My heart goes out to the class of 2009. Four years of grueling academic work and (if you were smart) at least one internship all for a piece of paper that probably arrived in the mail and entrance into a world made difficult by the old folks. That piece of paper was suppose to be the job stork delivering a beautiful bouncing career with benefits (“Mazel tov, it’s an Account Executive!”). But for many it’s just a reminder that soon those loan payments are going to be due.
So what’s a young person to do now that they have a degree? Well…. you could make a very expensive paper airplane to fly around your room while you wait for a phone call about an interview you’re sure to get from all those resumes and carefully crafted cover-letters you sent out last week. Or you could take your life into your own hands and go freelance.
Being a freelancer can be scary, but once you get started it’s not so bad. There are so many questions: how much do I charge, am I good enough, how do I find projects, who hires freelance, etc.
What makes me such an expert? I’m not claiming to be an expert (I actually hate to hear people call themselves experts, gurus or mavens of anything), but what I am doing is telling you what worked for me. I’ve been a freelancer for three+ years now. At first I struggled so hard… so very hard. I interned repeatedly, worked for free too often and even had a couple clients refuse to pay me (get a contract before you do anything!). But I was getting experience the whole time.
That’s why I’ve have three job opportunities since February. Now I’m working as a full-time freelancer doing projects I love with the most awesome clients I could hope for. I partnered with the agency (<—these people are AWESOME) I interned with last semester for academic credit. Now I’m working freelance for them to bring in new projects while working on my own clients. And unfortunately many of my peers that graduated this month are having a hard time just getting interviews.
Freelancing is more than a career choice
…it’s a lifestyle at the very least. You can’t just do it. You have to commit to making freelancing work for you by living, eating and breathing the work you do. In a traditional career, the clock stops at 5. In freelancing the clock never really stops. The upside is a tremendous amount of freedom: work from anywhere that allows you to be connected, take a nap in the middle of the day or even have a conference call in your underwear (I don’t advise that over a video conference).
It’s about the niche
Getting a regular career means being a specialist of something, but as a freelancer it’s even more important to have a specific specialty, otherwise known as a niche. My niche has slowly evolved over the three years I’ve been doing it, but now I’m comfortably positioned as a freelance publicist and social media strategist (I tell a client’s story on and off-line while building a community and conversation on the web around their brand by strategically choosing the tactics to accomplish their goals).
Don’t stop learning just because you’re out of school
If you thought learning was over after graduation you’re wrong. Getting started as a freelancer requires so much research into pricing, trends in your niche, possible business models and many other things. You’re competing with businesses and other freelancers for work, so it’s even more important for you to be well educated about your industry and your client’s industry. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you think you know everything you need to know to be competitive. There’s always someone out there that can do it better than you and cheaper than you.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a freelancer forever. This recession is starting to let up; unemployment rates aren’t as bad as they were. When the recession is over, people will hire again, others will be promoted and the world will go round. But your bills are due now and soon your loans will be. Don’t let an awesome opportunity to experience being your own boss, having freedom in your career and adding more skills to your resume pass you by out of doubt or fear. Freelancing… don’t knock it ’til you try it.
If you work at an agency, have you hired a freelancer instead of a new employee? What are you looking for in recent grads that are freelancers? Let students and graduates know in the comments.
And anyone that has advice, please share.