If the traditional 9-5 isn’t appealing to you, you're not alone. In fact, nearly half of Gen Z is ditching the 9-5 to freelance. By 2027, nearly 86.5 million people will be following suit, making freelancing the dominant workforce.
If you’re not quite sure what to do after graduation, or if you’re already pondering the freelance lifestyle, here’s how you can make money freelancing after college.
What is a Freelancer?
A freelancer is a self-employed person who offers contract-based services to clients. While not considered an employee of the company, a freelancer works closely alongside them to provide a unique service.
As you can tell, the definition of freelancing is quite broad. In fact, the structure of the work is as well. Freelancers operate within their own areas of expertise, all offering different services as independent contractors.
As a result, the day-to-day of a freelancer will vary greatly. Each individual freelancer will offer a different service, or set of services, and work with different clients. As a result, the day-to-day of a freelancer will vary greatly.
Why You Should Freelance After Graduation
As a freelancer, you’re essentially running your own business. This allows you to build a work-life balance that suits your lifestyle, as opposed to the other way around. Plus, the gig economy is rapidly growing, making now the perfect time to launch your freelancing career.
If you’re debating whether freelancing after graduation is right for you, here are a few reasons why you should consider it:
Growth of the Industry
The number of independent workers is on the rise and isn’t expected to slow down. In just five years, freelancers will make up over half of the total U.S. workforce. If you’re looking to dive into a growing industry, freelancing could make for a promising career trajectory.
While 65% of U.S. employees are happy with their job, only 20% say they’re actually passionate about what they do. In comparison, 76% of full-time freelancers say they’re satisfied with their job overall, and 82% say they’re happier working as independent professionals. If you want to make your day job a time to pursue your passions, freelancing is the way to go.
Career Stability as a Self-Employed Person
Freelancing is often perceived as an incredibly unstable form of work. However, after building up a solid client base, it can be even more stable than traditional full-time employment.
Think of it this way: If you get laid off from your full-time job, your income comes to a screeching halt. While you can find temporary income assistance through unemployment programs, you’re typically only given a fraction of your prior wage. However, when freelancers lose a client, they still have income coming in from others until they find a new one to fill the spot.
Control Over Your Workload
As a freelancer, you’re a business owner, which means you make the rules. You decide how much you work, what projects you take on, and who you work with.
If you only want to work 30 hours per week, you can decline projects that put you above that. If a project doesn't excite you, you don’t have to take it on. And if a client doesn’t seem like a good fit, you don’t have to work with them. The ability to choose in these areas gives you complete control over your workload.
Time & Location Freedom
Freelance jobs afford you an immense amount of flexibility unlike any career. If you want to pause your work day to hit the gym, you can. If you want to take Friday off to visit the beach and work Saturday instead, you can. If you want to travel the globe working from dreamy locations, you can. Not only do you pick how you work, but where and when you work as well.
Control Over Your Income
In a traditional role, you rely on your employer to give you a raise, but as a freelancer, you have control over when you increase your income and by how much. For example, in a traditional full-time job, you’d be lucky to receive a 3% raise each year. As a freelancer, however, you can typically score a 5-10% rate increase with existing clients.
Ultimately, you decide how often and how much you increase your rates. If you’re bold when it comes to your business, you may shoot for a 15% rate increase each year. If you’re one to play it safe, you may lean towards a 5% rate increase each year.
Keep in mind that the 5-10% rate increase metric is simply for existing client relationships. Most freelancers increase their rates with each new client they take on. In fact, raising your rate each time you take on a new client is a common strategy used by freelancers to see how much they can charge before being turned away.
You should exercise caution in regards to raising your rate for both ongoing clients and new clients, as you could become unaffordable for them. Regardless, freelancing affords you a greater level of control over your earnings, allowing you to scale your income on your own terms.
6 Steps to Make Money with Freelance Work After College
If all of this has you eager to make money freelancing, let’s break down the steps you should take to get there.
