WITH GEN Z AND BEYOND, MORE AND MORE PEOPLE WILL FREELANCE WITHOUT EVER HAVING HAD A FULL-TIME JOB.
Generation Z, born somewhere between 1995 and 2012, is the most recent generation of working age humans. They aren’t the most recent generation period, but who knows what the newest generation of babies will be called? The quaranteens? The Covid Kids? Gen AA? Let’s not get distracted. We barely understand Generation Z. We only recently decided what year they begin. That being said, there is one thing about Zoomers (another name for Gen Z) we can be sure of. They will bring about more freelancers than ever before. With freelance work becoming more and more viable, and Gen Z already a generation that desires independence and entrepreneurship, our most recent generation will adopt freelancing like no other. With this on the horizon it’s only reasonable to think that millions of Americans may soon never experience a full-time job. So much attention is paid to freelancers who leave their full-time careers, and not enough is paid to people beginning their careers as freelancers.
A FRESH MINDSET
If you’re in your 40’s and just starting to freelance, it can be scary. It’s a major life change, but freelancing is work, and you’ve worked (presumably) before. If you’ve never had a job before and you’re starting to freelance, that’s a whole different story. In many ways, young freelancers could be better off. Having never known a full-time life it will be far easier to adapt to being a freelancer. One of the hardest parts of freelancing is changing your mindset on things like inconsistent income, self-branding, and having no boss. For people who’ve never had a full-time job, they feel no attachment to these things, and could adapt to the freelance life much faster.
TEMPER EXPECTATIONS, BUT DON’T GIVE UP
Despite being more mentally prepared to freelance, young freelancers still have a steep hill to climb. Freelancing can be slow to start. Full-time life isn’t smooth sailing either but at least your salary, however small in the beginning, is consistent. Your income while freelancing will be fairly inconsistent for a while. Having just graduated from school you probably don’t have all that much savings. Combine that with a relatively low asking price for your services in the beginning and things aren’t looking too bright. None of this is meant to discourage you from freelancing. It’s important to understand the realities you’re facing. Most people who quit freelancing do so early on in their journey. They underestimate what it took to freelance and get burned out. It’s imperative that you embark on freelance with accurate expectations. Make a plan of what you want your freelance career to look like in 6 months’ time, 1 year, 3 years, etc. Not only will this motivate you, but it will help tether you to reality. New freelancers can feel like they’re floundering because there’s no one to tell them if they’re on the right track. As a freelancer, you need to define your own goals. That’s how you keep your head above water.
EMPLOYER EXPECTATIONS AND HOW TO ACCOMMODATE
Other than not having very much savings, the reason freelancing will be difficult for Zoomers and beyond is the freelance relationship with clients. Many potential clients, whether they’re individuals, small businesses, or corporations still see freelancers as one thing: experts. To hire a freelancer is to call in an expert to solve a specific problem that you either can’t do, or couldn’t do as well as a freelancer. Obviously not all freelancers are “experts,” but because clients see them that way it can be difficult for a younger person to land clients. Younger people in general are seen as lacking experience and thus not an expert. To circumvent this roadblock, we suggest you use the differences between you and a more experienced freelancer to your advantage. Primary among those: youth. There are many roles that a client thinks would make more sense for someone younger such as a social media role, or a role involving video games. A younger person isn’t automatically better at those roles because they’re young, but client’s already have these prejudices no matter what you do. Might as well use them to your advantage.
BUILDING A NETWORK
So much of how freelancers find work is through connections, through their network. The younger you are, the less likely it is you will have a robust network. The best way to build one is to work. It’s a Catch-22 of course. Fortunately, with social media today you can make real and genuine connections that, while may not lead to immediate work, will certainly help you down the line. Get on LinkedIn and connect with as many people as you can. People love giving advice and sharing their opinions, and there is no better bait than a young person looking for guidance. If someone starts to know you well enough, sees you’re eager, hard-working, and reliable, they may be likely to give you work. It’s been known to happen. While physical events may seem so 20th century, they are more beneficial than you think. Find some places that freelancers congregate, or meetup physically. In the beginning, you want to do whatever you can to expand your network as fast as possible.
Gen Z is the most educated generation in history with 59% possessing a college degree. That means more and more of your competition is going to be as equally educated as you are. There is more incentive than ever to go get yourself a Master’s Degree. Is that even more debt? Yes, but many Master’s programs are only 1 or 2 years. Today there are so many education options available that you could probably find a great price on a Master’s Program that also gives you enough free time to work. Anything that will make you come off as more of an expert is worth it.
As a freelancer you’ll learn that you should never stop educating yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean continue going to school. It just means to keep your mind open. As a new freelancer, you will probably have a lot of time on your hands. Use that time to educate yourself on freelancing (like reading this article). What are the best platforms for your type of work? What does a good proposal look like? What’s a good rate to start at? There are also ways to educate yourself on your chosen craft without going to school. The internet holds a wealth of knowledge. Do whatever you can to make clients see you as an expert.
FULL TIME FIRST
This is a magazine for freelancers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recommend full-time work. We are reasonable after all. For some young freelancers, it may seem more practical to start full-time. That’s totally okay. Full-time gives you a more stable paycheck which will more readily increase your savings. It will also give you some experience to both put on your resume, and to make you a better worker. Often as a freelancer you will be working with medium to large sized businesses, which means working with lots of employees. It would do you good to understand how an office full of employees functions. Full-time jobs can also supply you with benefits you wouldn’t get as a freelancer, like a college reimbursement plan. More and more companies care about worker well-being these days and provide tons of perks. There’s no harm in sopping those perks up before going out on your own.
Starting a small business has become a high school hobby. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to spin up your own small business, be your own advertising, accounting, HR, and customer service. It may take time to become lucrative, but it’s relatively easy to get off the ground. For this reason, it could be in your best interest to freelance in your free time, while also working full-time. It will probably be a while until you get enough freelance work to fill your weeks, so why not do both simultaneously? You can make some extra money, expand your network, expand your client base, and gain experience. Of course, the downside is less free time. Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson for anyone who wants to freelance at the start of their career. Commitment is key. If you truly desire to be a freelancer, you have to love more than the work, but the lifestyle.
For young freelancers out there, hopefully this keeps you hopeful. You are quite literally the future.