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Freelancing In The Age Of The Great Resignation

In case you haven’t heard, the 9-to-5 workweek is dead for many members of Gen Z thanks to “The Great Resignation.” Young people are leaving their full-time jobs in record numbers to pursue their passions, find better work-life balance, turn their side hustles into full-time gigs, and work on their own terms. College students and recent grads are embracing life outside of the traditional corporate structure — from starting their own businesses to becoming digital nomads and working abroad — and many have realized that it’s entirely possible to make a living without sitting in a boring cubicle all day, every day. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 4.5 million members of the American working class resigned from their jobs as of November 2021. If you’re considering leaving your full-time role for more flexibility, or you want to make some extra cash, freelancing might seem like a viable solution. And while it can be tempting to submit your two weeks notice and start taking on side gigs right away, there are various things to consider before making the leap to become a full-time freelancer. From money tips to marketing, networking, and more, here’s how to start freelancing in 2022 and what to consider beforehand, according to career experts and coaches.

First, figure oUT WHY you want to be a freelancer.

Working from home in pajamas? Making your own work hours? Yes, please. Freelance life can sound pretty appealing (and even glamorous) at first, but juggling gigs can be a lot more challenging than it looks. According to Laura Gariepy, the founder of Before You Go Freelance, it’s important to understand your motivation for freelancing before making the transition. 

“Motivation is everything!” Gariepy tells Her Campus. “Figure out why you want to go freelance…this will sustain you during challenging times and drive the decisions you make along the way.” Maybe you want greater work-life balance and freelancing will allow you to determine your own schedule. Maybe you already work full-time, and just want some extra income on the side. Gariepy says that your goals will ultimately inform how much time and energy you devote to freelancing.

“If you want to freelance to earn some pocket money for the weekends, you’ll probably only work a few hours a week,” she says. “But, if you want a way to pay for school, hope to use freelancing as a springboard into your post-graduation career, or plan on freelancing full-time after you graduate, you’ll likely put in more time and effort building and working in your freelance business.”

Then, identify what you’re good at & lean into your expertise.

Nicole Gwanzura, MBA, the founder & CEO of Education Advancement Consulting, says that your freelance job should ideally reflect your strengths. Ask yourself: What are you naturally good at? Is there something you’re always helping others with? Whether it’s writing, photography, social media, tutoring, or otherwise, you’ll excel in freelancing by doing work you actually like.

“Lean into your expertise and experience as a current student or recent grad to find the best-fit freelance gig,” Gwanzura tells Her Campus. “Start by assessing what you enjoy doing, what people flock to you for, your major and minor, and your extracurricular activities.” 

Gariepy agrees that your top skills should inform your freelance work. “If you’re a natural wordsmith, you could become a freelance writer. If you’re the most organized person you know, you may want to try your hand at being a freelance virtual assistant,” she says. “You can provide practically any service as a freelancer, so choose one that aligns with your interests, skills, and ideally, your future career aspirations.”

Wait…what kind of freelance jobs should I look for? 

According to Indiana Gregg, the founder, and CEO of WeDo — an app that simplifies work for freelancers — there are many gig opportunities to choose from if you’re just getting started.

“For students who are just starting their careers, there are a lot of opportunities to get work coaching, tutoring, doing online marketing, social media posting, and engagement, designing, blog writing, coding, building websites, and photography,” Gregg tells Her Campus. She adds that video creation — from making TikToks and reels to branded content — can also be a great option for social media-savvy students. “Companies and individuals are constantly looking for people to help them get things done,” Gregg says. “There are an unlimited amount of jobs that freelancers can do!”

Some of the most popular freelance gigs include:

  • Copywriter, Copyeditor, or Proofreader
  • Administrative, Virtual, or Executive Assistant
  • Social Media Coordinator or Manager
  • Teacher, Consultant, or Online Coach
  • Virtual Assistant 
  • Illustrator or Graphic Designer 
  • Customer Service Representative

If you’re a college student, you might consider offering professional tutoring services, becoming a research assistant, or being a notetaker for students who might need support. Of course, if you have a particular talent or skill that’s in demand — whether it’s music, foreign languages, technical skills, or even expertise applying to college, don’t be afraid to get creative and carve out a niche for yourself.

Update your LinkedIn, polish your online presence, & create a strong portfolio that reflects the quality of your work. 

When embarking on your freelance life, make sure your online presence reflects the image you want to give off. You might even consider making a separate Instagram or TikTok account for your professional services. 

Jane Kallinger, the founder of Sewing From Home, adds that all freelancers should have a strong portfolio. “Start building a portfolio early on in your college career,” she tells Her Campus. “This can include writing samples, design work, or any other type of work that you feel showcases your skills.” Consider creating an online portfolio via Squarespace, WordPress, Weebly, MuckRack, or another platform so that potential clients can learn about you and get a sense of your work. 

“Don’t forget to use [your] great experience to update your resume and LinkedIn!” Gwanzura adds. “You never know when an experience can be leveraged for a full-time role or another freelance gig.” 

Be specific about the services you offer.

When you go to the spa, chances are, someone hands you a menu of options to choose from so you can find exactly what you need — whether it’s a mani-pedi, hot stone massage, facial, or all of the above! Building your freelance business works the same way: It’s important to give your clients specific, clearly defined services to choose from.

According to Stefan Palios, a freelance writer & growth coach for freelancers, it’s common for new freelancers to take on a million projects at once to start building their business. However, you shouldn’t feel pressured to take on everything — try to stick to what you excel in! 