Step 1: Figure Out What You Want to Get Paid For
Before the cash can start rolling in, you’ll need to determine what you can offer. Pick a service that is at the intersection of what you’re good at, what you want to do, and what clients are in need of. For example, if you’re an incredible graphic designer, love creating logos, and know small businesses need logo design services, you’re golden.
If you’re unsure what service(s) you’d like to offer, here are a few examples to get you thinking:
- Social Media Management
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Podcast Marketing
- Growth Marketing Strategy
- Customer Success
- Market Research
- E-Commerce Management
- Business Operations
- Lead Generation
- Graphic Design
- UI/UX Design
- Product Design
- Presentation Design
- Web & Mobile Programming
- Website Building
- Data Analysis
- Quality Assurance Testing
- User Testing
- Support & IT
- Blog Writing
- Creative Writing
- UX Writing
- Podcast Writing
- Newsletter Management
- Video Editing
- Photo Editing
Each of these services can be refined even further by niching down or making your services more targeted toward a specific audience. For example, if you’re particularly knowledgeable about how to properly photograph food, you may decide to offer food photography services rather than offering general photography services.
Likewise, if you’re skilled in bookkeeping and particularly interested in real estate, you may decide to offer bookkeeping services to real estate professionals rather than offering general bookkeeping services.
To niche, or not to niche, becomes a big question for most freelancers. Here’s our take: While niching down can help you deliver a very tailored service, you may want to keep things broad at the beginning of your freelance career. If your goal is to truly make money freelancing, you’ll need a steady stream of clients to do so. A more niche service will attract a very specific subset of potential clients, while a broader service will likely attract a higher volume.
Once clients are steadily coming in, then it’s a good time to consider developing more specialized services. For now, pick the one you feel confident in providing, and keep it fairly broad.
Step 2: Make Your Prices Competitive
How you price your services is immensely important, especially in the beginning of your freelance career. If you price yourself too high, it could be a detractor to potential clients. On the other hand, if you price yourself too low, you could be leaving money on the table.
Before actually crunching the numbers, pick a pricing model that suits your services. While there are a variety of ways you can do this, the two most common pricing models freelancers use are hourly and value-based pricing.
Hourly pricing is just as it sounds — you make a certain amount for each hour of your freelance work. Hourly pricing is best for work that is directly correlated to time spent. For example, if a client wanted to book you for 1 hour of consulting, you should charge hourly.
Value-based pricing allows you to set your rate based on the overall value of the service rather than the amount of time spent doing it. For example, instead of charging $40 per hour for a logo design, you may charge a flat rate of $300. Value-based pricing is best for services where the client is paying for a one-time product or service such as a logo, website, mobile design, or set of social media graphics.
There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to pricing. However, the hourly and value-based pricing models are the easiest to implement in the early stages of finding freelance work. Regardless of which model you choose, make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with. Clients may ask you to explain how you charge, so you’ll want to make sure you understand the model well enough to explain it to someone else.
Naming Your Price
Once you know the pricing model(s) you prefer, it’s time to set your rates. How much you charge will depend on a variety of factors such as your experience level, the industry you work in, and your expenses.
The more experienced you are, the more you can charge. So, if you’re just beginning your career as an independent contractor, you may want to select a lower rate. If you have more experience, you can charge a higher, more competitive rate.
For reference, most Pangea freelancers charge as follows:
- Beginner: $18/hour base rate
- Intermediate: $25/hour base rate
- Experienced: $35+/hour base rate
Some industries will also pay more simply due to the nature of the work. For example, software engineering tends to be a more lucrative field than social media marketing. So, freelance software engineers will likely charge more than social media marketers.
To identify the norms in your industry, explore the rates on other freelancers’ websites and platform profiles, or look for industry rate databases like Who Pays Writers? and Freelance Solidarity.
If you will incur any costs to complete the project, you should also factor that into your pricing as well. For example, if you utilize a video editing software that costs you $100 per month, make sure your pricing factors in that cost so you can actually profit after paying the expense.
