Money made on your own watch

I need some additional guidance. I’m a recent college graduate trying to figure out what I should do with my career. My major concentration was in business administration with a focus on digital marketing.

I was originally planning to work for an advertising agency, but, having thought more about it, I really want more flexibility. A close friend of mine said I should consider freelancing if I want to make my own schedule, but she’s also a computer programmer.

That’s why I could use some insights. Is it realistic to think I could do the same thing but with softer skills? I wouldn’t want to set myself up for failure, so any tips would be much appreciated.

It sounds like you’re in the same position as a lot of other college graduates. That is to say that many college graduates remain undecided about their ideal career path. Leslie Berger at The New York Times reported more than a decade ago that the dilemma often begins well before graduation. She describes a rather unfortunate nationwide trend, which is that the American higher education system has effectively transformed itself into a workforce training system. In other words, instead of attending college to obtain a liberal arts education, students go almost exclusively to acquire the competitive skills demanded by the most prestigious employers (i.e., Google, Apple, Lockheed Martin, Merrill Lynch, etc.). While those skills might be rewarded with higher starting salaries and better benefits, they don’t necessarily afford you the flexibility or the autonomy that you clearly crave.

Finding viable career opportunities that do afford you professional freedom and fulfillment certainly isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, either. It probably shouldn’t be too surprising that more recently, it’s the students who studied liberal arts that are more likely to find the right path. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck--only that it could require more effort to achieve similar results. Fortunately, the trend toward freelancing as a legitimate long-term career path is quickly taking hold.

Forbes contributor Nancy Collamer has already done you the favor of highlighting the basics. You should begin there because she also explains just how quickly the freelance workforce is growing. According to her, “the US freelance workforce has grown three times faster than the overall US workforce.” Millennials make up approximately half of all freelancers, too, meaning that freelancers tend to skew younger. Another key takeaway is that emerging technologies are making it easier to find freelance work online, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy for you to get started.

The ability to earn higher take home pay has to do with a lot of variables as a freelancer. Some variables are well within your control, and others are not. The skilled services you offer, your personal brand (i.e., reputation), and proof of your finished work are all crucial to charging a premium. Tom Ewer at Mashable echoes those things in his article about how to start freelancing with no experience. He goes further and also suggests that freelancers play the odds and proactively pitch--all good advice.

At the end of the day, freelancing might turn out to be less appealing than you expected. Some people who dabble in freelancing eventually decide to become their own boss rather than work for a series of clients. In other words, they opt to start their own business. Also, realize that freelancing could transform into starting a business. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but you should still take the time to consider other influential variables. Teddy Nykiel at Nerdwallet put together a shortlist of things to do before starting a business. Among other things, he encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to introspect sincerely and to be patient. Neither freelancing nor starting a business are trivial pursuits, which means having a sound plan and the right mindset are imperative.

“Work to become, not to acquire.” — Elbert Hubbard

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