It’s certainly no secret that money can be tight while at university, but freelancing as a student can sometimes be a lucrative way to top up those student loans which often don’t stretch far enough.
It’s easy to see why the prospect of burning yourself out at your lowly-paid, inflexible part-time job or internship doesn’t seem wholly worth it alongside your already demanding studies, but these days those lowly-paid, part-time or temporary roles that are often completely irrelevant to your long-term career plans aren’t your only options for making some extra money as a student.
With a certain amount of ambition, focus and determination, you could become a paid freelancer— something that has the potential to be highly rewarding. You could find yourself earning decent money whilst at university, but not only that, you could truly impress future employers with your evident drive and passion for what it is that you do.
In truth, you can reap plenty of benefits by freelancing as a student and by now you’re bound to be eager to get going. However, there are a number of things to consider before taking the plunge, as with anything, there are pros and cons to offering freelancing services as a student. In this guide, we’re discussing some of the most commonly asked questions to help shine a light on the subject.
What services can I offer?
The services that you can offer as a freelancer are truly endless, but ultimately it comes down to where your skills lie and what you strongly believe you can specialise in. One of the most common, accessible and sought after service is writing— whether that be writing blog posts, feature articles, copywriting, or even entire eBooks. It is an extremely varied field, so if you are a keen writer, you may find that you have something to offer. It’s important to be aware, however, that bigger publications may try to take advantage of your student/entry-level status and not offer to pay you for your work. When it comes to freelancing, no matter your specific area of expertise, it is crucial that you know your worth and are clear on the terms before agreeing to work with any client.
Other sought after services include graphic design, photography, video production, programming, teaching English online, admin support— the list goes on and on. The moral of the story is this: if you believe you have a certain skill that you think someone might want to pay you for, then you have the potential to become a freelancer.
How do I set myself up as self-employed?
One of the most important steps towards becoming a paid freelancer is actually setting yourself up as self-employed— something that you’re legally required to do, otherwise you could receive a hefty fine for evading taxes. This means that you will be responsible for your own tax and national insurance contributions which is done via a self-assessed tax return. To avoid any nasty surprises down the line, register with HM Revenues and Customs as soon as you start freelancing.
The prospect of filing your own tax returns can be daunting to say the least, however, it certainly doesn’t have to be as taxing as it seems. If you are keen to find out more detailed information on how the process works, visit the HMRC website for more information on setting up as a sole trader.
Where can I find work?
When it comes to freelancing, perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions is where exactly to go to find work. It is highly unlikely in the beginning that a new client willing to pay a decent amount of money for your services will just land in your inbox like a gift from the gods— so it’s up to you to attract them. The good news is that there are a number of websites designed for getting your foot in the door of the freelance world, such as Upwork and PeoplePerHour.
Freelance job sites like these allow you to easily apply for work with clients, and most of them offer secure payment protection systems which ensure that you’re always paid for the work that you do— something that can be quite tricky to navigate otherwise if you are a beginner freelancer.
However, perhaps the biggest drawback to finding work through freelance job sites is the fact that most, if not all, will take a percentage of your earnings. After that, if you’re on the ball with your finances, you’ll also have to take into consideration what you’ll want to set aside for your future tax bill. Finding all of your work through freelance job sites means you risk doing a hefty amount of work for little or no reward. Therefore, it’s worth researching each site’s policy around fees.
Be that as it may, freelance job sites aren’t the only way to attract clients. You could even go as far as setting up your very own freelancer website, which is arguably one of the most viable ways to attract the attention of those requiring your services. If you truly want to take your freelancing services to another level, having a professional website is a sure-fire way to grow your business.
When you set up your very own freelancer website, you are presenting yourself as a business and showcasing your expertise, which in turn will make clients take you more seriously. However, there are a few things to consider before getting ahead of yourself, and one of the most important is this: setting up a freelancer website is like an investment in your business, as you will have to pay for website hosting and your URL/domain. It will cost you money, but if it is something you want to take seriously, you will find it to be worth it in the long-term when you make significant return. Take the time to consider your options and ultimately make a decision based on your budget and needs.
Another way to land clients is by networking and there’s no better place for this than LinkedIn. Set up your profile on the platform to showcase the services that you offer and then you can start connecting with like-minded individuals in your industry. The platform is alight with professionals in need of freelancers for all kinds of services. There are also various community groups you can join, which are particularly helpful for expanding your network, as well as finding paid opportunities.
It is also worth mentioning that there is absolutely nothing stopping you from pitching your knowledge and ideas to companies and brands with whom you want to work with and who you feel you could potentially benefit from the services that you offer. Take the time to craft an enticing cold-email pitch, as you truly never know what opportunities might arise or where it might take you.
How can I stand out from my competition?
Regardless of area of expertise, one of the biggest challenges freelancers tend to face is actually standing out from the competition. Services such as writing, graphic design and photography are highly sought after, but they are also fields that are full to the brim of talented individuals eager to be paid for their work. So, what exactly can you do to stand out amongst all of the white noise?
One of the best and most sure-fire ways to stand out is to build a positive reputation for yourself. There are a number of ways you can do this, such as asking your clients for a good testimonial. If you decide to invest in a freelancer website, you could have a page dedicated to positive feedback you have received from clients in the past, which already builds a level of reassurance and trust with any potential clients who might happen upon it. You could also ask to be credited for your work— for example, if you specialise in writing feature articles, ask if you can get your name on it so that it can be included within your portfolio. You could also offer discounts for repeat clients, because it really goes without saying, but good customer service throughout goes a long way.
Once you become more established as a freelancer, you can begin to stand out from the crowd by being selective about the clients that you work with. Now, we understand that you want to work with as many clients as possible and make as much money as possible— but is that always the best approach? Being selective about who you work with puts you in a position of exclusivity.
How can I balance freelancing with my studies?
Being a student requires a certain level of self-discipline, but adding being self-employed on top of that takes it to another level. It’s important to remember that you are in charge, and although you don’t necessarily have a boss who is breathing down your neck, you do have clients and you do need to attend to them. That probably means that long gone are the days where you can sleep in until midday, procrastinate your assignment all afternoon and then hit the SU until the early hours of the morning. If you’re serious about setting up your own business alongside your studies, you need to work to achieve a healthy balance between the two— but also allowing yourself downtime.
This is where effective time-management and organisation comes into play. Once you begin to establish relationships with your clients and have a clearer idea of the work that needs to be done, start to plan a daily routine— and stick to it. Having a routine and knowing exactly what needs to be done every day will make it much easier for you to get up in the morning, otherwise you risk spending an extra hour in bed each morning wondering where to start, ultimately wasting time.
When it comes down to it, you need to be realistic in what you can manage in terms of freelancing. At the end of the day, your studies should come first during term time— the last thing you want to get into the habit of doing is neglecting your assignments for the sake of work. So, if you make the mistake of taking on too much freelance work, you need to be honest with yourself and your clients, otherwise you risk producing sub-par work which will ultimately damage your reputation.
As well, freelancing as a student does mean there’s plenty of flexibility in the way of working from home and picking your own hours, however, you do risk coming down with a case of cabin fever. Don’t be afraid to change up your working environment every now and again to stay focused— head to a local coffee shop or make the most of your campus library. And, of course, don’t forget to take breaks. Nothing is worth burning yourself out for, so be sure to schedule in some relaxation time.