Step 3: Identify Your Ideal Client
Once you’ve got your service(s) and pricing mapped out, it’s time to start thinking about your ideal client. Identifying your ideal client is essential in effectively pitching your services.
If you aren’t quite sure who your ideal client is, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who would benefit most from the service(s) I offer?
- What benefit or transformation does this service bring?
- Who is in need of that transformation?
- What type of people do I tend to resonate with? How old are they? Where are they located? What are they working on?
Identifying who you want to work with can help when thinking about how you will communicate with them as potential clients. When you understand your client’s wants and needs, you can pitch your services in a manner that shows them how you can resolve a problem or pain point they’re experiencing. Let’s use an example to break this down.
Let’s say you offer social media marketing services, and your ideal clients are salon owners. Oftentimes, salon owners and hair stylists are taking pictures and videos of hair transformations all day long. So, trying to entice the client to book you by promoting your all-in-one package with product photography might not help. Explaining your seamless process to repurpose stylists’ hair videos into viral Instagram Reels, however, may convince them to book you.
On the flip side, if your ideal client is local restaurants, they likely don’t have a team snapping pictures of the weekly specials in perfect lighting. So, in this case, you’d want to share that all-in-one package to resonate with their needs as a client.
At the beginning of your freelance career, it’s okay to keep your ideal client broad. So, rather than saying you want to work with Italian restaurant owners in the Philadelphia area, you might keep your ideal client as food business owners. Once you gain more experience, you can niche down further, but in the beginning, keep it broad.
Step 4: Make a Website or Freelance Portfolio
Before booking your services, clients may want a peek at your previous work. Simply put, they want to see what they can expect before agreeing to fork over the cash for it.
Developing a strong personal website or portfolio can help you land high-quality clients by giving them a place to explore your past projects.
Let’s make this part clear: You don’t need a fancy-schmancy website. There are a variety of free portfolio platforms available that will do the trick:
Best for Freelance Writers
Best for Freelance Designers
Best for Freelance Web Developers
Good for Various Industries
How to Create a Strong Portfolio
Before you start collecting any and all work for your portfolio, make sure you craft one that is professional and provides clients with an accurate representation of your skill set.
Limit the Number of Pieces
It can be tempting to fill your portfolio with as many pieces as possible to look more experienced. In reality, though, when a client looks at your portfolio, chances are they aren’t going through every single piece. Instead of packing your portfolio with as many pieces as possible, pick a few you feel especially confident in.
Pick Quality Pieces
This may sound like a no-brainer, but make sure you’re only picking high-quality pieces. Before selecting a piece for your portfolio, ask yourself this: If this piece were the only piece a client looked at in my portfolio, would the quality of this work entice them to book a call with me?
If you don’t think the piece will convert a potential client, leave it out of your portfolio.
Make It Easy to Navigate
The easier your portfolio is to navigate, the more likely clients are to explore your work. If they open it and cringe, however, they’re likely to bounce and find another freelancer’s work to check out instead. If you’re concerned about how easy your portfolio is to navigate, ask a friend or family member to check it out and offer honest feedback.
Step 5: Pick the Best Freelance Website
While you can source clients completely on your own, utilizing freelancing websites to kickstart your client base will likely be easier and more efficient.
What is the Best Website for Freelance Jobs?
We may be a bit biased here in terms of which freelancing website is best, but we’ll let this table speak for itself.
What to Look for When Picking a Freelance Website
Freelance websites all offer different things, and ultimately, the best freelancing websites for you will be the one that you enjoy the most. In general, though, you should pay attention to the following factors when seeking a freelance job.
Most freelancing platforms will charge you a fee to invoice clients. Find a platform, like Pangea, that offers a competitive fee structure that will allow you to keep the majority of your freelance income. I mean, the point is to make money freelancing, right?
