2024 Student Guide to Freelancing - An In-depth Guide

If you’re in or preparing for higher education, you already have some idea of how expensive being a student can be. With the cost of living continually rising, an increasing number of students need to boost their income to keep up. 

The amount you’ll need to earn will be highly dependent on where in the world you’re studying. In certain countries, tuition fees may be free or subsidized. In others, you might need to apply for either private or government funded loans to cover tuition and living expenses. However, unless you are getting a lot of help from family members, living comfortably on loans is going to be a challenge.

Freelancing can be an accessible and flexible way of supporting yourself throughout higher education. A stunning 47% of the global workforce are freelancers, that’s 1.57 billion people, and this number is likely to keep increasing in the coming years. So there is a huge and growing global market that students can leverage to their advantage.

However, freelancing isn’t as easy as it might seem from the outside — especially when you also need to keep up with your studies. It’s vital to learn more about what self-employment entails so you can prepare yourself to succeed as a freelancer without compromising your education.

This guide is intended to give you a general overview of freelancing as a student no matter where you’re studying. Of course, you should do your own market research, but you should find everything you need here to make a confident first step into the world of student freelancing.

Also read: Are Home Improvements Tax Deductible?

Table Of Contents

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Freelancers vs Part-Time Workers

As a student, there’s more than one way to earn additional income. However, your studies should always be a top priority. That means that full-time employment is out of the question. Part-time employment is perhaps the most traditional and intuitive path to take. Before going into detail about how to navigate the world of freelancing, let’s quickly look at the differences between freelancers and part-time workers.

Freelancers

Freelancers are independent contractors who have the freedom and flexibility to operate as a business. They have complete control over the work they do and how they do it. They are also entirely responsible for the financial, legal, and administrative parts of their business.

Typically, freelancers work on a lot of smaller projects for many clients at a single time. These projects tend to be short-term, though they may work for the same client more than once or repeatedly. They create their own schedules, set their own rates, and determine their own workload.

Part Time Workers

Getting a part-time job means that you have signed a contract with an employer. The contract will guarantee an employer a certain number of hours of work and will clearly define your job description. In return, the employer will agree to pay the employee a certain salary or hourly wage.

There’s a lot to recommend this approach for students. In almost every country income tax is handled by your employer, and you may also get holiday and sick leave. However, finding a part-time job that fits your studies and suits your skills and personality is no easy task. There is generally a lot of competition in university towns for the kinds of roles that are suitable for students. On top of that, it’s much harder to find a part-time job that gives you experience that is relevant to your studies.

Also read: Do You Have To Pay Back FAFSA?

The Pros and Cons of Freelancing for Students

Just like any other form of employment, there are both significant pros and cons associated with working contract jobs:

Benefits

Some of the biggest benefits of being a freelancer include:

  • Flexibility: You have the freedom to do whatever you want with your business. You can set your own schedule, decide your workload, and create a work environment you feel comfortable in. Depending on your line of work, you can even make money from your home.

  • Gain experience: You may use your work as a freelancer to gain skills and experience that are relevant to your qualifications. This can help prepare you to enter the workforce after you graduate, either as an employee or a business owner.

  • Creativity and variety: As a freelancer, you have complete control over your work. You can be as creative as you want, both in the work you do and in how you run your business. You’ll also get a lot of variety since you must oversee every aspect of the business.

  • Earn money: Obviously, freelancing is a way to make money, but there is no ceiling on how much of it you can earn. Usually, you can earn more per hour than you would as an employee at a business (especially at this stage in your professional life). You can also take on more projects to boost your earnings. And, aside from the taxes that your country of operation requires that you pay on your income, you get to keep it all.

  • Build a business: Freelancing is what you make it. If you’re entrepreneurially minded, you could create a small business, not just a side hustle. Instead of frantically applying to jobs after graduation, you can just devote more time to building your business, since you’ve already laid a solid foundation.

These advantages are what make freelance work so enticing for so many people — and why many want to pursue that type of work, despite the disadvantages.

Also read: What Is FUTA Tax - All You Need To Know

Drawbacks

Some of the biggest drawbacks of freelance work include:

  • Responsibility: When you freelance, all the responsibility for running your business and getting your work done falls on you. This can provide a valuable learning opportunity, but it can also be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t confident in handling certain areas of the business.

  • Tax – Managing tax and the associated admin is an additional pressure on top of work and study. Mismanaging tax can cause serious problems. How much tax you pay and how you pay it varies considerably depending on which country you are operating within. See the ‘Setting Up Your Freelance Business and Paying Taxes’ section for some additional guidance.

  • Inconsistent workflow: In a regular job, you have to work on a consistent, predetermined schedule. As a freelancer, you may go through periods where you have a lot of work to do, and others with very little. This also results in an inconsistent cash flow.

