How to Start Your Freelance Side Hustle in College

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College is the perfect time to learn a new skill, whether you want to work for yourself or get a great job offer after graduation. It’s a big reason why spending some of your free time looking for and working on freelance projects can be a perfect way to decide what appeals to you most. I started freelancing the year I began my Ph.D. studies, and my only regret is that I didn’t know about freelancing sooner! Read on to learn more about how to break into freelance work and why it’s so valuable for you.

Follow Your Interest

Whether or not you’re studying your chosen area of freelancing is not as important as your overall interest in the topic and willingness to learn. Some of the most common types of freelance work for students to do include:

  • Virtual assistant/admin work, like data entry, research, or file organization
  • Freelance writing for blogs, websites, or print marketing materials
  • Proofreading or editing
  • Graphic design
  • Social media management

Decide on Your Schedule

As a student, you probably have a full plate. But if you can fit in 5-10 hours a week to work on developing the necessary skills, you might see this pay off in spades if you can start getting paid clients.

It’s important to be realistic with your time. Overshoot the moon and you’ll end up missing deadlines for clients or getting overwhelmed, both of which can tank your business faster than expected. If you want to make a few hundred dollars per month, you can do this while working part-time as a freelancer. Block out hours on your calendar for marketing and client work to help hold you accountable and keep you on track.

If you’re not sure you have enough skills yet to get started, look for YouTube tutorials or affordable online courses at Udemy.com to learn more about your area of expertise. You’ll get an inside look at the biggest trends and kinds of software to use in your chosen service area.

Create Work Samples

One of the most important things you can have to launch a student freelance side hustle are work samples. These show clients what you can do and they don’t have to be anything that you’ve been previously paid for or turn in to a client. If you’re a website designer, consider setting up a simple website design for a fake company to showcase your skills. Better yet, set up your own freelancing website to highlight your services at the same time!

A few other examples of ways to come up with work samples include:

  • An aspiring freelance writer could create a blog, a news article, or an essay
  • A proofreader could ask to edit a friend’s paper with track changes turned on
  • A graphic designer could create a logo or PDF flyer

The goal here is to show a work sample piece that is similar to the kind of work you’d turn in for a client. You want the client to see that you have creativity and the base skills needed for the job at hand. A great pitch and work samples can easily overcome plenty of other barriers, so invest the most time in them!

Know Your UVP

Business students will know that UVP stands for unique value proposition. There are millions of freelancers working in the creative space today, so you have to stand out from the crowd. You do that with a UVP. Once you’ve created your work samples, you’ll have a better idea of what it is you bring to the table.

This will need to be showcased in your pitch, which is the persuasive few paragraphs you use to speak to clients. Pro tip: the #1 mistake most new freelancers make is keeping the pitch focused on them rather than their services.

Start Marketing Regularly

Make no mistake: being a freelancer means that you own your own business. No one’s going to hand you a paycheck without you hustling for it. That means you’ve got to find a way to connect with prospective clients. Whether it’s a freelance job board site like Upwork, sites like Remote.co or Indeed.com, or connecting on LinkedIn, there are a lot of options available to you.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll spend at least 80% of your time on marketing. You’ll hear no or get no response a lot in the beginning–that’s normal. So you have to cast a wide net in order to really start generating conversations with clients. If you only send three pitches per week, don’t be surprised when you get no response for weeks at a time–you’re just not pitching enough.

If you’ve sent over 50 pitches and had no response, there’s a good chance something is off with your pitch or your work samples. Find a mentor who can give you some feedback and look for somebody who has extensive experience in the freelance market. You’ll get constructive criticism that you can use in order to improve those marketing materials for better results.

Starting your freelance business in college helps you develop skills necessary for that industry, but you can also learn a lot of soft skills that will help you win more business or remain competitive in the job market. Either way, you come out a winner!

Laura Briggs is a two-time TEDx speaker, guide and coach to over 10,000 freelancers, and author of the 2019 Author Elite Awards “Best in Business” price for her first book, How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business. She is the founder of Operation Freelance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that trains military spouses and veterans how to break into freelancing. Her second book, The Six Figure Freelancer, debuts October 20, 2020. She’s the host of the Advanced Freelancing podcast, a weekly show with free advice for service-based business owners.

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