Invoicing your clients and getting paid should be simple. If the platform forces you to perform a full gymnastics routine just to get your invoice submitted, run. To make invoicing seamless, Pangea utilizes Stripe, one of the most efficient payment processing platforms on the market.
When using a freelance website, you shouldn’t feel like you’re on an island by yourself. If you happen to run into any issues while utilizing the platform, there should be a strong support team to help guide you. Before you get stuck with an unpaid invoice and a never-ending cycle of bot responses, make sure there are at least a few real humans behind the platform offering customer support.
Step 6: Scale Your Freelance Business
After you’ve laid the foundation, you can begin to scale. Scaling your freelance business means setting it up to grow continuously, without limitations.
Note: At the beginning of your freelancing career, don’t worry too much about scaling. However, if your goal is to make money freelancing, it can be fun to think about your income potential. For now, store this in the back of your mind and use it as motivation and a roadmap for the future.
When you’re ready, know that successfully scaling your freelance business involves a multi-faceted approach. Here are a few things you can do to scale your business to make more money as an independent contractor.
Raise Your Rates
Raising your rates is key to bringing in more income. Each year, consider raising your rates 5-10% with current clients and even more for new clients.
Level Up Your Skills
The more in-depth your knowledge is, the more you can charge. Consider taking a course to diversify your skill set or go deeper on a topic you already understand (i.e.taking a LinkedIn Learning course on web copy if you’re a freelance writer).
Grow Your Client Base
More clients won't always equal more money. That said, if you find yourself with more time in your schedule, you can start acquiring multiple clients. Adding multiple clients to the rotation can increase your income quite a bit.
Outsource Tasks You Don’t Like
As a business owner, time is of the essence. There are only so many hours in the day and only one you. As your client base grows, you may find yourself having to turn away clients due to not having enough time to offer them services.
This is a perfect time to start considering outsourcing tasks you don’t love. Outsourcing involves hiring another freelancer to take on some of your work. By handing off the mundane tasks you don’t enjoy, you can free up some time to do the work you actually enjoy with more clients.
Invest in Technology To Make You More Efficient
If you don’t feel ready to hire someone, consider investing in software that can make your business more efficient. For example, rather than manually allocating money aside for taxes each month, platforms like Catch will do it for you. Again, by saving time on the mundane tasks of running a business, you can divert more time towards making money.
Commonly Asked Questions About Freelancing
We get it. This is a lot to take in, and you may still have some lingering questions. If so, here are some of the most commonly asked questions about making money as a freelance worker, complete with the answers to satisfy your curiosity.
Do you need experience to start freelancing?
No! While having some experience is certainly helpful, it isn’t required. In fact, many freelancers start offering services with minimal experience.
How much do beginner freelancers make?
What a beginner freelancer makes will depend largely on the industry they freelance in. Generally speaking, most beginner freelancers on Pangea charge around $18/hour, which would be around $36,000 per year (if they remained at the same rate the entire year).
Can you make a living off freelancing?
You sure can. According to Zip Recruiter, the average freelancer makes around $33 per hour or $68,604 per year.
Can you actually freelance right out of college?
Absolutely! While it isn’t the most “traditional” post-grad career, it is entirely possible to make money freelancing right after graduation (or even while you're still studying).
Do freelancers pay taxes?
Yes! Freelancers are considered self-employed, and thus, are subject to both regular income tax and self-employment tax. The Internal Revenue Service recommends independent contractors save around 30% of their gross income to pay taxes later on.
How do freelancers get paid?
Freelancers get paid by invoicing clients for work. When working with clients through a freelance website such as Pangea, invoicing will take place via the platform directly. When working through freelancing sites, invoicing can be done through software such as Stripe, Wave, or Bonsai.
It’s Time to Make Money Freelancing
If this has shown you anything, we hope it’s that making money freelancing is entirely possible. With a bit of planning and grit, freelancing can be a lucrative career for just about anyone. For more information on how to be the best freelancer you can be, hop on over to Pangea Academy!