#069: How to Break Into Freelancing When You’re Fresh Out of School

College degrees are becoming less and less valuable in an economy that values experience, critical thinking, creativity and resourcefulness over a diploma.

Check out these startling facts:

  • Roughly 8.5% of college graduates between the ages of 21 and 24 are unemployed, and 16.8% of new grads are “underemployed.” [Source: Economic Policy Institute.]
  • Among 22-year-old degree holders who found jobs in the past three years, more than half were in roles NOT requiring a college diploma. [Source: Bloomberg.]
  • Graduates of the class of 2012 who took loans for bachelor’s degrees owed an average of $29,400. [Source: Forbes.]
  • Student loan debt has now topped $1.2 trillion—the largest level in history. Billionaire Mark Cuban weighs in.

We’re still teaching and trying to prepare our kids for a world that no longer exists — the 19th and 20th century command-and-control workplace.

Sir Ken Robinson been very vocal about this.

And a the new documentary Most Likely to Succeed seems to be making waves and stirring discussion. (Check out the trailer on YouTube)

Yes, I really believe freelancing or contingency work is the way of the future. But if you’re fresh out of school and have no contacts and no relevant experience, how can you possibly get started as a freelancer?

In this episode, I interview two young freelancers who faced the same dilemma just a few years ago.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tony’s Story

What kind of work do you do?

Tony is based in San Francisco, where he has a design and development studio. His company works with start ups as well as enterprise companies, such as Google and Hershey’s. His company builds websites and applications.

How did you get started as a young freelancer with little experience and few contacts?

Tony has been building websites since he was a teenager. He studied computer science and business in college. He worked as an intern and did a ton of free work building websites. He also built important connections. He and a fellow graduate ended up forming Yeti. Today, the company makes over $1 million per year and has about 11-13 employees.

How did you convince your first clients to give you a chance?

Tony did a lot of free work when he was first starting out. He build a website (on his own time) for the company where he worked as an intern. He built joke sites for fun. He built a website for a friend starting a landscape company.

You need a body of work to get people to trust you and hire you as a freelancer.

When he first started out, he wasn’t making much money. He charged his first client only $1000 to build a massive website. Later, that client started a new company and had Tony built him a new site for it—and that was a $100,000+ project.

When you’re just starting out, building connections and creating a portfolio is more important than making money.

How did you grow your business to a more sustainable level?

It happened gradually. He made a lot of connections with other people doing similar work.

When you have connections with fellow freelancers, you can pass work around and collaborate when needed.

Over time, Tony could get more and more choosy with projects and clients.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as a freelancer fresh out of school?

Do whatever you can to build a body of work. If you absolutely need to make money, get a job but maybe not a full time job.

Build connections. There are lots of organizations that can help connect you to other freelancers.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Tony’s website: http://www.yeti.co

Briana’s Story

What kind of work do you do today?

Briana is a freelancer writer. She creates content for businesses and bloggers. She also does some social media management and web design.

When she started, she mostly wrote for personal finance bloggers. Since then, she’s written for a wide variety of clientele, including pediatricians and relationship coaches. The bulk of her work is blogging for clients.

Tell us how you got started

Briana was unexpectedly laid off from her job. She received a severance package, but she needed to make money while looking for a new job. She knew a few people from her previous job who were personal finance bloggers. She approached them for work as a freelance writer.

Tell us about your experience in the corporate world

She was burnt out from school and wanted to find work. She landed a full time social media marketing internship, which she did for five months. It was her first corporate job. At the end of the internship, she was offered a full time job, which she did for four months. She was then laid off.

How did you convince your first few clients to give you a chance?

Briana was honest about her situation. She had started her own blog shortly before she was laid off. She used the blog to let people know she was looking for writing work.

Her first few clients were in the personal finance community. They referred new clients to her.

Briana has now been freelance writing for four years. She’s landed all of her clients through word of mouth.

Why do you feel you succeeded despite all these obstacles?

She desperately needed the work. She had bills to pay.

Briana succeeded because she was willing to take on assignments that others didn’t want.

She was willing to do the dirty work.

How do you feel about your business today?

Now, Briana is ready to grow her business. She wants to grow her client base, take on bigger assignments and charge more. For a long time, she underestimated what she could do.

What advice would you give someone who’s starting as a freelancer fresh out of school?

Build your business now. Don’t wait until you have clients. Start creating your portfolio.

Even if you don’t have clients yet, you can create writing samples for the type of clients you want to target.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Briana Fords’ website: http://brianaford.com