How to Break into Freelancing Straight from College

Early Career How to Break into Freelancing straight from college

When I graduated from college with a degree in Anthropology many moons ago, my career options felt limited. I could get a job in corporate America, accept another unpaid internship, or submit to the grind of retail. You only picked up gigs or freelanced if you couldn’t find a “real job.”  

These days, pursuing freelancing as a full-time profession is a strong choice. It could also serve as a stepping-stone for starting your own business.  

One of the biggest misconceptions is that freelancing isn’t profitable or a viable full-time career, points out Carissa Lintao, the 22-year-old CEO of Apptuitive. “Roughly seven million people freelance for a living and, not to mention, some of them are making six, even seven-figures,” says Lintao, who started freelancing in college.  

Plus, when you work for someone else, most of the time it’s hard to truly own the work, explains Chad Eschman, creative director at Trap Street. “When you freelance, you feel entwined with your work and its results.

“Plus, you get to choose projects you want, with people you like, using tools you prefer, on the schedule that works for you, all while setting your own rates,” says Eschman, who delved into freelanced right after graduating. “I think it rocks.”

What’s more, a recent study released by the Freelancers Union and Upwork reveals that 57.3 million Americans are freelancing, so becoming a full-fledged solopreneur when you graduate might start to become the norm rather than the exception.  

Enticed? Here’s how you can break into freelancing right after graduating college:  

Join a Freelancing Platform  

If you’re just getting into freelancing without any prior experience, you need to grind, explains Lintao. Join a freelancing platform, and start off with cheap projects to build a reputation on the site.

With the swath of existing platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr, the barrier to entry is low. It costs nothing to join. Just set up a profile and you’re ready to go. You can also create a free portfolio that showcases your work and offers your services on Behance, Contently, and Working Not Working. By creating a profile and scouring a platform for available gigs, you’re also learning the basics of marketing yourself and offering your services.

The downside: Because there are quite a few freelancers on the platform, don’t expect to get paid a competitive rate—not at first, anyway. You’ll most likely need to start off on a few cheap projects to build a reputation on the site, says Lintao.  

Tap Into Your Network 

“If you’re surrounded by people in real life that could benefit from a certain skill set or service you have, simply asking that person could land you projects as well,” says Lintao. Your personal network is your strongest asset, adds Eschman. If you’d like to get your feet wet in freelancing as a creative, hit up friends who own businesses or are building their personal brand.

Or maybe a company you did a summer internship with could put your creative chops to use. It doesn’t hurt to see if they could use some help with, say, crafting copy for their site, or designing a logo.

There’s how I got started freelancing. My first gigs, which were copyediting art magazines and novels, came through friends. While these gigs weren’t enough for me to leave my day job, I learned a lot about positioning myself as someone who had valuable skills to offer.

These small jobs also gave me opportunities to develop the negotiation skills that served me well as my career grew. And as I waded through numerous freelancing gigs, I learned what kind of work I was best at, and what I ultimately wanted to do more of.  

Reach Out Directly to Brands  

Is there a company you want to work with? Eschman recommends reaching out directly to brands that you know and love. It certainly takes guts, but you might be pleased with the results.

Case in point: Eschman cold-pitched an article to a blog he’d been reading religiously. “Even though I didn’t know anyone there, I knew their voice and style—so they accepted my pitch, and I wrote several pieces for them,” says Eschman. “I know I’d be more inclined to hire someone who’s already an expert on my company, and understands what we do.”

Attend a Professional Event

My first paid gig as a personal finance writer was from a connection I made at a conference for personal finance content creators. During the freelancer’s marketplace, the VP of talent for a large content platform and I hit it off. I had no clue how content platforms worked, and my only personal finance writing samples at the time were through my blog. But since he liked the content and my writing style, I was placed on an editorial team.

Check out professional mixers, free coworking days, and meetups. A few of my favorite places to meet fellow solopreneurs are the Freelancers Union monthly SPARK events and the breakfast lecture series Creative Mornings. Yup, both are free to attend.  

As a full-time solopreneur, I run the risk of being biased when I say that freelancing is pretty awesome. As Eschman explains, it’s like designing your own major. “You don’t have to just choose from the standard options on a list,” he says. “You can take two or three different things that you love, and smash them together into a custom career you build for yourself.”

The worst thing you can do as a recent grad is simply not trying. “There’s hardly any risk when it comes to freelancing,” adds Lintao. “Just put yourself out there.”

 

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