  • Work-life balance: It can be hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance as a freelancer — particularly since it’s already difficult enough to do so as a student. In addition to an irregular schedule, you also have more earning potential if you take on more work. Even if you don’t consider classes, schoolwork, and extracurriculars, it’s all too easy to overload yourself.

  • Collecting payments: Collecting payments from your clients can pose a challenge. Some clients will happily and promptly pay what they owe, but others will drag their feet and make late payments. Asking people for payment can be uncomfortable, especially if you aren’t used to it.

It’s crucial to understand the reality of what freelancing looks like. For some, these drawbacks may be completely off-putting. For others, they may not be. However, you still need to be aware of the challenges you may face and prepare yourself to deal with them before you commit to this career path.

Also read: Payroll Tax Vs Income Tax - The Ultimate Guide

Best Freelance Jobs for University Students

The beauty of being a freelancer? You can do any kind of work you want. It’s your business, so it’s entirely up to you.

That being said, you should still think carefully about what kind of work you do. You’ll probably want to pick something that has minimal startup costs, is somewhat flexible, and aligns with your existing interests or skills. For this reason, jobs that may work well for you as a student include:

  • Writing and editing, including content writing, blogging, and copyediting.

  • Tutoring, either online or in-person.

  • Translating.

  • Administrative work, either online or in-person.

  • Digital marketing, including content creation, social media management, and SEO services.

  • Creative services, such as illustration, graphic design, photography, and videography.

  • Computer services or information technology work, such as web development, programming, or coding.

  • Hands-on work, such as landscaping, babysitting, pet sitting, or housekeeping.

When making your selection, think about your reason for becoming a freelancer. Are you trying to get a leg up with some hands-on experience in your field, or are you just looking to make some extra cash? If it’s the former, you should select something related to your area of study or desired career path. If it’s the latter, you should probably pick something that isn’t too demanding so you can still focus on school.

You should also consider what kind of work you could realistically make a business out of. What services are in demand in your area or online? Match your skills to those needs and do your best to provide a solution for them. By taking a more strategic approach to freelancing, you have a much better chance of successfully finding work.

Also read: How Much Is Social Security tax?

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How AI Can Assist with Student Freelancers

In the fast-paced life of a student, time efficiency is paramount, especially when juggling freelance work. The quest lies in maximizing billable hours and output, whilst minimizing input time. In this current era, 2024, the answer often lies at the intersection of artificial intelligence and ingenuity.

By leveraging AI tools, tasks that once demanded a considerable investment of time and effort can now be simplified and expedited, allowing students to deliver quality work more swiftly and effectively. This approach opens up the potential for increased productivity, enabling students to automate tasks that were once labor-intensive.

  1. Content Creation: Tools like OpenAI's GPT-3 can assist in generating ideas, proofreading, or even creating initial drafts for blog posts, articles, and social media content. AI can also help with SEO optimisation to ensure the content reaches the target audience.

  2. Graphic Design: AI-powered design tools like Canva can help create high-quality logos, brochures, or social media graphics, even for those without a strong design background. These tools often include templates and automatic alignment features.

  3. Translation and Transcription Services: AI tools like Google's Speech-to-Text API can accurately transcribe audio or video files. Language translation tools, like DeepL, can provide quick translations of different languages, which can be fine-tuned by the freelancer.

  4. Tutoring: AI can assist tutors by providing personalized learning plans, grading assignments, and generating quizzes in different subjects. Tools like Quizlet provide AI-generated study plans and flashcards.

  5. Web Development: AI-powered development tools like Bubble or Wix can assist in building websites or apps more efficiently, even without deep coding knowledge. These tools often provide drag-and-drop interfaces and pre-built components.

  6. Data Analysis: Students can use AI tools like Google's AutoML Tables to perform complex data analysis tasks, including data visualization, and can freelance as a data analyst or consultant.

  7. Social Media Management: AI can help create, schedule, and optimize social media posts for businesses. Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite provide post-scheduling and analytics features, and AI-powered tools like Lately can even create social media posts from long-form content.

  8. Virtual Assistant Services: AI can automate and manage scheduling, email sorting, and simple customer service tasks. Tools like x.ai can handle meeting scheduling, and platforms like Zendesk offer AI-powered customer service features.

  9. Marketing Campaign Management: AI tools like Google's AutoML Tables can help create and optimize digital marketing campaigns, analyzing the performance and making necessary adjustments.

  10. Video Editing: AI-powered video editing tools like Runway ML can simplify the video editing process, creating professional-grade videos with less effort. These tools can automate aspects of the editing process like color grading or object removal.

Remember, while AI can greatly assist in these tasks, it's important to always review and fine-tune the outputs of AI tools to ensure quality and personal touch in your freelance work.

