There are all kinds of reasons why you might choose to go back to studying after spending some time in the workforce. Maybe you’ve been enticed by the postgraduate loan, which the UK government made available in 2016. Maybe you’re looking to advance in your profession, but need to brush up on some skills first. Or maybe you’re looking to retrain and embark on a new career altogether.
If you’re already self-employed, it can be tempting to keep freelancing while you study part-time. It’s one flexible way that you can support yourself around class, and it will mean you can keep your hand in the industry and hold onto your hard-earned clients.
The survival skills that you’ll need to graduate are slightly different to those of your classmates – balancing a part-time job with student life is one thing, but things can get tough when your studies and side hustle both lack structure and have a habit of encroaching on your downtime. Here are our tips on managing the juggling act so that you can pass with flying colours.
Treat it like a job
It turns out that studying and freelancing have a lot in common. When you’re not in classes you can work from home, your hours are flexible, and you need a lot of self-motivation to get the reading done. Unfortunately, that also means it’s easy to fall into the freelance trap of working all the time, even if you have a pretty good handle on time management with your paid work.
Rather than viewing them as two separate things, try and treat your studies just as you would any client. Work out how many hours each week it will take you to go to class, do the homework, and stay on top of your coursework, and then resolve to do no more than that – even when your overzealous lecturer is on your case about that “optional” further reading list. That way you can avoid pulling too many all-nighters.
Pool your resources
One way to save on limited time is to make your freelancing and studies work for each other. Could one of your jobs double up as a placement? Could you sell any of your coursework on to a publication? Could any of your placements turn into a long-term client? The more birds you manage to kill with one stone, the more time you’ll have to focus on producing your best work.
Use your network
Between getting your homework done and staying on top of your paid projects, you’ll have a lot less time to go out and find work while you’re studying. That can make freelancing’s feast or famine nature all the more scary – there’s no telling when you might suddenly lose a reliable client or reach a quiet part of the year. Getting a network in place who you can call upon for ad hoc work will help you navigate these Mayday moments.
There will come a time when you need to skive class to work with a client or prioritise university when you have exams and coursework deadlines. Let your lecturers and clients know about these dates well in advance to help set expectations and avoid clashes.
Join the class Whatsapp group
Yes, the incessant chat notifications get old pretty quickly, but there’s a good chance that they’ll become a vital line of communication for you when you’re off doing your freelance thing. Many universities, including my own, have a separate email list for part-time students, which in my case meant that some lecturers forgot to include me when they emailed the rest of the class. Since I was often off-campus, it was through my coursemates’ online chatter that I got to find out about field trips, room changes, and class cancellations.
Show up to the pub
Or the coffee shop or the cinema trip or the Whatsapp group – whatever it is, put in the time to bond with your coursemates. It’s easy for part-timers to fall off the map a bit when you’re busy working, since you don’t share all the same classes as your full-time classmates and you’re not around for all the in-jokes and rapport building. Of course, as a freelancer, you’re used to a bit of flying solo, but you will appreciate the camaraderie when you’ve got massive deadlines looming and you need some pals in the same boat as you to vent with.
Beware the second-year slump
Picture this. It’s the end of your first year and you are, quite frankly, killing it. Your grades are good, your work is going smoothly as freelancing ever can, and you’ve even managed to make some friends on your course. While everyone else spends their summer drumming up placements and finishing their dissertation, you go back to work, which you love because now all of your non-leisure time is back to being paid.
But then September rolls around and you have to do it all again. While your old friends graduate and (hopefully) move on to find jobs, you’re back at campus trudging through coursework with a whole new cohort of classmates. Your motivation to learn isn’t as fresh as it was, especially if a year of levelling up your skillset has already improved the projects that your freelance business is bringing in. You might be tempted to drop out at this point.
This slump is normal and you will get through it. Think of the things you haven’t learnt yet that make staying on the course worth it. Join this year’s Whatsapp group again. Show up to the pub with renewed vigour. You’re on the home stretch, and befriending your new coursemates and sticking to your work schedule will help to pull you through.
Book a holiday
You’ve done it. You’ve reached the end of your course, and after all that working, learning, juggling, and hustling, you’re knackered. It’s a bit of a gruelling marathon balancing freelance work with hardcore studying, so some amount of burnout should probably be expected. That’s okay, just make sure you plan a holiday, even if you don’t even leave your house.
You’re a freelancer at least partly because you like the flexibility, and now is the time to use it. Block out a few weeks where you’re work-free (that means no meetings or quick coffees either!), then you can come back to your clients with a well-rested brain.
Want help and support with your freelance career? UnderPinned’s Virtual Office is the perfect tool to help you out with all aspects of managing your career.