Should you consider freelancing after graduation?

Graduate freelancing and working at computer

Freelancing gives 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. From experience, I know that the world of self-employment has its list of challenges— it can be lonely, financially inconsistent, and deadline-driven. Post 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.

With 83% of students graduating without a job lined up, more and more are weighing the option of going solo after graduating. Is working for yourself right for you? Here are six questions to ask yourself to help you decide.

1. Will freelancing be worthwhile, financially?

Your workload — and bank account — will likely be unstable as a freelancer. There will be months you make a lot of money and months you are barely scraping by. And because money can be inconsistent, many freelancers make the mistake of accepting too many underpaying gigs. The money may add up, but the quality of your work will suffer if you have too much on your plate. This strategy isn’t sustainable and often leads to freelancer burnout.

As a recent college grad, depending on your level of experience, you may be initially compensated less for your work. But as your resume evolves and your portfolio grows, you’ll be able to increase your rates and score higher-paying gigs. However, freelancing looks different based on the industry. For example, a coder will likely always get paid more than a copyeditor, no matter the experience level.

2. What are your long-term career goals?

If promotions and moving up a corporate ladder are important to you, freelancing may not be a 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. For me, I wanted to dictate my own schedules and hours. This often means working well beyond a normal 9-to-5 schedule, but I can also take vacations and time off as I please.

3. Do you have the motivation to work from home?

Many people who are self-employed work from home. Working from home sounds great in theory, but it requires a lot of self-discipline. Not having to leave for the office and work within the parameters of a normal work day may lead to bad habits — sleeping in, procrastinating, or working way more than 40 hours a week.

But if you’re diligent about creating a work routine with restrictions, freelancing can give you the flexibility to be your own boss, do work you’re passionate about, and avoid a commute! Once I settled into a routine, I was able to take mid-afternoon spin classes, grocery shop, or do laundry as I juggled daily deadlines.

4. Are you good at networking and pitching yourself?

You are in control of your success as a freelancer. Selling yourself and your talents is the ultimate key to being self-employed. Your ability to network, pitch yourself, and find new business will heavily influence whether or not you’re contracted for gigs. If you’re very comfortable striking up a conversation with anyone, attending networking events, and blindly reaching out to new business connections, going solo may be a good fit for you

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 your bills often triggers survival mode, and that’s when I realized that I had untapped resources. I started reaching out to alumni, scheduling informational interviews, and asking former coworkers to refer me to publications that they were currently or had formerly worked for. I shed the idea that my portfolio would speak for itself and got creative with my networking techniques.

5. Do you have strong time-management skills?

As a freelancer, being able to adhere to deadlines is fundamental. Time is like money. Managing your time is crucial to completing tasks to the best of your ability. Poor performance is the easiest way to lose a freelance gig. Remember, you’re always looking for your employer to guarantee that next assignment.

6. Are you 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 receipts for expenses that you can claim. And without a company to provide them, you need to think about independent health insurance options and starting 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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