Congratulations on your graduation! College is a wonderful time to learn what it’s like to live away from home, and the first few months out of college are a wonderful time to learn what was so great about college.
Sorry for being so bleak. There are any number of good things about finishing college, and one of them is that you get to choose your own adventure. Maybe you look around at the available jobs or wander listlessly through a career fair, finding that nothing appeals. I get it, and I have good news—you don’t have to get a job.
Sure, you may need money. In fact, you probably do, unless you made the wise choice to be a trust-fund baby. But you can choose to work for yourself. While self-employment is more common among older people than new grads, that doesn’t mean it’s not an option for you. If you’d like to jump from college straight into working for yourself, I have eight handy tips:
It’s never too early to start figuring out how not to have a boss. “New grads who are considering becoming self-employed should start planting two key roots during college,” says Yuliya Mykhaylovska, Early Careers Talent Expert. “First, they should start building a portfolio that highlights their work and clients. This work can include projects for class, consulting projects for external clients done through student groups, and relevant part-time work. Second, network, network, network. As a student, it can be easier to get replies from folks.”
It’s good advice, but all hope is not lost if you didn’t begin in college. The same advice applies to someone already out of school. As long as you have a goal, which leads me to...
Knowing you want to work for yourself is a start, but it’s not an end. You still have to pick a field. And while you don’t need to hammer out all the details right away—I’m 32 years old and still curious what I’ll be when I grow up—you need a place to start.
My advice is to figure out where your passion intersects your skills. Once you’ve done that, figure out where your skills intersect with demand (maybe draw a Venn Diagram, just in case you get confused). You need passion, because working for yourself requires you to be a self-starter in a way that a traditional job does not. But your passion must be something you can monetize. For example, if your passion is juggling, confirm that there are enough rich parents nearby who will hire you for birthday parties. And then, of course, make sure you actually know how to juggle.
Before diving into self-employment, research your target market thoroughly. Identify your potential customers, their needs, and the competition. This knowledge will help you position your business effectively, identify your unique selling points, and figure out what language to use to pitch yourself to potential clients. Maybe you need to go outside your geographic area to find clients, or maybe you need to hone your skills to make yourself more appealing. But you won’t know until you investigate.
There are downsides to self-employment. It requires quite a lot of planning—planning that would otherwise fall under the purview of your boss. To be self-employed, you’ve got to make your own business plan—a roadmap for your self-employment journey. Outline your objectives, target market, marketing strategies, financial projections, and timeline. This will help you stay focused and answer some key questions, such as whether or not you need to seek outside funding.
You also need a personal financial plan. Self-employed workers can have fluctuating income, especially in the early stages. Budget carefully, set aside funds for taxes, and maintain an emergency fund. The good news is that as a new grad, you probably have fewer financial obligations—but you still have to feed and house yourself.
“Be risk averse,” recommends says Gerardo Rada, Director of Operations at AW Labor Solutions. “If your dream is to be your own boss, you should be prepared for it in any way. Do you have the initial capital to sustain your self-owned business? Do you have a developed business plan? Do you have a defined market segment and sales lined up? Only become self-employed when you are confident you will be successful.” In other words, you can never over-plan.
Networking is crucial for all of us—particularly if you’re going into business for yourself. I’d recommend you throw the book at it when it comes to meeting people in your field: attend industry events, join professional associations, and follow social media accounts like your life depends on it. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to finding professional clients with whom to network, check out a freelancing website. Somewhere along the way, you’ll gain clients, mentors, and friends. It’s all upside.
One thing you don’t have—as a new grad—is experience. The average freelancer is 38 years old, and you’re likely much younger than that. Therefore, your skills and personal brand are key to selling yourself as an independent contractor. Now, of course, your value as a human being is completely immeasurable. But your value as a self-employed person is whatever your clients want to pay you. Sorry—that’s just capitalism.
To build up your market value, a strong personal brand is key. To start, make an online portfolio, and use social media to get your name out there. Self-employment requires continuous adaptation, which means staying on top of new trends in your field. Invest in your professional development with courses, workshops, or certifications. The more knowledgeable and skilled you are, the more likely you’ll get clients, even when you’re up against people with much more experience.
When you get those first few clients, listen to them. Don’t take things personally—this is your first job. And unlike a traditional job where you might have one boss, now, you have eight.
Actively listen to your clients and seek their feedback. This will help you refine your products or services, tailor your offerings to their needs, and build long-term relationships. Customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable for your business's growth, so take feedback and be extra careful with your first few clients—or else you may not get new ones.
You’re young, and the world is scary. That’s pretty much all you need to know to give yourself permission to be kind to yourself. Self-employment is demanding, both physically and mentally. Prioritize self-care, maintain a work-life balance, and know the risks of burnout. You’re not in college anymore—you can’t go out all night and then sleep until 11, so you have to find another way to give yourself a break. Allocate time for rest, exercise, and leisure activities, like swiping through 76 Hinge profiles/day. It’ll help you in the long-run.
Congrats on your graduation, and congrats on the adventure you’re about to embark on! Self-employment isn’t easy, but neither is anything else, so I say—if you want to do it, do it now! You have the time and energy. Invest it!