How to become a full-time freelancer after College/University
Dislcaimer: this is what worked for me personally! Everyone’s journey and timing is different, pick and choose the things that could work for you.
Being freelance might sound pretty amazing right? Get paid to work from home in your pjs? Or travelling the world without putting your career on hold? Let me tell you right now, if you plan on working in your pjs, you won’t hold on to your motivation very long and you will soon fall into a slump. Yes, you can travel the world and do what you love no doubt, but being freelance requires discipline and work. That being said, the more you put in, the more you get out, so if being a full-time freelancer after University is what you want to do then keep reading.
When you’re starting a freelance career, it’s basically like starting a business. Start while you’re still in school if you can. You’ll thank yourself a year from now that you got all the tweaks and mistakes out of the way while you were a student. I started my career during my last year of University, and during that time I took on unpaid work, made mistakes and learned all the nitty gritty things while I had a valid excuse of being a student. I also worked super hard to develop my skills and utilized the school system resources for help and support when I needed it.
2. Network, network, network
It’s probably the last thing you want to hear, but 98% of the jobs you get will be from people who know you either personally or through a mutual connection. People like people, and the more you can network and build relationships with professionals, the quicker you’ll get your work falling into your lap. Over 3 years later I still attend the networking events I did while I was in school, and have made great friendships and working relationships through them. Sometimes all it takes is to be in the right place at the right time. Don’t be afraid and get out there.
3. Line up a part-time job (or two!)
For the first few years of being freelance, the work isn’t steady, and if you have rent to pay and a student loan to pay off, you need to make sure those needs are being met and it just can’t be guaranteed with freelance work. Having a steady income to start will give you peace of mind and allow you to pursue your freelance career at the same time. After I graduated, I worked part time with a start up and also held another part-time job at a pet store downtown. I knew they were both temporary and they allowed me to pay the bills while I gathered whatever I could with my illustration work. Then, when things became a bit more steady, I weaselled my way out of one after the other. My best advice: don’t rush it.
4. Be your brand
Take a look at the way you dress, the way you style your hair, your makeup, when you’re making any public appearance, make sure that you could be ready to bump into anyone of importance. The more you brand yourself in accordance to your business, the more people will remember you. Ask yourself, “how am I showing up online?” “What could make me look more like an illustrator?”. Also, ALWAYS carry business cards with you. I don’t care if you’re just going to the gas station, become an opportunist and always be prepared.
5. Maintain client relationships
If someone has invested their time and money in you, make sure they feel valued and would want to work with you again. If you make a mistake, own up to it, if a problem arises, fix it. Your clients will be the ones referring you to other potential clients, make sure they have something good to say. One person’s opinion can kill your brand.
6. Never stop learning
Just because school is over doesn’t mean you should stop learning. In fact, you need to learn more now than you’re running your own business. Enroll yourself in courses on how to manage finances, taxes, or drawing classes, updated software, etc. The more you invest in your business to become better at what you do, the more value you can provide and the more customers you will obtain as a result.
7. Have fun!
Being freelance is something to feel proud of! You’re officially your own boss, you can make your own hours and sometimes set your own deadlines as well. As much hustling as you’re probably doing, make sure you remember to have fun. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably doing something you really love, and not every day will be great, but enjoy the process of growing, leaning and achieving successes along the way. Reward yourself for surpassing milestones and share the joy with your clients. At the end of the day, work is work, remember to enjoy your life by spending time with people you love and care about, and to take care of your wellbeing as well.