Empowering the Freelance Economy

Jumpstart your freelance career in university

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With the job market being dire as it is for younger job applicants in 2021, there is nothing stopping you from setting up your own side hustle and becoming a freelancer. You are only limited by your imagination, time and skills. And you can always improve on those, so you really have few if any excuses to not get started.

What can you offer as a freelancer?

First things first.

  • Take stock of what you are good at and what you are passionate about and look to see if it can be commoditised (i.e. make some money).
  • Google jobs that have a similar description to what you are good at (languages, software design, hairstylist, organiser and cleaner, jewellery maker, writer, opinion-maker, artist, tutor, sports trainer, childcare helper, life coach, etc.) and see what the competition is doing. How much are they charging? How do they promote themselves and how much time will you need to juggle your coursework with your freelance work?

If you are creative and tech-savvy, for example, you could start as a temporary worker or freelancer with a department right within your school or university department. Solent University in Southampton, for example, offers creative and digitally-skilled students the chance to learn to freelance while they are studying through Solent Creatives, a freelancing agency that links students to industry. 

No local freelancer agency? Not a problem. Create your own opportunities with the people you already know or via your online social networks.

Can you provide a solution to someone’s problem?

The best-selling products and services are those that save people time and hassle. Ask your friends, classmates, campus careers office or nearby community shops if they or someone they know needs help with something you’re good at or are willing to do (laundry, designated driver on weekends, ironing, pre-prepared meals, dog walking, CV writing, T-shirt design, etc.) then some business might start to trickle your way.

And if your parents get wind of your freelance ambitions and worry you might be wasting your chemical engineering studies on doing someone’s laundry, tell them it’s research for the next big thing in eco-friendly detergents. Seriously, that dude’s pizza stained jumper could lead to something.

Can you make someone’s day?

A cake delivery service could go down great on campus

If you can create a product or service where putting a smile on someone’s face is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), then word of mouth could be your best marketing tool on the campus’ social media sites.

Think outside the box. Could you sell dorm-delivered cram session goodie boxes and offer a “more refined” service to lecturers when they have to grade the papers?

If you are a music major, could you sell musical serenades? Are you a creative writer that can pen funny singing telegrams or a baker that specialises in surprise gift cakes? Are you a tidyholic? Then, why not offer a cleaning service while people are in classes? Coming back to a clean dorm room or flat could break a wide grin and sigh of contentedness for any student.

Can you learn a new skill that can create freelance opportunities?

If you are in university you will be specialising in something and what better time than the present to look at ways that you can use that knowledge towards a freelance gig or side hustle. Could you become a teaching assistant? Take advantage of online courses that you can enhance your existing skills? Or learn to build an online store with merchandise that students miss from home or can’t readily get near campus.

Learn the practical stuff right away: pitching and preparing your tax return

If you start to sell a product or service and it looks like things are going to take off, then you have to register as a business. You can register as a sole trader or limited company. Limited companies require detailed tax accounts that can sometimes require an accountant.

There are a variety of online accounting services for freelancers and some offer some freebies, such as tax calculators and template invoices.

Be aware of tax filing deadlines and how much tax you will be expected to pay so you can start to put money away for that each month.

If you are working for a client they may prefer freelancers registered as limited company because they can purchase limited liability insurance. Freelancers that are at risk of taking on a lot of debt or are providing a service where lawsuits could easily arise, should consider the limited liability route, which will separate personal assets from your business ones.

However, you can always start as a sole trader and look into becoming a limited company later if you start to turn over more than say £50,000 a year.

If you want to know what insurance you need as a freelancer, Hiscox has published this guide to help make sense of things.

Do what you are good at, love and spread good vibes

you can become a freelancer while still in university

If you are going to start a side hustle that eventually turns into a freelance job or small business, then try to make sure you are doing something you naturally excel at or can pick up quickly. But just as important, do something that you love to do or that gives you a great sense of happiness or accomplishment. The last thing you want to do is let yourself and others down by not offering a stellar service or product. News travels fast on campus when things work and when they don’t.

But if you make a few mistakes along the way, learn from them and you’ll come out better on the other side as a successful freelancer.

Consider having an online bookkeeping software to use and a separate bank account for your side hustle.

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