8 Things More Important Than a College Degree for a Freelancer

It’s generally accepted that a college degree gets you a higher-paying job or a promotion. But freelancing has challenged the current narrative. It’s becoming more common to hear of workers earning six digits or landing an online gig without a related BS or BA on their resumes.

If you’re a freelancer, you won’t always need a diploma tucked under your belt to land a job. But you’ll also need more tangible things other than wishful thinking. Here are eight things that matter more in freelancing than your college degree.

1. Job-Specific Hard Skills

In freelancing, hard skills win. Clients are interested in something more than that Excellence Award you got during graduation. They want to know if you can deliver on schedule. Most clients won’t even ask where and when you graduated. But they’ll be interested in hearing about how you plan to increase their social media presence, develop a user-friendly website, or secure new customers for their business.

Upgrading your skills through online learning and solid experience helps you stay on top of your game. Are you interested in learning how to start a career in data science without a degree? Take online certification courses, work on independent projects, and volunteer for data science roles. You won’t always need a college degree, but you’ll always need hard skills tailored to the position.

2. Stellar Freelance Portfolio

laptop showing a website

When you apply for a freelancing role, clients will most likely ask for your portfolio. A portfolio curates your best work and shows off your skills and experience. Ideally, it contains work samples similar to the output required for the project you hope to win. Your portfolio is proof that you’re the best person for the job.

Don’t be intimidated by the professional portfolios you see online. Use them as inspiration to create and improve yours. You can use free website creators to build a personal online portfolio without coding. Edit and add to your portfolio as you gain freelance clients.

If you don’t have work samples, create a “pretend project” or mockup. Write the project requirements from an imaginary, ideal client and make them happen. Remember to mention that this is a pretend project, or clients might think you’re scamming them.

3. Winning Proposal

business man reading a document in yellow folder

A winning proposal grabs attention, lands you an interview, and gets you the job. Clients ask you for a proposal to see if you have the best action plan to reach their goal. The road you take should be clear, cost-effective, and straightforward.

A college degree will not guarantee a winning proposal. But the following will:

  • Focus on client needs and solutions
  • Concise and clear words
  • Tangible positive impact and ROI
  • The next step you want the client to take (call to action)

If you need help creating a proposal, join Facebook groups dedicated to freelancing sites like Upwork. Facebook communities usually give free resources and share advice from other freelancers. You can also edit and use proposal templates from sites like Better Proposals.

4. Excellent Customer Service

Customer Support Agent on a call working on a PC

Customer service can spell the difference between the freelancer who retains the client and the one who loses the sale. How do you deal with angry clients? How do you politely answer an email or phone call from a customer asking for a refund? What Facebook features should you use to respond to clients promptly? You can satisfactorily answer these questions if you have customer service skills.

Taking a course in college will help you deal with clients better. But there are other ways to hone your customer service skills. Take a part-time job answering inquiries for a business’s social media page, or create your own Facebook page to experience serving clients first-hand. You can also get tips from online courses like Alison’s Customer Service Skills.

5. Effective Communication Skills

man on his work desk having a virtual meeting with a woman
no attribution required: Unsplash

Employers and clients need freelancers with communication skills to succeed at remote work. Communication channels change over time. However, workers with basic communication skills such as writing, speaking, and note-taking are always in high demand.

Activities and courses in college will help you improve your communication skills. But what if you didn’t have the chance to go to college? You can learn through practice and online courses, just like how you improve your customer service skills.

6. Interest in the Job

Woman in red long sleeve shirt and glasses looking at her laptop and smiling

Some people want to freelance to earn more and free themselves from their cubicles. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those are just some benefits of being a freelancer. However, if you’re not even interested in the work and are only in it for cash, you might not last long.

Just like any job, freelancing will get more challenging for those who aren’t interested in what they’re doing. Don’t just look for a lucrative niche; consider a field that makes you excited. If crunching numbers sparks joy, consider being a data analyst or an accountant. If words are the name of your game, copywriting or editing might be better options.

Suppose you took an unrelated college degree. In that case, you can still transition to a different field without returning to school. The freelance community is filled with unconventional stories of pilots who became editors, teachers who became human resource professionals, and the like. You can learn ways to start a career in a new industry without going back to college.

7. Strong and Supportive Network

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The people you’re connected with online or in person comprise your freelance network. They can give you leads for projects or recommend you to potential clients. You may not know them intimately, but your relationship can help you grow and succeed as a professional.

Building your network nowadays is more convenient since you have social media platforms like LinkedIn. It’s also easier to search for networking opportunities on Facebook and Meetup. Reaching out to strangers and attending events might require going out of your comfort zone, but at least you won’t have to go back to school for four years.

8. Entrepreneurial Mindset

man working on his PC with background of people's shadows in business situations

Some freelancers still think like employees. They wait for instructions and live a nine-to-five existence. Freelancers who think like entrepreneurs find ways to create opportunities instead of waiting for clients to tell them what to do.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll make it easy for clients to find you by being on social media or putting up a website. You’ll start networking and growing your hard and soft skills. You’ll take time to invest in the future you want to have instead of spending the whole day on routine work.

Entrepreneurs don’t need a college degree. According to Business Insider, there are a number of high-profile entrepreneurs without a degree that you may find inspiring. However, you need to apply the other points you just read in this article.

Getting a College Degree Is Not the Only Way to Have a Rewarding Career

Graduating from college can help you have a rewarding career. However, it’s only one of the many ways to become successful. Many freelance opportunities won’t make your degree their top consideration. You need skills, a winning proposal and portfolio, an interest in the job, and an entrepreneurial spirit to win clients.

Not having a college degree is not a hindrance to freelancing. But this doesn’t mean that you get a free pass. You still need to work hard, learn the skills, and gain experience to succeed as a freelancer.

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