How to succeed in Freelancing, from a Student Freelancer

Written by Sarah Davison, Phd Student and Freelance Writer

Being an undergraduate student comes with the cheerful stereotype that you live in your overdraft, and in 2015, an Endsleigh survey found that up to 77% of UK university students work part-time alongside theirs studies to fund necessities. Unfortunately, the jobs available to students – who need flexible work and lenient shift patterns – aren’t always great CV builders.

This is why, in second year, I decided to branch out. I considered setting up my own business, which is challenging but great if you have an idea and the right mindset, and you can read more about this in Lucy Davis’ blog post. But I knew that I would soon be leaving for my year abroad, so this wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I found my way into freelancing.

As a freelancer, you deliver work for clients (not to be confused with employers). Freelance work is often remote, flexible, and a much better addition to your CV than the bartending or leaflet distribution jobs students often end up with. In the course of my undergraduate degree, I went from being a fresher whose only work experience was in a restaurant, to being a freelance translator, writer, researcher, and editor, who had long-term contracts with multiple clients. I was now out of my overdraft, putting savings away, and building a working reputation which clients sought out.

Sounds perfect, right? In many ways, freelancing is the ideal fit around studies. I continued to freelance through my MA and now I’m working on my Ph.D. But there are a few things to be aware of if you want to be a successful freelancer.

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  1. Figure out your strengths, and market them.

In the same way, you should emphasise your skill set on a cover letter, you’ll need to know your personal strengths when deciding which freelance services you’ll offer. You’ll need to be able to convince clients that you’re the right fit for them, so you need to market yourself.

  1. Know your value.

Unfortunately, parts of the freelance job market are saturated by cheap, low-quality workers. Don’t succumb to lowering your rate of pay to compete for a contract. Make sure you’re getting at least minimum wage, and value yourself and your work.

  1. Keep track.

As a freelancer, you’ll need to submit a self-assessment tax return at the end of the tax year, so you’ll need to keep track of your freelance income and expenses. As a student, you should have a planner. If you don’t have one, get one. You’ll need to stick to deadlines and schedule meetings with clients. Organisation is key.

  1. Branch out.

You should start out with work you’re familiar with, but once you’re comfortable, don’t be scared to apply for new experiences. Many companies offer training for freelancers, and this is a great chance to build your skill set.

  1. Socialise!

Starting out as a freelancer can be isolating, especially if you’re working remotely. Try co-working spaces and work with friends, and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. The Careers Service can help with questions you have about getting started.

Careers advice

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