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Freelancing Tips for the Graduate

Lauren Kreps

Freelancing Tips for the Graduate

Congrats to the Class of 2015!  Graduation is an exciting milestone, but it can also be stressful if you haven’t figured out your employment situation.

If it feels like your life after graduation will be set to the tune of a Simon & Garfunkel song, freelancing for a few months (or longer) after school is a great way to get your “real world” life started while still having some flexibility to explore different interests and career paths.

For those who choose to take this road less traveled, or anyone else looking to make some extra money on the side this summer, here are a few helpful tips for freelancing responsibly.

Because You’re Worth It

Most of your first clients will come from your own connections, so a good first step (among a few others) is to reach out to your personal network to identify potential clients. Since chances are your freelance work is not a legitimate unpaid internship (yay), you’ll need to figure out what to charge for the particular skills and expertise you provide.

If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to charge by the hour rather than a fixed fee, since you may not yet have a strong grasp on how long particular projects will take you to complete. Choosing a suitable hourly rate involves several factors, including estimating your billable hours, operating costs, eventual tax contribution, and minimum acceptable pay rate.

And if you find yourself at the negotiating table, don’t fret — there is usually a mutually agreeable compromise to be made if you’re smart about it.

Blurred Lines: Finding Work-Life Balance

Once you’ve nailed down a rate and are ready to get down to the daily grind, try not to fall into the temptation of the weekly work-from-home. While apps miracles like SelfControl make it virtually impossible to procrastinate via Facebook, distractions exist beyond your computer screen, and working from home every day makes you more likely to indulge in them. Whether you get set up in a coffee shop, public library, coworking space, or a temporary office you find on Breather, it’s always easier to feel productive and part of the living world when you leave the house for the working hours.

Work Hard, Get Paid

If you just graduated, you may never have sent an invoice before (full disclosure: I sure hadn’t). Luckily we’ve already laid out ten crucial rules for creating and sending invoices, such as including your contact information and letting your client know how to pay. These should increase your chances of getting paid when the time comes.

Something else you can, and should, do to ensure you get paid and avoid any misunderstandings in the future is to sign a contract with your client that lays out key terms like the scope of your work, date of payment, who owns the final product, etc. It just so happens we have an app for that… every Shake account comes pre-installed with a gallery of free freelance work agreements.

Taxes Times Four

We left the fun part for last! When you’re self-employed, taxes are not withheld from your paycheck and you are therefore responsible for paying them yourself (feel like a grownup yet?). As a freelancer, it’s important to recognize that April 15 is probably not your only tax filing day: those who are self-employed must file IRS Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, in addition to any required state or local filings every quarter by set dates. If that’s news to you, read more about it here.


Freelancing can be a great way to get started in the working world right after graduation. If you follow the time-tested tips above, you’ll be starting on a solid foundation.

Lauren optimizes Shake’s email marketing and engagement efforts. Prior to working with Shake, Lauren analyzed new user engagement for and worked for startups and social enterprises in Hong Kong. Lauren holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, where she wrote her senior thesis on the ethics of the death penalty and watched all sixteen seasons of Law & Order: SVU.