recent grad? Now's the time to freelance

Why You Should Freelance Early in Your Career

Entering into the workforce with little or no experience can feel daunting. Add a pandemic and, whoa, that thought quickly feels like an understatement. But we’re here with some better news—freelancing is up 28% over the last year because that’s where a growing number of jobs are in demand. Many employers are hiring more contractors for so many reasons—from the volatility of markets to the steep cost of healthcare—and this has created more freelance jobs for talent creative professionals (like yourself). And while it used to be that you were limited to your local job market, working from home has become the new normal, opening you to national opportunities! Ready to take on the freelance life? 

How to compete as a new freelancer

You might be thinking, “wait, if freelancing is up, then how can I compete with all the other freelancers?” As a recent graduate you have many things going for you that senior-level freelancer doesn’t:

  • You bring new ideas. You may not have a huge work portfolio, but you have fresh eyes on your interests and strengths that made you thrive in school. Focus on and use them to your advantage. 
  • You’re hungry for new experiences. When starting out, your objective is to gain experience and skills over a big paycheck. Forget starting with sites like Fiverr or Upwork. There are plenty of employers that are looking for junior or entry-level creatives. Ask around within your network and have talks with people who are in your dream industries. 
  • You’re not charging as much as the seasoned vets, giving you an advantage of scoring that job over someone who is more expensive. We’re not saying to charge peanuts (more on that in a bit), but we are saying you’ll gain more experience this way. You’ll be able to try out different jobs more readily to see what suits you. You’ll also continue to reevaluate your time management and how much you should charge next time for your expertise. 

A final note: remember that freelancing can be as temporary as you want! You’re in the driver’s seat. If you get into a groove and are thinking about freelancing full-time, we’ve also got tips on how to build a resilient freelance business.

What are the risks of freelancing?

Know that when you’re first starting out, you most likely won’t be able to make your ideal salary. With more experience, you’ll eventually get there and we have an article to help with setting your rate. Decide on two outside figures: your top price and also the lowest price you’ll be willing to go, depending on the job. There will be potential clients who will ask you to go lower in exchange for something non-quantifiable like “exposure”. Don’t, we repeat, don’t take that bait. It might seem tempting, but hold out for a client who knows and appreciates how much your time is worth.

Heads-up, you’ll need to be diligent about securing your own health benefits, insurance, doing your own taxes, and starting a retirement fund. These aren’t risks, but there are additional tasks you’ll have to account for. There will also be seasonal slumps, so be prepared mentally. If you can’t, say, score a big holiday campaign, then you know you’ll have to make up that income in a different way. Or set a strict budget. Or dip into savings. Just don’t think of these seasonal dips as the end of your career—freelancing is a huge learning process and it takes a lot of mental readiness and self-care to continue growing. But you’re resilient. You did, after all, just complete school during a global pandemic. Can we just take a moment to say... wow, you’re unstoppable. 

What are the benefits of freelancing?

There are countless pros of contract or freelance work, but we’ll rattle off a few. You know those people who seem like they can literally do everything? That’s the kind of professional you can become as a freelancer. Your social skills will expand, too, as you work with many different people in many different scenarios. You’ll get to know what types of environments work for you and which ones to stay away from. Mastering your time and carving out moments for yourself will be more rewarding. You’ll be able to set your own vacations without worrying about what your boss will think—because you’re the boss now! For some, this benefit alone might end up being the ultimate reward. 

Even if freelancing isn’t a long-term thing for you, you’ll have the added benefit of knowing you can do it again in the future. In that sense, building a strong portfolio and persona as a freelancer offers a kind of secure confidence boost that’ll stay with you.

Ok, I’m ready! How do I go about finding gigs?

There are only a few articles out there on how to start freelance work. There’s no clear-cut method, but we’ve got a few steps to get you prepped. First, get your portfolio in order. Remember that you’re competing with a huge workforce, so make sure it clearly represents who you are as a professional and is poised to attract your dream clients. If you’re not a designer and can afford it, hire a designer to help you craft a great portfolio. We’ve also got some tips and great platforms that we cosign on. Once you’re ready, start networking on a local scale. Try creating a profile on small-business networking sites like Alignable, join local groups, and don’t be shy about vocalizing what projects you’re looking for. Side note, locals will be more interested in hiring someone from their community than someone remote. Get in touch with peers, send your CV to everyone you know, and make it known far and wide that you, their next star freelancer, are just a phone call or email away. 

Now, about those gigs…

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