“​​It’s easy to say “yeah, I can do that” to any task a potential client asks for,” Palios tells Her Campus. “Be careful here…instead, focus on what you are good at first, then expand out. For example, if you’re really good at setting up social media accounts with amazing bios, link in bio, and brand consistency, don’t just market yourself as a ‘general social media manager.’” Instead, Palios says to be specific and outline exactly what you’re going to execute for the client — they’ll be even more excited when they know what to expect! 

Have your DMs open, but don’t forget to set boundaries.

When starting your freelance career, Palios says it’s valuable to make yourself accessible to potential clients as much as possible. “Have open DMs on social,” Palios tells Her Campus. “Put a contact form on your personal website. Anywhere you exist online should be a place someone can get in touch with you. You never know where a potential client might come from — I’ve met clients in forums, on Twitter, and even on the beach!”

When a potential client reaches out, Palios recommends shifting your communications to email for a cleaner, more professional experience.

A key part of freelancing is the ability to juggle multiple projects at once, so it’s common to have various conversations going on simultaneously. Plus, setting boundaries at work is difficult enough, and when you start working for yourself, drawing the line with clients and projects can be even harder. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself more overwhelmed than you expected — but be sure to set boundaries wherever needed so you can sustain your freelance career.

Focus on the three M’s: mindset, mouth, & management. 

When starting in the freelance world, Palios recommends using a framework called “The 3 M’s” which include: mindset, mouth, and management. 

Palios says “mindset” is all about making sure you approach your work seriously. “Realize you are an entrepreneur who provides solutions to your clients, not just a ‘side hustler’ or ‘contractor’ who does some work for pay,” he says.

“Mouth” is all about communication and language. Palios says, “Give people the language you want them to use when talking about you — be clear that you are a freelancer and you offer X services to Y clients.” 

And finally, “management” is all about making sure you’re running your biz smoothly and efficiently. “Think about making it easy to say yes to working with you,” he says. “Give clients clear next step options and communicate your timelines clearly.” 

But…what about the “money” part?

Although many full-time workers ditch the office life to pursue the freelance life — which can seem cooler and more carefree — the financial part can be a lot tougher than expected.

“When it comes to freelancing, one of the cons is that there is no guarantee of income,” Gwanzura tells Her Campus. “Some days, you will have extra cash after paying all your bills, and some days you will fall short on payments. This is why, if you are starting as a freelancer, you must plan your expenses properly, and have some emergency savings in your bank account.”

She reminds aspiring freelancers that building a successful workflow and stream of income isn’t always easy, so you’ll want to think ahead in case things don’t go as planned. 

“Becoming a successful freelancer takes time…don’t expect your freelancing gigs to shower heaps of money on you as soon as you start this lifestyle,” Gwanzura advises. “Give yourself three to four months before starting to expect a good monetary return for your hard work.” 

What should you consider financially before going freelance?

According to Gregg, all future freelancers should set aside money for taxes and keep track of expenses so that you can write them off at the end of the year. 

“A good rule of thumb is to save around a third of your net income  — the income you make after your expenses — to set aside for taxes and a rainy day,” she tells Her Campus. “If you’re in the U.S., you will likely need to pay estimated taxes quarterly and the amount varies from state to state.”

Gregg adds that it’s important to keep track of your deductible expenses throughout the year — after all, freelancing can be (ironically) expensive, and you want to make your money work for you

“You can deduct things like office supplies (including phones and computer equipment), mileage driven for business-related trips and travel, maintaining a home office, and any expenses related to your business like software or internet, utilities, website costs, and even advertising and marketing costs,” Gregg tells Her Campus. 

Finally, Gregg suggests keeping a separate bank account to help you organize your biz even more. “It will make it easier to separate personal expenses from business expenses — which is extremely important for taxes, and also helps give an overview of where you stand and how much money you are actually earning,” she says.

Remember: Other freelancers are not your competition! 

Many new freelancers start by signing up with platforms like Upwork or posting in Facebook groups to connect with people and learn what clients are looking for. However, this can also be overwhelming for beginners — what do you do when everyone is offering the same services as you?! The competition can appear steep. 

Instead of getting anxious, Gariepy suggests connecting with other freelancers and viewing them as a support system, not your competition. 

“You should network with and befriend other freelancers,” she says. “At first glance, they may seem like your competition. But, for the most part, other self-employed folks will want to help you because they understand what you’re going through. They can provide you with camaraderie, wisdom, and even gig leads.”

Leverage your following & your unique voice.

Freelancing is more popular than ever these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out and build a business you’re proud of. Whether you’re growing an existing side hustle or venturing out and exploring new services, Gwanzura says to trust yourself and your unique offerings.

“You have a voice and an ear for your generation,” she says. “You have a story to tell, and there’s someone who wants to hear it.”

If you aren’t sure where to begin, check out popular career influencers on TikTok and Instagram to learn about freelancing, building a business, and how to be more confident in your career journey. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to get creative, lean into your strengths, seek opportunities on campus, and try new offerings – whether it’s freelance writing, social media strategy, influencer marketing, or otherwise. Remember: While there are many freelancers out there, none of them have your unique background and mix of strengths, talents, and abilities. You got this! 

Laura Gariepy, Founder of Before You Go Freelance 
Stefan Palios, Freelance Writer & Growth Coach for Freelancers
Indiana Gregg, Founder, and CEO of WeDo
Nicole Gwanzura, MBA, Founder & CEO of Education Advancement Consulting 
Christopher Smith, Help in Homework 
Jane Kallinger, Sewing From Home

Tianna was an Associate Editor at Her Campus Media HQ where she covers all things pop culture, entertainment, wellness, and TikTok trends. She graduated from North Carolina State University and received her masters from Columbia University. Tianna currently lives in New York City where you can find her sipping coffee, practicing yoga, and singing show tunes.