Can I Freelance as a First Job?

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Whether you’re leaving school, college, or university, you’re likely to be looking for your first “real” job—the thing that might set you off on your career. Most people naturally start looking for traditional employed jobs, where they work for a company, get a regular paycheck, and work 9-5 or something similar. But you might be aware of the world of freelancing and wonder whether you could freelance as your first job. Having freelanced for over a decade, I’ll let you in on the factors involved…

The major factor: you

Whether you can freelance as your first job really depends on you—in particular what you’re like as a person. Because you’re working alone and are your own boss, freelancing requires a slightly different set of skills and qualities compared to working in an office job. For example:

  • Skills: Of course, you need to be skilled in your specific service offering (such as writing, editing, web design, graphic design, and so on. However, you also need to be skilled in marketing yourself, pitching to clients, competing against other freelancers, communicating effectively with clients, and managing your own time and workload.
  • Knowledge: You need knowledge of your industry (such as IT, marketing, or publishing), and your particular field of work (such as web development, social media, or fiction books), and the market (your competitors, your customers, and the audience). And you need to stay up to date with this knowledge.
  • Characteristics: It’s vital that you have independent initiative—to solve your own problems, seek out your own solutions, make your own decisions, be disciplined, and motivate yourself to achieve, because nobody else is going to do it for you.

It’s fine to freelance as your first job if you have the skills, knowledge, and characteristics required to get going as a freelancer. But if you don’t, it can be tough to develop these on your own. In these cases, it might be better to start out in an employed graduate job or an entry-level role at a company, so you can develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed as a freelancer later down the line.

The second factor: your circumstances

Whether it’s possible to freelance as your first job also depends on your personal circumstances and whether you can afford to. It takes time, effort, and patience to build up a freelance client base and establish yourself as a freelancer. This means you might not earn much (or in fact, anything at all) for a while—possibly even for months.

If you can afford to do this, then it’s a better time to try freelancing than when you need a stable, regular income. For example, if you’re living with your parents and they’re happy to support you for a while, it’s a good time to try freelancing—rather than when you have a mortgage and bills to pay. But if you have bills to pay right now, freelancing might not be the best idea until you have some money saved up.

The verdict

Considering both factors, it’s certainly possible to freelance as a first job if you have the skills, knowledge, and characteristics required (or the time, resources, and motivation to develop them on your own)—plus the right circumstances to get off the ground as a freelancer, when you can afford to take a risk on a less stable, uncertain income.

However, many people find it easier to start out in an employed job where they can develop the skills and knowledge required, while also earning a regular income. Then they take a gradual approach to becoming a freelancer by side-hustling, establishing a client base, and building up some emergency savings before they make the leap. The choice depends on you.

What route will you take? Let me know by commenting below or getting in touch.

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