by Anthony Sistilli
How students (or anyone) can make extra money through software freelancing 🤑
I run a free community called theForge where I help students navigate the world of tech recruiting.
Last week I talked to my students about how they could land a tech job with no work experience, and I asked for some feedback.
Their responses shocked me.
These students didn’t just want work experience, or ways to get it without having a job.
They wanted financial freedom and the opportunity to get a head start on their student loans.
I realized that a lot of them would really excel as freelancers.
Not only would they be able to make money, but they could get the work experience they needed to land a high paying job at the same time.
The Good News
There’s lots of ways to make money as a student in software, and it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time or experience!
The Bad News
It’s almost too easy to psych ourselves out and close the door on opportunities before we give it a chance to open. Sometimes fear can control us.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to conquer those fears, gain real world experience, and make some money while doing it. (Click here if you prefer video.)
Two Big Myths About Freelancing That Held Me Back
As a student, I constantly found myself sabotaging my own success because of some ‘myths’ I had implanted in my mind.
1. I’m not good enough - I don’t know anything
It’s easy to look at how much programming information is out there and come to the conclusion that we know very little.
However, freelance work isn’t about being a genius or knowing a lot.
It’s about using knowledge that your client doesn’t have to help them.
To a lot of people, even the most basic lines of code can seem like quantum physics. And that’s alright - everyone has their own strengths. Maybe one of theirs isn’t programming.
My point is, if you have a basic background in programming, you’re already in a position to help a lot of people. The foundation is there, and all that’s missing is the job-specific knowledge.
The first freelance job I picked up involved building a very extensive chatbot for a company.
At the time, I knew nothing about chatbots. 😆
I told them I’ve never worked with Chatbots before, but it was something that interested me and that I was excited to learn about. I was able to jump in head first and build them a pretty awesome MVP.
I got paid to learn, helped this company immensely, and came out of the experience with a lot of valuable real world experience that I later put on my résumé.
There’s always going to be some project out there that you can add value to, no matter how limited your knowledge might be.
In fact, the majority of small jobs that are posted on freelance sites can be solved with a quick Google search and a couple of Stack Overflow pages.
2. There’s too much competition
This one is less of a ‘myth’ and more of a challenge that you have to overcome.
Yes, there is a lot of competition.
Everything that’s worth doing will always come with competition.
Whether it’s finding a job, a good living space, being top of your class, or buying some Yeezy’s.
If we let the idea of competition hold us back, we’ll never end up accomplishing anything worthwhile in life.
Being able to differentiate yourself is incredibly important in our current era. Like anything else, if you want to be noticed, you need to know how to stand out.
My biggest tip: communication is key.
Good communication skills is something that a lot of freelancers lack, and it will definitely give you a leg up in the freelancing world.
Small things like spelling, grammar, and talking as if you’re a real person instead of a robot copy and pasting a huge wall of text can really make a big difference.
Where Should You Freelance?
Now that we’re sure this is something we’re interested in, it’s time to look at the top 5 options.
Fiverr - Fivver is great for small and specific jobs. Most people on Fivver do non-programming related tasks, however, there still is a demand for programming services. If you’re really good at one specific thing, like building chatbots or Wordpress sites, then Fiverr is a great place to start building a portfolio.
Freelancer - Freelancer is one of the oldest platforms out there where coders can pick up work. It’s pretty saturated and has a lot of job volume. The biggest downside is that you have to purchase their “tests” and “certificates” if you want to compete with more established freelancers. I wouldn’t focus my time here unless I had some capital to spend and a proficiency in a field I could get certificates for.
Upwork - If you’re a beginner and just want to get your feet wet, look no further than Upwork. Upwork has a variety of jobs (small to big) that you can take on at your own rate. If you’re just starting, I recommend creating a freelancer account and just browsing the small odd jobs that get posted for things you think you can do. Once you win a contract, it’s very easy to start building a portfolio and bringing in more work.
Guru - We’re getting into the more ‘high end’ jobs now. Guru has a consistent flow of jobs that are more suitable for experienced freelancers or agencies. You can hop on and actually look at the current job postings without making an account to get an idea.
Toptal - By far my favorite platform. The biggest downside is that it’s hard to get in as a freelancer. Toptal works with top companies and only accepts the “top 3% of talent” that applies to them. However, I would still recommend applying even if you think you’re not ready. You can learn from the interview experience and do better next time. Once you’re in, however, you’re a lifetime member of a giant network of extremely skilled engineers and top companies who are willing to pay a high premium for your work.
Each platform has their own ups and downs, and I recommend testing different platforms out to see what works for you.
🔽 There’s only one thing left for you to do… 🔽
Jump Straight In - Right Now!
Being stagnant has never gotten anyone money or valuable experience.
I spent a lot of time considering my options and telling myself I would “wait until I had more experience” to do things.
Things started changing as soon as I threw that mantra out the window.
Jump in. Head First.
Course correct on the way, and never be afraid to accept a challenge.
P.S. If you found this article valuable consider joining theForge.ca! We’re a free community that helps students navigate the tech recruitment world.