How to Balance Freelance Writing with College Life

If you know what you’re doing, freelance writing can be a really great way to pick up some money as a student. I was in my second year at college when I started to look at copywriting as a potential career path. It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t have to wait until I graduated to take my first steps into copywriting; this was something that I could fit in alongside my studies, and with a fair degree of success. My financial responsibilities were non-existent, my outgoings were low and my evenings and weekends were demanding to be filled with a productive pursuit of some description. It was a perfect storm.

  1. Play to your strengths

Identify your writing strengths, and utilise them. What kind of writing am I most experienced in? As a college student, I’m experienced in essay writing, so perhaps I can begin as an essay writer. Use the knowledge and skills that you already have to your benefit, because you need every advantage you can get in the competitive world of writing. However, you should also accept – at least initially – that you will more often than not be writing about something you’re not remotely familiar with.

  1. Rate yourself

Don’t do work on-the-cheap unless you think it will provide you with useful experience. As a student, time is your most valuable commodity. You need to make sure you get maximum value out of that commodity, so don’t sell yourself short. Set yourself a minimum hourly or per-word rate, and stick to it. If you don’t have confidence in your ability and value as a writer, then don’t expect anyone else to. That being said, there might occasionally be an opportunity for you to work for free for a client who would look great on a résumé or portfolio. You need to evaluate for yourself the intrinsic merit of each project, and whether it will help your copywriting career.

  1. Open your mind

As mentioned previously, be prepared to write on almost any subject. When I was still at college, I was spending 3 hours a day writing on a plethora of topics ranging from buttercream frosting to elm trees. It’s really fun researching and getting to grips with the most random subjects imaginable, and there’s no better feeling than submitting a piece of work with which you’re pleased and of which you’re proud. This will have the added benefit develop your creative writing skills, because you’re essentially writing about something completely alien to you.  

  1. Keep your chin up

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find yourself picking up regular work, or if you’re struggling to balance college work with copywriting work. Working part-time should give you an idea of whether you enjoy the kind of work that copywriting entails, but you’ll never really know if a career in the writing industry is right for you until you give it 100% of your time and energy. Only bite off as much as you can chew, and enjoy the benefits of being able to choose how and when you work.

  1. Be flexible

Be prepared to work long, flexible hours. I would regularly wake up at 6am to finish a blog post due for submission that day, or stay up until the early hours trying to perfect web copy. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, but I worked through the night on several occasions after being given 24-hour deadlines, knowing that a full day of classes lay ahead of me. As a full-time copywriter, you’ll need to be flexible to meet your clients’ often needy demands. The more you can prepare yourself for this, the better.

  1. Don’t stop the marketing

Market yourself. Every business needs good long and short-term marketing strategies, so visualize what your ideal customer looks like and develop an online presence to target them. What does your target customer look like? What’s their gender, their social status, their job, their income, what are their past-times, what kind of clothes do they wear? Write a detailed list of all of these things, plus any more you can think of, until you have a clear profile of your ideal customer. Mine’s called Stephen. Once you have that clear picture, tailor all of you marketing material to attract that person. It’s a strategy that will ensure you are consistent in the way you sell your services, and   remember, you’re not selling the fact that you’re a good writer; you’re selling the fact that you can add value to a business by making their website look more professional.

  1. Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Finally – if you’re taking on paid copywriting work, you’ll be classified as self-employed. Make yourself aware of the relevant tax obligations, and ensure you’re registered with the IRS for tax returns. It doesn’t take long, and the process is fairly straightforward, but it’s well-worth making sure your house is in order.

Freelance writing is a great way of making ends meet during your time at college. The flexible nature of the work means that you can choose how large a workload you take on, and also gives you the opportunity to easily step back from it if you need to. You don’t need to be considering a long-term career as a copywriter to take a few writing jobs on.

Jilian Woods is a freelance writer, copywriter and blogger based in the New York City area.