Should you consider freelancing after graduation?

Graduate freelancing and working at computer

Freelancing can give you the flexibility to create the lifestyle you want, but it’s still hard work. Should you consider it?

Working from home, making your own schedule, and taking on projects that you’re passionate about makes freelancing sound like the ultimate career choice, not to mention a great way to help pay for college or earn some cash while developing your skills. From experience, I know that the world of self-employment has its challenges — it can be lonely, financially inconsistent, and deadline-driven. After graduation, I dove headfirst into establishing my freelance writing career. I buried myself in work only to resurface about two years later with a solid portfolio.

A 2019 study commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union found that 53% of Generation Z workers had freelanced during the previous year — the highest percentage of any age bracket in the history of this annual study (which was first done in 2014). And this was before the coronavirus pandemic made remote work more acceptable.

That said, is working for yourself right for you? Here are seven questions to ask yourself to help you decide.

1. Is freelancing a viable way for me to make a living?

The answer to this depends on the demand for your particular skills. A simple way to get a feel for the market is to search freelance gig listings for the kind of work you want to do. Are there many out there? Are most of them for large or small projects? You may also want to check out the competition. Research successful freelancers to learn how their skills compare to yours and what kind of assignments they’re working on. This can help you determine which types of gigs you should look for.

Also tap into the knowledge of the people you interact with at school. Teachers, professors, counselors, classmates — do you know any that might be familiar with the market you’re thinking about breaking into? Could they answer specific questions about it?

2. Will freelancing be worthwhile financially?

As part of your research into the demand for your skills, you should research the rates that people typically pay for the type of work that you’ll do. Once you have that number, you can take a look at your budget to see if freelancing makes sense for you at this time in your life.

Remember that freelance work can be unpredictable, and your income could vary month to month. You may want to create a plan that will allow you to save more up front so you can still cover any necessary expenses during lean times.

3. What are my long-term career goals?

If promotions and moving up a corporate ladder are important to you, freelancing may not be a good fit. Conversely, just because you’re not working at a company with a 401(k) plan and promotion possibilities doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set long-term goals. Think about where you want to be a few years from now and how working for yourself plays into those goals. In my case, I wanted to be able to dictate my own schedule and hours. This often means working well beyond a normal 9-to-5 workday, but I can also take vacations and time off as I please.

4. Do I have strong time-management skills?

Freelancing requires a lot of self-discipline. Will you have the ability to stay on task when working solo? Not having to work within the parameters of a normal workday could lead to bad habits — sleeping in, procrastinating, or working way more than 40 hours per week. This is probably why, in a recent survey, 28% of freelancers said they were interested in improving their project management skills to advance their careers.

If you’re diligent about creating a structured work routine, freelancing can give you the flexibility to be your own boss and do work you’re passionate about. Once I settled into a work routine as a freelancer, I was able to take midafternoon spin classes, grocery shop, or do laundry as I juggled daily deadlines.

It all comes down to knowing how to manage your time — and how to keep your calendar organized. You’ll be your own scheduler and supervisor, so you’ll be responsible for tracking deadlines and scheduling meetings. Managing your time goes beyond your daily work routine, too. Selling yourself and your talents — the ultimate key to being self-employed — is easier to do when you’re organized. Even if you’re a natural when it comes to networking, keeping track of who you’ve met, where they work, when you spoke, and when to follow up requires some serious organizational skills.

5. Am I good at networking and pitching myself?

You are in control of your success as a freelancer. You can help yourself stay in demand by continually sharpening your skills and learning new ones. That includes your soft skills: Your ability to network, pitch yourself, and find new business will heavily influence whether or not you’re contracted for gigs. For me, this aspect of freelancing took time to hone. I was always waiting for my cold emails to turn into work. The need to pay the bills often triggers survival mode, and that’s when I realized that I had untapped resources.

Yes, I knew what my skillset was, but I had to get the word out so that others knew. I started reaching out to alumni, scheduling informational interviews, and asking former coworkers to refer me to publications they were currently working for or had formerly worked for. If you’ve already done some freelancing, be proactive with your existing relationships. Don’t always wait for them to reach out to you. Things picked up for me when I shed the idea that my portfolio would speak for itself and got creative with my networking techniques.

6. How are my tech skills?

Traditionally, self-employed tech workers have been among the most in-demand and highest-paid freelancers. But no matter what field you want to work in, the more tech-savvy you are, the easier it will be for you to find success. Technology can help freelancers find jobs, collaborate with clients, work remotely, and manage both their projects and their finances.

A recent explosion of apps and websites designed to connect freelancers with employers indicates that the future of freelancing belongs to those who can easily navigate digital platforms. And now that remote gigs are becoming increasingly available, knowing your way around your computer can help you collaborate at the level that most employers expect of their staff — making you a more attractive option. Sometimes, having some tech knowledge can even help you get out of a real pinch if you don’t have access to an IT department. Let’s say you’re presenting your work in five minutes, and your laptop isn’t connecting to the internet — the more you know about how the technology works, the less likely you’ll need to last-minute reschedule due to technical difficulties.

7. Am I prepared to cover administrative details?

Working for yourself, whether you’re freelancing or starting a small business, means you need to equip yourself with resources. You will likely need an accountant to help with your taxes, from figuring out benefits and rebates you might be owed to making sure you keep all of the receipts for expenses you can claim. And, without a company to provide them, you need to think about independent health insurance options and a retirement savings account.

Freelancing is a challenge, but it’s also a great way to control your professional life and gain experience without committing to a full-time job. Consider freelancing part-time as a student to help you decide if it’ll be a good fit post-grad.

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