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 subsidise student loans through earnings. Though there are many ways to earn money whilst at university, the flexibility and variety that comes with freelancing makes it an ideal option for many students.
Freelance work is now commonplace in the United Kingdom. According to 2023 data from British IPSE, there are close to 2 million freelancers in the UK and this number is likely to keep increasing in the coming years.
Freelancing may seem an accessible and appealing way to boost your income, but it isn’t as easy as it looks — 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.
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- Freelancers vs Part Time Workers
- The Pros and Cons of Freelancing for Students
- Best Freelance Jobs for University Students
- How AI Can Assist Uni Students Freelancing
- Getting Freelance Work
- Finding and Building Your Clientele
- Setting Yourself Up for Success as a Freelancing Student
- Getting Paid for Freelance Work
- Managing Taxes as a Freelancer
- Additional Resources and Further Reading
- Frequently Asked Questions
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 differences between freelancers and part-time workers.
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. It’s simple, the tax is handled by your employer, and you will likely also get holiday and sick leave.
However, finding a part time job that fits around your studies and suits your skills and personality is unlikely to be easy. 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.
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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:
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[sc3] .
Gain experience: You may use your work as a freelancer to gain skills and get experience that is relevant to your degree. 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 and national insurance you need to 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.
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. In the UK, Self-assessment is relatively straightforward but it’s still a significant consideration.
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.
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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.
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 and 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.
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How AI Can Assist Uni Students Freelancing
In the fast-paced life of a student, time efficiency is paramount, especially when juggling freelance work. The quest lies in maximising billable hours and output, whilst minimising input time. In this current era, 2023, 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 labour-intensive.
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.
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.
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.
Tutoring: AI can assist tutors by providing personalised learning plans, grading assignments, and generating quizzes in different subjects. Tools like Quizlet provide AI-generated study plans and flashcards.
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.
Data Analysis: Students can use AI tools like Google's AutoML Tables to perform complex data analysis tasks, including data visualisation, and can freelance as a data analyst or consultant.
Social Media Management: AI can help create, schedule, and optimise 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.
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.
Marketing Campaign Management: AI tools like Google's AutoML Tables can help create and optimise digital marketing campaigns, analysing the performance and making necessary adjustments.
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 colour 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:
You should use websites and job boards that are specific to your industry. For example, if you want to work as a pet or house sitter, post listings and look for work on sites like House Sitters UK and Paw Shake. This helps to maximise 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 localised forums may be smaller, but they allow you to reach potential customers who are unavailable to freelancers in other areas.
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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 incentivises 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.
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, organise 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 recognise the value you offer.
Do research: Before anything else, do your research on how much existing freelancers and businesses charge in your line of work. You need to know how much your work is worth before you can agree upon a price with clients. As a beginner, it may help to charge slightly less than the current going rate; this will incentivise 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 HMRC. 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 an 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.
Managing Taxes as a Freelancer
Taxes are an inevitable and, at times, expensive part of life as a student freelancer. You’re managing your own finances and your business’ finances. How much tax you pay and how complicated your tax return will depend largely on how you choose to officially structure your business. There are two main choices, sole trader or limited company.
As a student freelancer, registering as a sole trader is nearly always going to be the right approach. However, there are a few unusual situations in which creating a limited company might be beneficial. Limited companies are more tax efficient, particularly if you are hiring staff or have a lot of assets. However, you’ll almost certainly need an accountant to manage tax returns.
If you’re a Sole Trader, the process is much simpler. First off, you need to register. You can do this online. If you’ve already started trading, don’t worry, you’ve got until the 5th October in your business’ second tax year to register.
When the time comes to complete your tax return you can do so using the online self-assessment form. There’s no need to hire 3rd parties, to fill in multiple forms, or do any complex calculations. As long as you have kept track of your transactions throughout the tax period in question, this shouldn’t be too daunting.
Streamlining this process needn’t become a major drain on your time. Consider opening an online business bank account rather than going to a high street branch. There are a lot of options out there, for example Monzo, Starling and Revolut. If you link your account with an accountancy tool like QuickBooks or Xero, then you can quickly categorise transactions so that you’ll be ready come tax return time.
Bear in mind though, that it's not simply a case of saying how much keeping an eye on how much you’ve earned. You’ll need to know what you’ve spent and why you spent it. That way, you’ll know what of your outgoings and expenses are tax deductible. This could even include things such as heating bills and rent, depending on your specific setup.
If you do run into trouble, HMRC has a lot of online guidance and a dedicated helpline.
Or, if you’d rather delegate this potentially tedious task, then there are many reasonably priced accountancy services out there. Afterall, you’ve got enough to think about.
Between finding clients and untangling your finances, working as a freelancer while going to school can be difficult and overwhelming. However, if you take the time to properly prepare for self-employment, you can establish yourself as a freelancer, stay on top of your schoolwork, and find the work-life balance you need to succeed in both areas.
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 organisation made up of millions of freelance workers.
Community TU: Community TU is a lobbying organisation that connects freelancers so that they can have their voices heard by governing bodies.
IPSE (Association for Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (UK)): IPSE offers membership to self-employed people in return for legal support and access to a large community of peers.
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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