Why I Started Freelancing

Have you ever hated the feeling of being in debt? I know I do, and it’s the reason why I started freelancing back in college. My initial goal for getting into freelance was to pay off my college loans as soon as possible, a goal that was largely influenced by a book I had been reading by Dave Ramsey called “Total Money Makeover.” I never actually intended for freelancing to become my full-time career. 

But before I knew about freelancing, I spent most of my time looking for any scholarships or opportunities for extra income to help me pay off my loan payments faster. 

I remember going to my college library after classes where I would flip through several books consisting of thousands of scholarship listings, trying to find any scholarships that played to my strengths. With so many opportunities, I thought for sure there would be a few scholarships that I could apply for and get. However, despite applying for several different scholarships, I never found much success.

Most of the scholarships were competition-based, meaning that there could be hundreds or thousands of students nationwide competing for a single prize; and since the majority of the scholarships were in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) which I didn’t know much about as an Advertising major, I found myself mainly applying to writing competitions. Although I enjoy writing, I’ve never considered it my biggest strength, and I found myself losing one competition after another to truly talented writers.

Despite the constant setbacks, I continued to look for scholarship opportunities and eventually discovered that based on my GPA, I automatically qualified for a half-tuition scholarship. But this scholarship wasn’t something that was widely broadcast, and I didn’t know about it until I had spent countless hours looking up other scholarships and talking to school counselors about different options (Words of advice: if you’re in college and you have a good GPA, make sure you check if your school offers a similar scholarship program because it took a lot of searching for me to find).

Just like that, half of my tuition was paid for. Awesome. Now, to take care of the other half. I had a part-time project where I was making $10/hr. I did simple motion design and video editing for my university’s education department. It was a skill that I had picked up in high school since my friends and I enjoyed making films, and I was lucky enough to land a part-time project that let me continue working with video. $10/hr was considered to be a high-paying project on campus since most projects were $7/hr or $8/hr. It covered groceries and rent, but that’s about it. I still needed extra income to cover the other half of my tuition, and it wasn’t going to come just from saving and budgeting the checks coming in from my $10/hr project.

I stopped looking through the scholarship book because I was spending a lot of time entering competitions without much luck. For some people, I’ve heard this works great, but for me it just wasn’t working. I decided to use the extra time I had to search for a 2nd part-time project.

My school had a project fair where startups came, looking to hire part-time help from college students at an affordable price. Here, I was introduced to a company attending the project fair who was looking to hire salespeople, but was more interested in my skills as an animator. They did a lot of software demos for clients and needed help creating explainer videos. We kept in touch after the project fair, and eventually I found myself creating videos for them on a regular basis. I wasn’t able to come into their office consistently because I was a full-time student, but they were okay with me working from home as long as I got the work done on time.

The best part about this setup was that it worked great for both me and the company. I could save time that would otherwise be spent commuting and use that time toward animating their content. I could finish the videos whenever was most convenient for me, whether it was 6am or 10pm, as long as I was meeting my deadlines. And since I was paid per video completed, I was incentivized to work faster (while still producing quality content) so that I could earn more. This flexible schedule helped me bring in an extra couple thousand dollars a month, which ultimately went toward my student loans.

As is the case with most freelance work when just starting out, the projects came in waves. Sometimes I had a lot of projects, and other times I had nothing going on. But overall, the amount I was making was significantly more than I was able to bring in with scholarship competitions. I was also using my time more efficiently since the effort I put into the videos I produced directly resulted in paid income, whereas before I wasted a lot of time applying for scholarships I had a slim chance of winning. I started freelancing my sophomore year of college, and by the time I was in my cap and gown, accepting my diploma 2 years later, my loans were paid off and I was debt-free.

Freelancing was the first time I realized that I didn’t have to accept being capped at whatever wages were decided for me. I learned that companies needed the skills I had to offer and were willing to pay market value for them. It’s comforting knowing that the amount of money I earn each year is something that I decide for myself. There’s no salary cap. If I need more money, I work harder and land more projects. If I’m comfortable with where I’m at financially, I can take a break from freelancing and spend more time with my family and friends.

Freelancing may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly brought a sense of comfort and control over finances in my life. I’m grateful for the freedom and flexibility it’s offered me and the community I’ve come to know as a result of it.


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