5 Steps to Starting a Freelance Business In College

Why in College?

From the perspective of a college student:

College students are the perfect freelancers.

The High-School days of attending back-to-back classes all day are over. Now, as a college student, you have a ton of holes in your schedule that you have never had before.

Great! Now you can sleep in, go to class for 3 hours, rush through your homework, study for 30 minutes… Then play video games until 2 a.m. and sleep in again tomorrow– But if you do that, then you are only doing yourself a disservice.

High School (And even middle school) already conditioned you to be harder than that. In your pre-college life, you started school at 8:00 AM and focused for consecutive hours before you could go home.

Instead of getting soft and breaking a beneficial habit in college, make it your personal advantage. Use your newfound free time to start a freelancing business. It will give you firsthand entrepreneurial experience and pad your broke-college-student pockets!

Identify the skills you have

People tend to be better at some things than others.

Maybe you’ve always been better at reading and English than at math and want to explore a writing niche. Or maybe you take stunning photos and think you have what it takes to be a freelance photographer.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to identify which of your skills will be useful to your future clients. You don’t need to be an expert from the start, but you have to put in the time and effort it takes to research the niche you choose, then grow your expertise to a marketable level.

In case you’re having difficulty identifying which of your skills will be useful to your future clients, here is a short list of potentially-marketable skills: English, reading, creativity, camera-friendliness, attention to detail, abundance of knowledge, abundance of experiences, etc.

Determine the value and marketability of your skills

To make choosing a niche easier, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each of your skills beforehand.

I recommend considering each skill in terms of value and marketability to determine whether it would be a profitable niche. In this case, the value of a skill is the amount of money you can expect to make from completing a project. Marketability of a skill is dependent upon the supply and demand of the niche market.

A skill with lots of potential clients and few freelancers will be more marketable than a skill with lots of potential clients and plenty of freelancers to satisfy them.

In addition to value and marketability, you should factor-in your personal preference for each skill. One of the biggest advantages of being a freelancer is getting to choose whatever you want to do, so don’t choose something you won’t enjoy just because it is potentially profitable

Ultimately, any useful service you can provide and profit from can be your freelancing niche, but the following are some overgeneralized, common niches: Writing, Photography, Editing, Videography, Video Editing, Photo Editing, Graphic Design, Website Design, etc.

Choose a niche

Assuming you have executed step 2, choosing a niche should be a breeze.

The best niche for you is simply the niche that you are most likely to be successful at. Between the considerations of value, marketability, and personal preference, it should be clear at this point what you are best-suited to succeed at.

Specificity is key when it comes to niches.

In fact, Upwork’s list of the 20 fastest-growing niches (with 125% Year over year growth) is made almost entirely of specialized niches. Therefore, you will want to research sub-niches of your niche and choose one. Doing so will ensure that you eventually gain access to the higher-quality clients who pay more per-project and pitch projects to you more often.

A sub niche needs to be at least task-specific, but can be as specific as you make it.

For reference: “Writer” is an overgeneralized niche, so trying to market yourself as only a writer will bring little attention. Instead, use titles like Copywriter, Resume Writer, Blog Writer, and Technical Writer, as they are all task-specific variations of the general “Writer” niche.

Titles like Travel Blogger and Healthcare Copywriter are even more specialized variations of Blog Writers and Copywriters.

Build a portfolio and network

Many freelancers run into a circular problem with portfolios and first clients: They can’t get a first client because they don’t have a portfolio, and they don’t have a portfolio because they’ve never been able to get a client. This step is to encourage you to make a portfolio before you ever begin looking for a paying client.

Consider it from the client’s point of view.

A client is entrusting you, someone on the internet, with a task they need done well, but do not have the expertise to do internally.

Clients choose who they are going to pay for a service, and it is in their best interest to pay someone who has a portfolio that proves they can complete the task at hand. The client also gets to see the quality of your work when you have a portfolio to display it, which can be a major selling-point for you as a freelancer.

All that said, you might have to work for free. Yes, free—for the sake of building a portfolio.

The best way to get works for your portfolio is to network with people who need your service and offer to complete their projects for free in exchange for permission to use the finished product in your portfolio. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you, but doing a few projects for free can pay off in the long run.

Starting the relationship by doing a project for free shows the recipient what quality of work you are capable of and creates a channel for them to become your first paying client the next time they need specialized help. 

I used journoportfolio.com to create my own portfolio. This site is ideal for broke college freelancers because it provides them free domains to create their portfolios. 

Establish your first client

Even after building your portfolio, getting your first paying client may not be easy. You will need to leverage your networking abilities to make contact with your first client.

Tell friends and family what your goals are and ask them to spread the word to anyone who may need your services, cold call or cold email small local businesses and let them know you can help them, create a LinkedIn or other social account to promote your business, etc.

Using multiple platforms to promote yourself will help you reach your first client as soon as possible.

Once you have made contact with your first client and have negotiated a price or rate, you will want to spend extra time on the first assignment to guarantee the quality of your work is exceptional.

Clients don’t want to have to roll-the-dice trying to find a skilled freelancer, so they will come back if they’re impressed with your product.

Send the complete, final product to the client after you have received full payment. Expect feedback from your client.

When you’re sure they are satisfied, you may want to ask permission to use the work in your portfolio as well, but realize that paying clients own the finished product and might decline your request.


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