Pay Your Way Through School as a Freelancer: Tips to Get Started

In the past month, I decided to ditch my law school plan (plus my day job) and spend time learning how to “do my own thing”… freelance. There was only one teensy tiny little problem: I wanted to become a freelancer with virtually no experience.

To clarify, it’s not that I lacked any sort of professional experience – I’ve been in the work force for two years now. It’s just that I have virtually no relevant experience in anything other than what I’ve been doing. My goal now is to establish myself as a freelancer online writing content, developing websites, blogging, and marketing.

I’m not the only one in this boat – a few friends have asked how I got started – so, I threw together a few quick tips for others who want to learn how to navigate the freelancing seas with little to no background experience.

Fair warning: this is certainly not an all-inclusive, but it’s worked for me. If you have additional tips for success on how to become a freelancer, let me know.  But this is definitely a good start because the truth is anyone can do it.  Recent grads, college students trying to pay their way through school (or just to buy an extra packet of ramen noodle for dinner), and even high schoolers can make a living working as a freelancer whether it be part-time, full-time or somewhere in between.

1. Start by doing something, anything

The secret to getting experience is by creating it. No one is going to hand you an opportunity on a gold platter and, as much as we all don’t want to admit it, those get rich quick schemes are exactly that, schemes. My best suggestion is to start something that will help you gain FREE experience on your own time.

If you want to freelance blog, start a personal blog. If you want to work in social media, hype up your personal social media networks. If you want to get more graphic design gigs, start graphic designing.

There’s no one stopping you except yourself.

My first step was to write a blog. By reading this post, you’re literally viewing my beginner freelance steps in action.

2. Use your own work as a portfolio

It’s simple, and it’s exactly what people do in school to get their first jobs.  Ask to see the portfolio of any recent graduate holding a marketing, journalism, communications, or graphic design degree.  All of them have a portfolio filled with personal projects they were assigned in school.

Why?

Just like you, these entry-level folks have no true experience. The only difference between your portfolio and theirs is that yours was free and theirs probably cost upwards of 50k.

3. Find an Established Freelance platform

I use upwork.com – a job board for eager freelancers to peruse job openings and generate proposals and for employers to post openings for easily outsourced work.  Basically any job you can do online, can be found through Upwork (or other similar platforms like Freelancer.com)

It took me about 30 minutes to setup my profile and learn how to navigate the UI. I was pipelining interesting opportunities and submitting proposals that same day.

4. Bid WAY LESS than you think you’re worth OR Work for Free

You’re competing against a world filled with people willing to do the same work as you for far less money. But chances are, they are far more experienced than beginner-you.

The first step is to let go of your pride and be competitive with your bidding. Bid on proposals for FAR LESS money than you actually think you’re worth. In some instances, it might even make sense to offer your services for free in exchange for great ratings and, yet again, more experience.

5. Get positive Reviews & Testimonials

When you land those first few gigs, your sole goal should be to “woo” the hell out of them. You’re building a reputation and naturally, you’ll be judged on many things, not the least of which include the quality of your work, responsiveness, and efficiency. Each successful gig should translate into positive referrals and testimonials. The more pats on the back you get, the more opportunities will come your way.

6. Apply, apply, apply to lots of jobs on many job boards

It’s pretty simple: more applications and proposals will better your odds.

Most free versions of platforms will provide you with a set number of points or “connects” that allow you to apply to certain jobs. For example, I might find a writing gig online that requires two connects in order to apply. Use those “connects” to network, and market yourself. Paid versions of Upwork will give you more connects, or even unlimited connects. For beginners, I suggest limiting your expenses and working off of the free version of Upwork. So far, that’s been more than enough for me.

7. Don’t be afraid of rejection

If you’re a beginner, you’re bound to face rejection. If rejection isn’t something you’re okay with, this might not be the right route for you. Those who can rebound quickly from rejection and constructive criticism will fare much better, and longer, as a freelancer than those who can’t. Use the feedback and rejection to learn.

8.  Keep the “big picture” goal in mind

Money aside, the goal with freelancing is really to do more of what you love, and less of what you don’t.  Even if the hustle is harder than you expected – and yes, it will definitely be harder than what you expected – life is way too short to spend your days working for someone else doing something you don’t truly enjoy.  Capitalize on what you know and love.  Sure, there’s grunt work that comes with any job.  But, at the end of the day, if the big picture doesn’t excite you, then what’s the point?

 

Eden Fried is a book nerd, an exercise junkie, and a freelance writer.  You can follow her journeys at EdenFried.com.

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Eden Fried

Eden Fried is a book nerd, an exercise junkie, and a freelance writer. You can follow her journeys at EdenFried.com

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