How to make 6 figures as a freelancer right out of college, according to 3 recent grads bringing in over $100,000 a year
Gen Zers are increasingly taking on freelancing while navigating a tough job market during the pandemic.
Three recent college graduates shared with Business Insider their success stories and best practices on making six-figure incomes.
If you want to pursue freelancing full time, they suggested treating it like a business.
Once you're getting enough projects, work on consistent marketing, increasing your rates, and networking.
"It takes time to build a freelance business, so take it step by step — persistence is key," freelancer Michael Jajou said.
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According to a recent study published by Upwork, "Freelance Forward: 2020," an increasing number of young adults are turning to freelancing for career opportunities.
The study found amid a tough job market, made even more difficult due to the recent impacts of COVID-19, half of the Gen Z workforce between the ages of 18 and 22 have freelanced in the past year, and of those more than 36% started since the onset of COVID-19.
The study also found that Gen Z represents a greater percentage of the freelance population than any other age group, including millennials (ages 23 to 38) who make up 44%, Gen X (ages 39 to 54) at 30%, and boomers (ages 55 and up) at 26%.
Additionally, 32% of new full-time freelancers polled indicated that they began freelancing while still in school or right after completing their education.
This indicates a growing number of Gen Zers who are turning to freelance opportunities in lieu of traditional employment — and out-earning more per hour than 70% of their peers in the US workforce by doing so.
Three recent graduates shared with Business Insider how they got their starts in the freelance world and built up to six-figure incomes.
Ashley Mason graduated in 2019 and has already earned $130,000 this year as a freelance marketing professional
Ashley Mason graduated from Stonehill College in 2019. This year, at just 23 years old, her freelance business has already brought in over $130,000 in profit to date, and is projected to pass the $175,000 mark by end of year.
Mason's journey into the freelance world began when she was just a sophomore in high school after starting a fashion and lifestyle blog when she was 15.
"I've been entrepreneurial-minded for as long as I can remember, and I was constantly trying to find ways to make money when I was younger," Mason said.
As organic interest in her blog grew, opportunities for paid partnerships began trickling in. It was through these paid partnerships that Mason began to see an opportunity emerge.
Many of the brands she was partnering with lacked an online presence of their own.
"I knew from my own experience how important social media was for building a brand," Mason said.
And so, to test the waters, gain a bit of professional experience, and grow her portfolio as a first-time freelancer, Mason offered these brands marketing and social media services on a pro-bono basis.
Read more: I'm a stay-at-home mom who went from making $8 an hour at Starbucks to over $100,000 a year as a freelancer. Here are 5 steps I took to build my client base and income from scratch.
By the time Mason graduated high school and began her freshman year in college, she began taking on paid opportunities and was already earning a small stream of part-time freelance income.
But it was a life-changing event that would eventually give Mason the courage to fully pursue her dreams of running a successful marketing agency.
A day after her 19th birthday, Mason received the devastating news that her mother had been diagnosed with Glioblastoma — stage IV brain cancer.
"It made me realize that life is short and we don't really have as much time as we think we do to follow our dreams," Mason said. "I decided right then and there that I wasn't going to wait any longer to start my full-time business."
Dash of Social was born eight months later.
Mason ran Dash of Social while simultaneously attending college and caring for her mother, who passed away in June 2018.
By the time Mason graduated, her freelance business was already bringing in six figures, she said. She was able to pay off her student loans just six months after graduation.
"I am very fortunate that my friends and family have always been supportive of my dreams," Mason said. "Far too often people don't receive support from those closest to them, and there was certainly some skepticism from others who asked how I was going to get health insurance, if I could earn a living wage, or if I would be better off waiting until I had 'real world experience' — as if I didn't already have that!"
"But I didn't really care about what other people thought because as long as my parents believed in me, that was all I needed," she added.
Mason credits constant networking, putting people before profits, and always being aware of the needs of her target market to her success.
"I am constantly networking in Facebook groups — that's where 75% of my clients come from," Mason said. "I am always trying to find ways to provide value to others."
Today, in addition to running Dash of Social, Mason has also just launched a second business, Student to CEO, where she helps young aspiring entrepreneurs by providing business resources, tools, and access to a like-minded community of peers. Mason also recently delivered a TEDx Talk where she shared her story in hopes of inspiring other young professionals.
Read more: 6-figure sellers on the freelancing platform Fiverr share how they landed clients and built successful businesses online
Michael Jajou graduated in 2020 and managed to pocket $120,000 this year as a freelance developer