The University of Iowa’s journalism school used to offer a class on freelancing.
The syllabus isn’t online and neither is the book list, but it still seemed like a pretty useful class. It also fulfilled a major requirement for me. But it hasn’t been offered since 2011, when the professor left the country. But given the direction of the industry I think someone needs to pick up the slack and teach this class.
Unfortunately, the school doesn’t agree. My adviser at the time (our department is a revolving door of advisors) told me to make alternate arrangements for my schedule. I picked up a class that’s been affectionately dubbed my out-of-touch publishing class on Facebook. I did not break even with these classes.
I registered for some entrepreneurship classes through the business school but quickly realized they were meant for people starting companies with employees and not just your freelance hustle or an Etsy shop in your second bedroom. I downloaded the syllabi and dropped the classes.
The most actionable things I’ve learned have been through my social media classes. Or secret Facebook groups and Pinterest boards and bloggers–which don’t cost me $8000 a year.
I joke about being the Rachel Berry of my classes a lot. More often than not, I’m the default leader of group projects. I contribute comments that are helpful and also evidence of my Type A tendencies. I have a big mouth, I’m a know-it-all, and I’m easily bored by classes that aren’t providing me with an education that has practical application to my life. I have bills!
When the career counselor spoke to my 201 class about how we should be grateful for unpaid internships and take several of them I passionately told the class know how much money you are worth and never settle for being paid with “exposure” or “experience.” He brushed me off because apparently everyone has the expendable income to waste on NYC rents so they can have a five unpaid internships before they graduate.
This is the problem with so many professors and administrators being boomers: they have no idea what it’s like to break into an industry today.
Thankfully, I have a kickass mentor and well-curated professional social media feeds that teach me the things I’m not getting out of school.
But what if I could get my $8000 a year’s worth of education? What would that look like?
How to Pretend You’re Smart and Capable
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Fake it until you make it,” I wouldn’t have to fake being financially stable. There is an art to faking confidence and competence, and it will get you far. But… how do you learn how to do it?
I went to a speed networking event and a professional conference last week. I met some great people. I got multiple job offers. But I left with fewer connections than I wanted. I did okay, but I could have done better.
How do you walk the fine line between professional and memorable? How do you exit a conversation gracefully? How do you reach out to connections when you forgot why you wanted to? How do you ask someone for a job or their business card when literally no one else at the networking lunch is doing this–like, is it even okay? Why are we even calling it a networking lunch if we’re just gonna eat and not talk shop?!
Paying Bills With an Unpredictable Income
I left my 9-5 (technically 12:30-9) to work my side hustles full time. But freelancing is a feast and famine industry. Sometimes I have a ton of work to do in one day and have to skip classes to finish things that pay me real money, and sometimes I just send out pitches and play with my sticker machine all day while waiting on my smutbucks royalties. How do you plan when you don’t know how much you’re going to make every month?
Paying Taxes When You Have a Pile of 1099s
I am terrified of tax season now.
How Much is Your Time Worth?
Unpaid internships are never worth it. Can we please stop telling poor kids that they’re going to have to take out more loans so they can “compete” with their rich friends who take multiple unpaid internships? Can we start teaching students how to find paying jobs that will give you both experience and actual money?
Can we teach students how to figure out what their time is worth and how to negotiate with clients to get paid a living wage?
How to Find and Keep Freelance Clients
About 3/4 of my clients have kept an open contract with me or renewed our original contracts. The others… just ghosted out of my life and I was too nonconfrontational to ask them why.
How to Pitch
How do you know what you’re good at writing? Do you have a spreadsheet of topics and angles? How do you approach a client or your boss and tell them what you want to give them and make it sound good?
How to Research Things You Know Nothing About
There’s a market for really interesting articles about really boring things. How do you pretend to care about what you’re writing when it’s so boring?! Where do you learn about them? I have plenty of dry academic resources, but what about stuff that makes it worth reading about?
Related: how do you learn all the weird buzzwords and jargon for your industry? Do you know how long it took me to find out what a vertical is?!
How to Get Noticed by Major Publishers
What makes you stand out in your writing and on social media? How do you go viral? How many cute cat pictures does it take to become worthy of a contract? There are hundreds of thinkpieces about how to maintain a professional but personable online presence–how do you walk that line?
What is SEO and How Do I Not Screw It Up?
I have Yoast, which tells me when I’m doing a good job, but I still don’t know what I’m doing and people say it changes every day. How do you keep up?!
How to Make Your Blog/Portfolio Look Less Cheap
Let’s be real, there are plenty of free themes and templates out there for lazy people like me who don’t know how to code. What is the bare minimum coding knowledge that will teach me how to clean up templates like that so I don’t have to pay someone to do it for me?
How to Take a Decent Photograph and Get Professional Headshots
A lot of my clients have me take pictures for them instead of paying a photographer, and thankfully I have a Samsung Galaxy Note, which is pretty decent in terms of phone cameras. How do I make it better than decent? Can I use a selfie as my professional photo? (Probably not. How do you work with a professional photographer to get pictures of yourself that you like?)
Motivation: How to Create and Maintain A Work Schedule
How do I wake up in the morning and go to work immediately instead of reading Glee fanfic for two hours or watching a season of Parks and Rec, then working for an hour and promising myself I’ll try harder tomorrow?
How to Not Become a Hermit
Working from home is lonely. I’m tempted to get a co-working subscription so that I can do things in an office with other people.
How to Ignore Netflix When You Should Be Working
Let’s be real. This is hard af.
How to Keep Your Home Office Clean
I’ve almost given up on this one. My desk is mostly clean but the shelves around it are just piles of books and papers. I can keep my phone and life better organized than my office.
What do you wish you’d learned in college to prepare you for real work?
Obviously my examples were specific to working at home and maintaining a freelance lifestyle, but so many professionals I meet tell me about how much more they learned on the job than in their classes. What classes would have made your “entry level” work an easier transition?