While Reynolds School grads take on different careers from broadcast and print journalism to web design, graphic design, public relations and more, many share a similar side job – freelancing.
Since getting started as a freelancer can be challenging, we sat down with three Reynolds School alumni to get their advice on how students can build a successful freelance career.
Sara East graduated in 2009, has worked in the PR field for almost 10 years and is currently the digital communications specialist at the University Studies Abroad Consortium. Luka Starmer graduated from the Reynolds School graduate program in 2016 and now works on campus as the virtual reality specialist in the @Reality Virtual Reality Lab. Josh MacEachern graduated in 2014 and has since moved to Las Vegas to work for the Clark County Medical Society as the communications and marketing coordinator.
Despite their differences in media careers, these three graduates earn extra money and build their skills through freelance projects. East freelances on the side creating press releases and blogs for local and national companies. Starmer has gone on to freelance in the local community producing videos with skills he learned in the program. MacEachern grew his freelance career producing content such as photos, videos and visual pieces for local businesses.
Pick a niche and get some real-world experience
“My biggest piece of advice would be to try and get some real-world experience,” East said. “Do some grunt work. When I was in college, I was sitting at a bar and I noticed that their table menus were hideous. I redesigned them for free, and they loved it. Later in life, I could say here’s some experience outside of class work.”
Before starting her freelance career on sites such as UpWork and Constant Content, where companies actively search for freelancers, East decided she couldn’t market herself as a jack of all trades. She chose to focus on finding clients in need of press releases, instead of accepting all forms of writing projects.
“From there, I ended up getting a consistent client,” she said. “I wrote them a press release and they liked my writing and wanted me to do other writing for them. Then I moved off of UpWork and became an independent contractor, charging them whatever I felt was a reasonable price.”
Although the freelance sites East uses take a percentage of the profit, she gained on-going work through various companies that made it worth it. To get on-going clients, East had to get on top of the freelance gig hunt and actively search daily for projects.
“You have to be proactive. Freelance work is never going to come to you. Hop online and just do some research.”
Find a skill no one else has and network yourself
“It’s about who you know and who you network with and that just makes pitching ideas easier.”
While at the Reynolds School grad program, Luka Starmer worked on 360-degree video for his graduate project. He found himself to be one of the few people in Reno who could work on 360-degree video for companies.
“Because (360 video) was new, people were willing to pay premium day rates for that,” he said. “It was a unique experience because I was in graduate school and I could take what I learned in school and apply it to these jobs.”
With this distinctive skill in hand, Starmer then grew his network and wasn’t afraid to pitch ideas to key stakeholders in the community. He urges students to get themselves out there and attend any networking events they can.
“When you can go to conferences or community events or networking luncheons— go,” he said. “Especially in a town like Reno, you can get to know everyone super quickly. Once that relationship is established, they’ll reach out to you.”
Build your skills and value your work
“You’re not going to build a career out of freelancing straight out of college, so don’t try. Focus on finding the work you truly enjoy doing and triple down on producing as much work as you possibly can.”
After Josh MacEachern took an in-house graphic design position at a production company, he learned how to shoot photos and video and work on light motion graphics. This experience gave him the upper-hand when obtaining his freelance clients.
MacEachern suggests students should focus on practicing their skills before they start their freelance career. If you want to become a photographer, he said, you should shoot photos every day. Once these skills are fine-tuned, setting price points for your work will be easier.
“Don’t be afraid to raise your rates — I do it every year,” he said. “Keep in mind that as you get better at what you do, the work has more value and therefore should cost more. Don’t undersell your time or expertise. If you don’t value your work, nobody else will.”
The most important part of building a successful freelance career, for MacEachern, is knowing your own worth.
“Value your work and your time, and be patient,” he said. “Produce work every day until you can only make stuff that is awesome, and everything else will fall into place.”