Getting Freelance Work

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, you need to find clients who are willing to pay you to do that work.

Freelance job boards, of which there are many, are a great place to start. Some of the most popular include:

Additionally, look at standard job-hunting sites, such as Glassdoor, Indeed and Monster.

You should also use websites and job boards that are specific to your industry and location. For example, if you want to work as a pet or house sitter, search for relevant local job sites. This helps to maximize your reach and helps you narrow down the pool of clients to those who are interested in the services you offer.

Don’t forget to check out any job boards, either in-person or online, offered by your college or community. These localized forums may be smaller, but they allow you to reach potential customers who are unavailable to freelancers in other areas.

Finding and Building Your Clientele

Once you’ve started to find jobs, there are a few other ways you can reach even more clients:

  • Start with people you know: Offer your services to people you already know. Your friends, family members, and acquaintances know who you are and are more likely to take a chance on you than a total stranger. However, this isn’t an excuse to cut corners. You still need to charge a fair rate and do good work, so they will give positive references and help you build your portfolio of work.

  • Create an online presence: Build an online presence so customers can find you easily and learn about your services. This includes social media profiles, a website or blog, and (if relevant) a portfolio of your work.

  • Networking: Continually work to build a professional network. This includes people and businesses you may work with in the future, as well as other freelancers in your niche. They may be able to help you find jobs or hire you to help with a job they can’t do alone.

  • Cold calling: In the beginning, people aren’t going to come to you for work, so you need to let them know you’re willing and able to take on new projects. Cold call people and businesses you want to work with. Submit job applications, send emails, literally call people — whatever you do, just try your best to get your name out there.

  • Get references: Ask your clients to provide a reference, leave a review, or give a testimonial. Not only does this show potential clients that past customers were happy with your work, but it also shows that you’ve successfully found and done work. This makes your business seem more legitimate and further improves your ability to get customers.

  • Offer discounts: Give a small discount to repeat customers. Consider giving them 10% off a project, running a special, or bundling several services together at a lower rate. This incentivizes them to come back, and though you’ll slightly reduce your income, you don’t have to go through the hassle of finding new clients.

The more work you do, the easier it will be to get more work. It won’t happen overnight, but with patience and dedication, you will have a pool of clients to work with.

Don’t take on more work than you can reasonably handle. As a student, schoolwork should be your primary focus. It’s okay to push back on a client’s request or decline a project altogether. Just be respectful so you can maintain that relationship in case they ask for more work in the future.

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Setting Yourself Up for Success as a Freelancing Student

There’s no guarantee that you’ll find freelancing success. However, there are a few things you can do to make the process go smoother and increase the chances that you’ll build a lucrative business:

  • Set goals: Set goals for yourself. Know why you’re freelancing, particularly during such a busy time of your life. As you start working, keep these goals in mind so you can stay on track.

  • Start small: Take small steps into the world of freelancing. Start with a few projects and see how well you manage them. If you discover any major hurdles, it’ll be easier to overcome them when your business is smaller. You can take on more work when you’ve become more comfortable and efficient in this new role.

  • Master time management: As a student and business owner, you won’t be able to get by without highly effective time-management skills. Between deadlines for work projects and midterms, it’s easy to get lost in your to-do list. Take some time to plan out your days, designating time for work, school, other commitments, and rest.

  • Motivate yourself: Just as a boss motivates their employees, look for ways to motivate yourself. Try productivity apps, reach out to other people when you need a pep talk, organize your home workspace, reward yourself, and find ways to make work fun. Keep trying new things until you find motivation strategies that work well for you.

  • Take breaks: Take frequent breaks from your work. With so much going on, you need to find ways to reduce stress and keep your business and education moving forward. During long stretches of work, step away from your desk every so often to rest. Similarly, be sure to take a day off from your work, or the occasional holiday, so you have time to decompress. You may feel like you can’t sacrifice the time, but by taking breaks, you’ll get more done — and probably feel better — in the long run.

  • Celebrate: Freelancing and going to school are both challenges in their own rights. Whether you scored highly on a difficult assignment or received extremely positive feedback from a client, you should celebrate all of your victories. This will help you stay motivated, remind you of your goals, and help you enjoy this exciting time in your life.

By taking care of yourself and understanding what you need to do to make this work, you’re far more likely to succeed in your new venture.

Getting Paid for Freelance Work

Finding clients and doing work is only half the battle; figuring out your finances is the other. Because freelancing is so flexible, there are many ways you can get paid. In some ways, this flexibility makes it easier to get paid. However, in others, it makes the situation more complex, especially if you don’t have a game plan to get the money you earned.

