Around here, we like to offer motivation and support to writers at all levels of their career. That’s because we believe anyone can build a successful freelance career, no matter what credentials they have (or don’t have).
This week, Ashley Gainer takes a stand against considering freelancing a waste of a degree. Here’s how Ashley leverages her journalism degree to grow her writing business.
Share away, Ashley!
A lot of us freelance writers like to point out that you can become a freelance writer no matter what your educational background is. There are loads of stories out there of folks who have no degree. These are great stories with loads of inspiration. I love these stories.
I also don’t really like them so much.
While it’s true that you don’t have to have a degree in journalism or English to be a paid writer, that’s not the complete picture.
You see, I have a degree in journalism, and I’m really proud of it. It’s been a huge part of my own ability to provide for my family by freelancing. So everyone else can downplay their degrees if they want – or minimize the value of degrees they don’t have – but I choose to embrace mine.
Mine is a “writing” degree, yes, but journalism degrees aren’t the only ones that can give you a leg up when it’s time to get serious about making money as a writer. Any degree, or even just some higher education coursework, is a huge benefit when you want to start freelancing.
This means (and this is important) that freelancing is not a waste of your degree.
1. You can handle the deadlines and feedback
Earning a degree is a lot of work. Usually it takes four years of reading, research, papers, exams, and a lot of flat-out stuff that you have to do. When you’re in college, you have to learn how to produce higher-level work in a deadline-driven, information-oriented environment. And odds are good that you have to do a lot of it.
Even in the branches of academics that aren’t exactly paper-oriented, there’s a lot of valuable preparation.
The obvious “objection” is that not all degrees prepare you for a writing career.
And to that, I say: Not necessarily.
For example, were you a chemistry major? If so, you probably had labs that had to be performed and written up, and then the research you did had to be reported and maybe even presented. Your lab reports followed a specific structure and were evaluated based not only on how well you followed the instructions, but how thoroughly you recorded your progress through them. Plus there was all that data analysis.
What’s more, the vast majority of your classes (if not all of them) had an evaluation component. You had to turn in some work, and you received a grade. Lots of times, you received feedback along with the grade. And if you were smart, you used that feedback to figure out how to do better the next time.
Even if what you write about for clients has nothing at all to do with what you studied in college, the work you did in college of putting together your assignments, on a deadline, and then receiving feedback was incredibly valuable training ground for your freelancing career.
2. You have a ready-made niche and built-in confidence
A freelancing friend of mine likes to say that “the riches are in the niches.” There’s no shortage of freelance experts out there shouting about the importance of finding your niche.
That’s all well and good – niches are important, especially as you level up and start to charge higher rates, but what’s a beginner to do?
When you first start freelancing, there’s an endless stream of possibilities. Go to any job board and you’ll find dozens of niches represented.
And you already know that finding your niche is the best thing you can do to level up fast.
Let me just tell you right here and now that being able to include “I have a degree in [prospect’s niche]” in an otherwise solid pitch will put you heads and shoulders above the rest.
If your degree is in something that you aren’t really into, have no fear! You can niche any time you want, and you can change niches any time you want, too.
(Gina’s Tip: I really do believe in finding a niche, just as much as I believe in changing niches if you’re not entirely happy with your first choice.)
If you aren’t sure which way to go, I’d recommend looking for work that relates in some way to the degree you hold. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to diagram a sentence or if you got mediocre grades in English class. You know what you’re talking about. This gives you an immediate advantage both in the strength of your application and in your familiarity with the subject matter.
Start strong in a niche you can master quickly based on the studying you’ve already done. Later, as you gain more experience, you’ll naturally recognize the niche(s) that you’ll want to end up in.
But in the meantime, leverage that degree and get great rates right out of the gate!
3. You’ve already proven yourself
Getting a degree is no joke!
To get it, you had to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time. Over and over and over again.
The ability to do that will come in handy – especially in the early days of your freelancing career, when there’s a steep learning curve both in your business and in your actual work. The faster you can figure out how to run your business and make your clients happy, the faster you’ll grow.
Earning a degree is a hard thing. Frame that thing and hang it on your wall where you’ll see it while you work … to remind yourself of what you’ve already accomplished and to encourage you to keep reaching.
As I like to tell my sweet little perfectionist preschooler … you can do hard things.
Your degree is proof.
4. There’s built-in motivation
When you’ve worked hard (and paid a lot) for a “fancy degree” but you aren’t doing a typical job that all your fellow majors are doing, there’s some side-eye going on. It might be all in our head, but we feel like we should be “putting our degrees to use” even when the typical ways of doing so are completely unappealing.
You’ve got two choices when you’re facing some existential side-eye: let it bring you down, or let it fuel you higher.
You and I both know which is going to serve your business better!
Put the skills you picked up with degree to work and establish yourself as an expert in your niche. Yes, you might be using your coursework and experience in a non-traditional way, but that doesn’t mean there’s any reason for you not to hit it out of the ballpark.
If anyone can figure out how to rock the non-traditional career path, it’s YOU.
Use that thing!
Whether or not your writing topics relate to your college degree, being a freelance writer is never a waste. Facets of your college studies trained you in the skills you need to succeed as a freelancer. And if you find a way to leverage the subject matter of your degree, you’ll be even further ahead than your colleagues.
No matter what, the fact that you went to college is a big deal, and it’s something you can use to prove your value to your prospective clients. And, of course, the more value you can provide to your clients, the better off you’ll be.
That’s a win-win that not every writer can offer.
Ashley Gainer is a freelance writer specializing in money and entrepreneurship. When she’s not writing for her awesome clients, she’s teaching other moms how put their smarts to work at home. Sign up here to get her FREE report on the best resources for freelance writers.