15 tips for freelancing as a student

Are you a student looking for ways to make money? Here are 15 tips to help you successfully freelance.

Students need money while they are in college, and much of that money may come from financial aid and loans. But loans and financial aid won’t cover all your expenses. Which leaves you with two main options for earning extra money:

  1. You can can get a part-time job. If you do this, you will have an hourly wage and a set weekly work schedule which you must adhere to.
  2. Or you can find ways to earn money by going to work for yourself, as a freelancer, where your income and time commitments are in your control.

If freelancing sounds the more attractive option to you, then here are 15 tips that can help get you off to a successful start.

1) Realistically assess your skills and talents

What do you have to sell? Does it have value to others? Is there enough demand for it? Student freelancers have such a wide range of options: you can engage in everything from a local lawn care or a painting business. to online tutoring or remote computer repair. 

2) Research the value or popularity of your choice

Let’s say you are a great academic writer and you find producing essays and papers easy and enjoyable. You have a marketable skill. So, you read paper writing website reviews, choose a few platforms, and get registered as a freelancer with them.

Whatever sector you have chosen, take a look at the competition and make sure there is space for you.

3) Consider the costs of getting started

Some freelancing careers cost nothing to launch, whereas others have a startup cost. Weigh your financial investment against the potential income you anticipate making, based on the average earnings of others in your sector.

4) Craft a contract (if necessary)

If you are going solo as a freelancer, rather than freelancing for a company who manages clients for you then you’ll need a contract, or at a minimum your terms. These will outline exactly you will provide, how much a client will pay and your payment terms (for example, payment within 30 days).

5) Set aside one-third of your income

Not all of your freelance income is ‘yours’. As well as equipment and supplies, you’ll need to pay income tax. To prevent any nasty shocks, it’s a good idea to put aside at least one third of your income to cover expenses. (Check your tax responsibilities where you live to ensure you’re saving enough.)

6) Keep good (and regular) records

As a freelancer, you will either be a sole proprietorship, a contractor with another organization, or an LLC of some kind. And it doesn’t matter which of these you choose – you will have to provide accurate reporting to the IRS. So invest in accounting software, or keep regularly updated financial spreadsheets.

7) Choose the right self-promotion methods

As a freelancer, you may need a website with a portfolio and testimonials from clients as you get them. You may also need to set up social media accounts and spend time posting and developing a following (LinkedIn is probably your best bet here).

Craft an “elevator pitch” to use at gatherings too, along with business cards. And check out what other successful freelancers do for marketing inspiration.

8) Be realistic about time commitments

Your primary job is as a student. So work out how many hours a week you can commit to freelancing, and only accept the amount of work you can comfortably handle.

9) Get time management and scheduling tools

There are plenty of free or low-cost apps that will keep you organized and help to avoid missing deadlines. If you miss deadlines with clients they’re unlikely to use you again, recommend you or leave you a good review.

10) Learn to say “no” diplomatically

If you must turn down a freelance project, explain why and provide a time when you would be available. Whatever you specialize in, it’s essential that you hone your customer service skills and communicate professionally and politely with clients at all times.

If you need some quality writing to get an idea of proper structure and organization, check out samples at Writing Universe. Another option if you want to improve your writing generally is to enroll in creative writing courses.

11) Be honest

Always be honest and realistic with clients. Do not oversell your skills and talents; if you do, your reputation will suffer when you fail to deliver. Quote for work you know you can perform to the expected standard and build a great reputation with happy, regular clients.

12) Always back up your work

The last thing you want is for a freelance project you’ve been working on to suddenly disappear because a file didn’t save or got corrupted.

To avoid this happening, don’t rely on a single source for documents. Instead, back up everything, maybe in the Cloud. This will also mean you have access to past projects if you need them in future.

13) Invoice promptly and give a due date

As well as setting out your payment terms when agreeing a contract with a client, make sure you add them clearly to your invoices. And invoice promptly when projects are completed (or on the agreed dates). Your freelance earnings aren’t yours until they’re in your bank account!

14) Chase slow payers

It’s not acceptable for clients to pay late. But if left, some will. So if you haven’t received payment by the date set out in your terms, start chasing. Polite but firm is the watchword here. Be persistent but always professional.

15) Keep chasing those testimonials

And finally, the best way to win new freelance clients is by sharing some of your successes with past clients. So ask for testimonials from clients, and even write some of their projects up into case studies you can share.

Could you freelance as a student?

Freelancing is a great way to earn money while you’re a student. It’s also a brilliant introduction to the world of business and will give you invaluable experience, plus a positive point of difference for your resume. So, are you ready to start freelancing as a student?

Mark Blackwood is a prolific researcher and writer, and regular contributor to organizational and independent blogs in all sectors.