you don’t need that as an undergraduate. One good-paying retainer might be enough for you. Having too many clients endangers your academics. Also, it might complicate your schedule. However, if you find a good-paying client, consider a long-term relationship with them. Ensure you understand their job requirements, such as needed work hours. Doing this makes your income and schedule entirely predictable. Once you’ve mastered the art of managing that one client, feel free to take another.

One good-paying retainer might be enough for you. Having too many clients endangers your academics.

  • After establishing your credibility, adjust your rates

One problem associated with the freelance industry is the tendency of clients to exploit freelancers. Fight against this by charging a higher rate once you have gained enough experience. 

While starting out as a freelance writer, I had to take ridiculous sums from my Nigerian clients (imagine taking 1 naira per word and $10 per original article). The more experience I’ve gained, the more I’ve been able to improve my expertise. More importantly, I acquired industry certifications. Consequently, my rate has soared. I now command a higher price.

To establish grounds for a higher rate, ensure you add to your portfolio, update your skillset, and acquire relevant certifications.

Balancing the Scale

Earning independent income as an undergraduate is gratifying but whatever you do, don’t unsettle the balance of the scale.

Don’t let freelancing overwhelm your academics or vice versa. While you are earning extra income, don’t forget to study. Here are tips to help maintain balance:

  • Learn the art of prioritization

In some situations, you’ll have both school assignments and pending deliverables. Multitasking won’t help in such cases because it makes your work shoddy. Instead, pick either of the two and do it at a time.

On your mental scale of preference, determine which of the two works is most crucial. Once you find out, do it. You’ll need to prioritize often as you will experience many nights like this.

  • Spend your holidays wisely

Sometimes, your school schedule might be too tight to accommodate freelancing. In such scenarios, you don’t need to fret. Remember the last point? You might need to let go of freelancing for that semester.

And after that, the long semester break comes. You can use the three-month vacation to learn more, earn more, and build your experience and portfolio. You don’t necessarily have to intern. Freelancing just might be the perfect experience you need.

We wish you the best.

Image source: Credit

About the author
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Jeremiah Ajayi is a professional repairer who changes blank pages to rich content. He loves echoing the unvoiced thoughts of Millennials and Ben Z with his 'pen'. Jeremiah commits to writing on freelancing, relationships, career, and personal development. Asides being a content writer, Jeremiah is a Google, University of California, and HubSpot certified digital marketer specialised in copywriting, SEO Consultancy, and Social Media Management. Presently, Jeremiah works as a writing intern in Thomas J Henry Attorneys, a social media intern at Couture Press, to mention but a few. In his spare time, Jeremiah is a Grammy award-winning bathroom singer, part-time Quora addict and life of the party.

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