Last Updated: Mar 16, 2020
If you’re looking to make some extra cash in college, someone’s probably recommended freelance work. From writing articles for online publications to photographing local events to designing websites for the coding-challenged, there are millions of ways to make some decent money while getting top-notch résumé-building experience.
As a freelancer, you typically get to pick your hours, so you can choose not to work during finals, midterms, even spring break! Plus, establishing yourself as a freelancer now could lead to even more business after graduation, not to mention better positioning in the job market.
The advice to become a freelancer may have been given offhandedly, but freelancing (and making money doing it) is actually kind of complicated. This guide will help you understand some freelancing challenges and help you decide if you’re prepared to face them.
Create a website
You need a place to send potential clients. Think of this as a public résumé/portfolio. If you’re trying to sell your writing, you need a blog. All the photos should be original and personally adjusted if you’d like to work in photography.
You can build the site yourself if you know how to do that—and you should if that’s a skill you’re marketing. If you’re not well versed in web design, you can use a domain platform like Wordpress or Wix.
The domain should be simple; it can be just your name unless you have a more intricate business model. For example, if you’re trying to branch off on your own as a professional photographer, your domain should be your business’s name.
If you’re hoping to do a lot of freelance work and send a lot of clients to this site, paying for a domain is a must. On the bright side, you can argue that those domain fees are necessary to your business and deduct them from your taxable income. But more on that later.
You should also invest in business cards. When you go to events related to your intended field (do that if you aren’t currently), bring your cards with you. VistaPrint is economical, and they don’t upcharge if you upload your own design.
Work for free
Before you build your website and clientele, you need to build your experience—the classic catch-22. How do you get work experience when you need experience to work? You’re not going to like the answer: you’ll have to do some work for free.
Maybe a neighbor needs someone to take pictures at their son’s bar mitzvah, or a senior needs some graphic design work done for a capstone project. Maybe a local Mom and Pop store is looking to get online and they need some help on a tight budget. All these little favors add up.
Once you have a few of these experiences racked up, ask for testimonials and get permission to show or link that free work on your website. Internships are another great way to get this kind of experience and build your résumé at the same time.
Get testimonials and references
Do not get testimonials and references confused. They may seem like the same thing, but when it comes to marketing yourself, they’re like night and day.
Testimonials should be displayed on your website and have endorsements of your skills—stories or quotes from your friends and professors clients you did the free work for. They should be specific, explaining how you solved their particular problem—think quotes on the back cover of a book from famous authors endorsing it as a must-read.
Clients may request references before they hire you. References are people your clients can contact to get a feel of how you work professionally, just like regular job references.
Some of your references may give you testimonials, but don’t pull quotes from a reference letter to use as a testimonial on your website—please. It’s extremely unprofessional and painfully obvious when done.
This is the most difficult part of freelancing. Plenty of people in the world need and want services, but none of them want to pay—and if they do, they only want the most experienced person.
Search job sites like Indeed for remote work in your industry. Refine your search to “remote” for location and you should have a list of jobs where you’ll be able to work from home. There are plenty of companies that hire freelancers on a steady pace, so you can continually get work but don’t have to go searching for it. (You don’t need a website if you’re going this route.)
There are also websites built for connecting freelancers and clients. You create a profile and can search for work or have someone reach out to you for work based on your skills and experience. One of the most popular sites is Upwork.
Be aware: These sites may require a membership fee or take a percentage of your earnings off the top. This is not a scam—this is how you pay fees for a service provided to you.
Tell a professor that you’re interested in freelancing and need help finding clients. They may refer you to a specific site for freelancers with your talents or even just refer you to someone. Your campus’s career services office might even be able to help you find companies looking for steady freelancers too.
When attending local events, bring your business cards with you and hand them out to people who may need your expertise. On-campus networking events are great for this! And there’s always the standard: search Craigslist.
Be on the lookout for Part 2 of this series on the not-so-fun (but important!) parts of freelancing in college, and find more career advice in our Internships and Careers section.