How to build a freelance career straight out of college


Elsa Monteith, 23, knew that she wanted to gain a foothold in the creative industries after completing her studies, but did not feel that she fit into a single job title. Her portfolio career now consists of co-presenting a breakfast radio show, editing for an ethical design studio, producing film works and writing stories for digital publications.

When she was at university, Monteith says, “I never thought [freelance work] as realistic, wise or possible. It was only when I was offered mentoring, guidance and the assurance that this was a realistic option that I thought I could reasonably avoid a conventional 9-to-5. “

Monteith dared to take the unusual step of starting his own business immediately after graduating. Instead of taking an entry-level graduate job, she has pieced her ideal career together from a variety of roles. She is not alone. In a tough college graduate job market, half of the U.S. Gen Z workforce (ages 18-22) have freelanced in the past year, and of those, more than a third (36 percent) have done so since starting work of Covid-19, according to a recent report from Upwork.

As the pandemic threatens massive youth unemployment and upsets the labor market, more young people are expected to break through on their own. How do you go about it alone from the start?

Bridging the freelance skills gap

Melissa Murdock, senior campus program manager at Roundhouse, an arts venue in north London, says the first thing young people need to do is understand that freelance work may be an option. “You don’t know what you can’t see,” she says.

At the Roundhouse, 11-30 year olds can take advantage of affordable workshops, resources, and training (all of which are currently virtual) to prepare them for careers in the creative industry.

In recent years, based on feedback from alumni, the focus has been on practical freelance skills such as budgeting, networking, and income diversification. “If you don’t know how to manage your personal finances, if you don’t know how to think about expenses and income, that’s a huge barrier,” says Murdock. “Especially at a young age as a freelancer.”

Never agree to work without a signed contract

Bridging the gap in young people’s freelance skills often falls on after-school programs offered by institutions like the Roundhouse and charities like Lighthouse in Brighton, where Monteith took part in a mentoring program. In recent years, however, the universities have met the growing need for practical skills.

Solent University in Southampton offers creative and digital savvy students the opportunity to learn freelance while studying through Solent Creatives, a freelance agency that connects students with industry.

Even if there is no agency at a university for the mediation of freelance activities, it can be very useful to start during your studies. “The best way to start self-employment and self-employment is a part-time job while you are still studying,” says Chloé Jepps, head of research at the Association of Self-Employed and Self-Employed (IPSE).

At Solent, students learn “the nuts and bolts of being a freelancer,” including how to write a letter, respond to criticism, pricing, customer communications, billing, intellectual property and taxes, says Caroline Barfoot, Head of Student Experience experience. “It’s not exactly exciting to be a freelancer, but anyone considering this as a career needs to appreciate the commercial aspects of selling their skills.”

Business skills are essential for mastering budgeting and, most importantly, payment issues. The most common complaint that Freelancers Union, the largest organization representing independent workers in America, receives from its members is failure to pay from customers. Rafael Espinal, the union’s executive director, advises: “Never agree to work without a signed contract.” Without a contract “If at the end of the project a customer chooses not to pay you, you have little or no right to debt collection. ”

As he puts it: “Protect yourself, protect yourself, protect yourself.”

While the short-term prospects for freelancers have been disrupted by the pandemic, Charlie Ball, a graduate labor market expert with Prospects, a UK graduate job platform, sees reason for optimism: “It’s also clear that the opportunities due to the rise of virtual working have made it easier to more effectively offer some forms of freelance work, especially creative or IT solutions.

Some graduates will want to use freelance work as a stepping stone into employment, and Ball says it can be an effective way to quickly create impressive resumes. “It’s a very good way to meet potential employers.” He adds that when a company hires a freelancer, it means there is work that needs to be done – and it could, if the budget allows, too lead a full-time job. “Every professional contract you take on is an interview,” he says.

Freelancing isn’t just for creatives

While most young freelancers work in the creative and technology industries, it is also possible to work independently in professional service industries. Mariyam Ferreira, 27, wanted to become a lawyer, but the typical way of getting an apprenticeship contract in a larger law firm and working there for 10 years before starting her own company didn’t appeal to her. By the time she was in law school, she already had a list of clients after representing her family’s business in small claims court at the age of 17.

It was freelancing in the broadest sense as she couldn’t bill for her legal research work because she hadn’t yet qualified. “I did the job for free because I wanted to build my client base – because I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere in the legal industry without a client base,” she says. “But if you are a freelancer in any other industry, I see no reason why you should do this for free.”

Guy Stern, CEO and co-founder of the software platform Legal Connection, says tech startups like his make it easier for solo lawyers like Ferreira to realize their plans much sooner, even right after they graduate. “In the past, small firms and freelance lawyers struggled to stay in business,” says Stern. “The new legal economy is being driven by a distributed network of lawyers who act as virtual law firms.”

Mariam Ferreira.  Photographed in one of their Luton offices.

Mariyam Ferreira runs her own law firm © Anna Gordon / FT

Ferreira no longer calls herself a freelancer, but she still works very much for herself. She now runs her own Luton based law firm, Aristone Solicitors, and has also started a legal marketplace called LAWMAX. “At the beginning of my career I didn’t know what I was doing, but I always knew that I wanted to do something for myself,” she says.

Anna Codrea-Rado is the author of “You’re The Business”

June 13, 2021