With 58 million freelancers in the US as of 2021, it’s clear that freelancing is a viable career path.
But it’s not one that’s reserved for those who are mid-career. In fact, 50% of Gen Z has participated in freelance work.
Translation? Aside from being a flexible way to earn income while taking classes, freelancing is a career that you can get a head start on while you’re still in school.
Here’s how to start freelancing as a student.
Figure out what you want to offer
The beauty of freelancing as a student is that there’s plenty of time and space to experiment with different skill sets and figure out exactly what you want to offer as a freelance service.
The best place to start is with what you’re already interested in or going to school for. Are you a marketing major? Or maybe you’re learning website development? Start by connecting with potential clients who are seeking support in those areas.
Get set up
Most freelancing disciplines — whether that’s graphic design, copywriting, or social media management — can be done with the same equipment you use for school: your laptop, tablet, or even your phone.
If you need additional programs to run your freelance business like Photoshop, for example, many companies offer student discounts. You could also see if your school provides access to these tools for students.
When getting started, you’ll also want to have a place where potential clients can find you and you can promote your work. This can be a website, TikTok or Instagram account, or even a free portfolio website like Behance for designers or Clippings.me for writers.
And speaking of a portfolio…
Start building your portfolio
If you have relevant work from internships or class projects, then use those examples to get your portfolio started. But what if you don’t? Don’t sweat it just yet. You don’t need prior experience to secure your first freelance client.
For example, if you want to be a freelance writer, start your own blog to show off your writing and researching skills. Or if you want to offer freelance website design services, create your own website and use it as an example of your work.
You could also reach out to local businesses in your city and offer to do a project, either for free or as a trial for more freelance work. This is exactly how Bailey Thibodeaux, the founder and designer behind Honeywave Creative, started her studio straight out of school.
Intern at an independent business
Internships are essential to gaining hands-on experience no matter what career you plan to pursue, and that includes freelancing.
If you want to learn the ropes of running a freelance business, try landing an internship with someone who has their own independent studio or is freelancing full-time.
Not only will you get to see what it’s like to freelance as a career, but you’ll learn the ins and outs that come with the business side of freelancing, including client management, pricing, and sending proposals.
Find a mentor
Mentors are people who have experience in the job or career you want to pursue and can help guide you along the way. If you want to start freelancing, find someone who has experience doing that and could share a few tips with you.
Your mentor could be a professor, your supervisor at an internship, or a friend who recently graduated and is freelancing.
It could even be someone you follow online but haven’t met IRL! If you see someone who’s currently freelancing and you want to learn from them, don’t be afraid to send them a cold DM to connect.
Freelancing continues to be a career path that many are choosing in favor of the traditional 9-5. And there’s no better time to give it a try than when you’re in school.