  • Never work for free: You should never complete any work for free or get paid in “exposure.” Your expertise and time are valuable. If clients want you to create a sample of your work, charge them a small rate proportional to the project. If they’re asking for free work, avoid working with them altogether. Look for clients that have a history of working with freelancers, or who at least recognize the value you offer.

  • Do research: Before anything else, do your research on how much freelancers and businesses charge in your line of work. You need to know how much your work is worth before you can agree on a price with clients. As a beginner, it may help to charge slightly less than the current going rate; this will incentivize people to hire you, despite your lack of previous experience. After you’re established, you can raise them to reflect market values.

  • Protect yourself: Take care to protect yourself from unpleasant clients and potential scammers or swindlers. You can request and collect payment using a trusted third-party service, like PayPal. This way, if something goes wrong, you have some extra support to navigate the situation and make sure you get paid. Keep in mind these services typically take a cut of your earnings. Be sure to account for this in the rate you set for your clients.

  • Predetermine parameters: Similarly, make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the project and payment. Your client should know how much they are paying for the work, when and how they are expected to pay you, and the consequences of breaking this agreement. Use contracts and invoices to communicate these expectations before you begin working.

  • Follow up: Follow up with your clients until they pay you. You may be a college student, but you’re doing real work for your clients and should be compensated appropriately. If a client continually refuses to pay, stop doing work, or withhold the completed project until they do. Once you’ve resolved this issue, it’s probably best to avoid working with that client in the future.

  • Record your income: You may be a freelancer, but, come tax time, you still need to provide proof of your income to the powers that be. We’ll go into detail below, but there are many cheap or free ways of keeping track of your income. This could be using a business bank account or accounting software like QuickBooks.

Figuring out money may not be as fun as the work you do, but it’s a vital part of being self-employed. You will struggle to succeed as a freelancer if you don’t stay on top of your finances before, during, and after doing the work.

Setting Up Your Freelance Business and Paying Taxes

Freelancers often have the luxury of thinking in global terms. The global market cares less about practicalities such as physical location and more about the value of your skills and experience.

You can work from your student accommodation in Beirut with clients operating out of plush offices in London and New York. However, there is one area of business in which a freelancer must think more locally, and that’s the legal practicalities of being self-employed in your country of operation. 

Before you start trading, you should do your research and make sure you are following your country’s legal requirements to the letter. Most governments require individuals to register as a self-employed person or even register a business before or soon after they begin trading. Then, you will need to pay tax and potentially other fees depending on where you are. This is an essential part of running any business, and freelancing is a business. 

Below are some links that give specific guidance on setting up a freelancing business and the associated taxes in countries with large student populations. Bear in mind that if you're an international student, there will likely be a few more hoops to jump through. 

If your country of operation isn’t listed, then a quick Google search should give you all the information you need to get started. Whatever you do though, don’t neglect the legalities of operating as a freelancer. If there is one unifying truth that can be applied to any government it’s that they hand out harsh punishments to those that don’t pay their dues.

Additional Resources and Further Reading

For more information on the financials of freelancing, check out the following resources:

  • Freelancers Union: Freelancers Union is an advocacy organization made up of millions of freelance workers.

  • The PayStubs Blog: The PayStubs blog is home to many pages of helpful articles about various financial and small business topics.

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In the meantime, do try out our paystub creator today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Technically no, but you should. Having a written contract is essential for protecting both parties. The contract should outline the project scope, payment terms, deadlines, and any other relevant details.

Freelancing provides flexibility, allowing students to work around their study schedules. It can also help them gain experience in their fields, build their portfolios, and earn money to support their education.

Establish clear communication and set boundaries from the beginning. Remain professional and assertive when addressing issues. If necessary, consider ending the working relationship and finding a new client.

Prioritize your tasks, create a schedule, and set deadlines for yourself. Break down projects into smaller tasks and use time management tools like calendars or to-do lists. Make sure to allocate time for studying and self-care.

Keep track of your income and expenses and set aside money for taxes. As a freelancer, you'll need to pay income tax and national insurance. Consider consulting a tax professional for guidance if you are unsure.

Freelancing is working as an independent contractor, rather than being employed full-time by a company. You provide services to clients on a project basis, often remotely.

Understand your rights as an independent contractor, including intellectual property rights. Research any licenses or permits required in your field and consider getting liability insurance to protect yourself from potential lawsuits.

Consider factors like your experience level, the complexity of the project, and the market rates in your field. Research what other freelancers charge for similar services and adjust your rates accordingly.

Showcase your best work, including any projects you've completed in school or for clients. Include a variety of samples that demonstrate your skills and expertise. Regularly update your portfolio as you complete new projects.

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2024 Student Guide to Freelancing - An In-depth Guide
Samantha Clark

A Warrington College of Business graduate, Samantha handles all client relations with our top-tier partners. Read More

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