How to start freelancing in school or university

Complementing your studies with freelancing can be a winning strategy. Here's what you need to know to get started
Freelancing doesn't have to be a full-time, seven days a week venture. It can be something to do on the weekends that brings you pleasure, teaches you new skills, and adds extra money to your pocket. This can be most tempting for students who have less time to dedicate to a project but can benefit from the experience and the income.

For some freelance projects, a completed education is not a requirement, as long as you can prove you have the skills and dedication (and you're of legal age - always check with your parents first). If you have an entrepreneurial mindset or want to practice your skills and get paid for it, freelancing can teach you a lot about working with clients, selling your work and managing your time.


Before you begin

It is important to be aware that freelancing may not be the best way to earn extra income as a student. Having a part-time job or doing services like babysitting will generate a more stable source of income if you want to save up. However, a freelance business can be scaled up, eventually leading to a dream career and charging a premium for your time. Compared to a supermarket job, where the chances of promotion are small, freelancing is a great investment in your future.


Skills and Interests

What freelance work you'll do would depend on your skills. Focus on skills that set you apart from others, instead of jumping on "easy" freelancing trends (which are either misleading or over-saturated). Lack of skills or experience isn't always a barrier, but as a young person, you have to be more creative when demonstrating your skills.

If you're in university, using the area of your degree is a good idea – design, programming, and English are all good freelancing routes. If you're still in high school, then think about what you enjoy doing, what field you may join in the future, and what you'll like to learn!

Try to find freelance work which aligns with what you want to focus on after graduating, instead of jumping onto any freelance listing. If you're interested in IT, try to find junior programming jobs, or maybe write articles for the blog of an up-and-coming cyber-security company. Enjoy writing? Find small publishing houses and offer to write reviews for them, or to help manage their social media. This will not only make freelancing more engaging for you, but add some relevant experience to your CV too.


Finding clients

We've covered where to find clients more in-depth in this article, but if you're just starting out, you can try this.

Target small companies (best if they're local) or start-ups, which need the help, but are unlikely to go hire full-time employees due to their tight budgets. The trick is to offer value first. Approach them, explain you enjoy and understand their business niche, and offer to help. You can manage their social media, take or edit photos for their website, make their website nicer. Offer it for free for a few weeks, and then ask them to pay you to continue. If you've brought them benefits – increased their reach, brought in sales, etc., they wouldn't want that to stop and may offer you compensation. If you're not that lucky, you still had a happy client – ask them to pay you with a recommendation instead. It might take a few tries to get a paying client, but even if you're unsuccessful, you still gain experience for your CV.


Risks

The number one piece of advice for novice freelancers is: don't get discouraged! It is a busy market, and your lack of skills and experience may hinder you, but learning to perseverance is part of the process. On the flip side, if you're freelancing is going well, there is the danger of ignoring your studies, which can result in a bad academic performance. In the long term, you may regret your decision, so learning to maintain a work-study-life balance is important.


Advice from other freelancers and partners

We asked some members of our community about what advice they would give to young freelancers and here is what they shared.

Sara Reyniers said: "Don't focus on what others in your sector are doing, thinking they have all the answers. Just figure out your own thing and go for it! Also: find help (through courses and coaching) sooner instead of trying to figure it out by yourself"

Geraldine Huybrechts, on the other hand, advises you to "dare to ask" and "find a mentor"

Finally, Francesca Paschetta would like you to "be patient and keep following what you really like and want to do, stay focused on that and don't get distracted from the million other ideas you hear and see everywhere, especially online."

And just like that, with some dedication, a willingness to learn, and a sprinkle of luck, you can have an exciting out-of-school project, which can lead to a prospective career, without the need for writing endless cover letters.
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