I am in the final semester of my college which just involves the internship/project part which means I am done with studying. There are many things that I did and didn't do throughout the past three and a half years, but one thing I am certainly happy that I did was to try out freelancing. I worked as a freelance web developer for about 8 months, worked across 4 projects with as many clients and earned $4000+ while only giving in a few hours a day. But the experience not only allowed me to earn some good cash, but it also helped in upskilling myself by working on real-world projects. And through this article, I will give you some points as to why you should also try out freelancing if you are a college student and how you can start.
While I will talk based on my experiences as a freelance developer, most of the points will still be applicable even if you are in some other field.
Working on your own projects is very well and good and something we all do as college students. If you're a web developer, you'll build some websites or web apps and maybe even deploy them on some platform. If you're a mobile developer, you'll build an app and publish it on the respective stores. But the chance that someone will actually use your projects, even if they serve a great purpose without you knowing it, will be fairly low. Some of your friends might use it for a couple of days but that is mostly it.
Working as a freelancer would give you an opportunity to work on projects that are going to have a user base. In most cases, clients want to get a website or an app made as part of their business, which is either already existing or a new venture. But in any case, it is a high chance that the work you do will reach actual users and give you a sense of working on real-world projects.
Working on personal projects, you are mostly focused on technical aspects of things. But working on freelance projects, where either the requirements are already mentioned by the client, or you also have the job to do brainstorming, you start thinking from the end-user's point of view. You become customer-centric and in my opinion, that is a great trait to have as a developer.
2. Opportunities and Connections
In these days of layoffs, any new opportunity is no less than stardust. In many cases, you get the chance to work with many companies who are just looking to outsource some of their requirements. They might be needing a developer to fix some bugs or run some tests or even build the MVP, they might need a social media marketeer because they can't yet afford to have a full team dedicated to it, or they might need a graphic designer to make design some things once in a while.
What happens when you are hired by such clients or startup founders is that you are building connections. They are seeing your work up close and can vouch for them and you. If they like your work, there's nothing stopping them from going long-term with you or even giving you a full-time job offer. Or they can help you in getting other clients. I worked as a developer on the MVP for a product for a few months, and later the founder offered me to join him as one of the founding members of the team.
So if you believe in your work, your clients will come back for you and seldom will you find yourself out of opportunities.
This is a no-brainer. Earning a little bit of pocket money for yourself while being at college is a great feeling. Many people do unpaid internships at the beginning of college, but I believe this is a great alternative. You can actually earn a good amount of money via freelancing if you have the right set of skills and have a bit of luck (I will talk about this in the How's). The $4000 I mentioned in the beginning, is still just the tip of the iceberg. If you establish yourself and get some good reviews and recommendations for yourself, you can charge more than what a full-time developer gets. I have seen people charge $100/hour for their services. Obviously, this will take some time and not happen from the first day, but it's definitely not out of reach.
Freelancing gives you the freedom of working on your own terms. Obviously, you need to work toward the client's project and ensure it is delivered on time. But you are not stuck in the 9-5 time cycle. You can work anytime you want, from anywhere you want. This is very important if you have to manage classes along with freelancing. I used to attend classes till evening and then work on projects at night.
Depending on your niche, you also get the opportunity to work from anywhere which can remove any geographic boundaries between you and your client. You could be sitting in India and working for clients from all over the world, and earning in dollars (which I think is the best part). My clients were from the USA, Poland, Denmark and UK.
Freelancing will give you a chance to work on different kinds of projects that will help you build a great portfolio with some attractive projects. Not only projects, but your clients can vouch for you and write testimonials for you that will help you attract recruiters and other opportunities. This will showcase that you have some experience in working on real-world projects.
You will have a stand-out portfolio ready before getting out of college.
1. Pick a niche
While you may be great at 10 different things, it is better to pick a niche that you want to work on. If you are a developer, choose if you want to be a web developer or an app developer. Even on the web, you can choose to be a front-end or a back-end developer. You can go down as many levels as you want.
You can get on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Upwork, Fiverr etc., to know about what is in demand out there, what are the clients looking for.
It's also not that you need to be an expert in the field or you need to know everything. You can learn the basics, build some projects to showcase and then start reaching out to clients. Working is a constant process of learning as well.
2. Reach out to clients
Once you have decided on your niche, next you need to find your first client. Now everything that I have mentioned here might make you think that freelancing is very rewarding. But here comes the very hard part - getting your first client. It's very hard to convince someone to give you what could potentially be very important work for them to someone without any experience and then pay them on top of that as well.
There are many platforms for you to find clients. Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer are some of the popular ones where you can register as a freelancer and reach out to clients. But I wouldn't suggest these especially if you are a college student and looking to start out. These platforms are very competitive and it will be very difficult for you to get your first client here as they generally prefer people with some experience. I personally started out with Upwork and it took me more than 3 months to get my first client. Here is the point where luck comes in.
Instead, you can start out by reaching out to your friends and family. See if anyone you know could use your services and work for them. You can also reach out to potential clients on Twitter or LinkedIn. Be active on these platforms and post about your work and projects. Someone might reach out to you first as well.
This is the phase where you need to be very patient and not get upset if you do not see the result in the first week, because most likely, you will not.
Pitching yourself to clients is also a very important step. You are essentially selling yourself to someone and you need to be as convincing as you can be. What has worked for me thus far is to focus on the client's problem instead of yourself. People write out paragraphs describing themselves and their skills and then do not get any reply. While it is important to talk about your skillset, it is equally important to show the client how you will solve their problem. A client is just a person who has some problem and is looking for someone who can solve it for them, and in most cases, they do not care about the technical details. So sell yourself as a problem solver, not a list of skills.
3. Get the reward, but get the review as well.
Got your first client? Done with the project? Got rich? Great!
But remember to get a testimonial from the client as well. You can ask them to rate your work or leave a recommendation on LinkedIn based on their experience. This will help your future clients to get some idea as to what it is like working with you and give them a clear sense of judgment. If you are getting clients via some platform, they have a rating system so make sure you get the review there.
Remember, it does not get a lot easier to get clients in this competitive market, especially if you are a college student. I have 4 5-star reviews on Upwork but I still find it a bit difficult to find new clients.
4. Keep getting better
Now you have a flurry of clients and you can't accept every project you are getting. You are close to being Elon Musk as the richest man alive. But still, you need to keep going through the process every time. You need to keep upskilling yourself so that your current clients stay, you get new clients, and you can also raise your price.
Once you have established your foot and things are going well for you, you can also decide if freelancing is the way you want to move forward instead of taking a full-time job. Many people are working as full-time freelancers which gives them the freedom of working from anywhere, anytime. And even if you choose to get a job instead, you can still freelance on the side to earn some extra cash.
In the end, freelancing is a great option for you as a college student to expand your learning, and connections while earning some cash. You can finally buy all the fancy things you always wanted, or save up and pay for your college fees, whichever way you prefer (I bought an iPad after my first project 😛). The road is not easy but with the right skills and some luck, you can definitely make a place for yourself.