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Starting a business at university: Freelancer

If you're reliable and self-disciplined, becoming a freelancer could be the perfect business to fit around your studies...

Why become a freelancer?

If you think you’ve got a skill that people will pay for and are reliable and motivated, setting yourself up as a freelancer can be the perfect business to start while at university.

As well as enjoying the flexibility to work around your studies, you can fit your freelance career around your degree and specialise in areas that compliment your studies. For example, if you're an English undergraduate you could work as a freelance copywriter for a magazine or website. Likewise, film students could maximise on their skills to provide a freelance video production service.

The other advantage of becoming a freelancer is that you can work from pretty much any location, and if you work from your student bedroom you’re most likely exempt from paying business rates.

How to become a freelancer while at university

Setting up as a freelancer is practically cost-free. Once you’ve decided what freelance service you’re going to offer, one of the first things you will need to do is register as a sole trader with HM Revenue & Customs for income tax and National Insurance contributions. Bear in mind that failure to do so within three months of starting work could result in penalties. If you're planning to grow your freelance venture, it could also be worth registering as a limited company from the off. You can check if your desired business name is available and set up a company from as little as £16.99 here.

One of the biggest difficulties with being a freelancer is pricing your work. Your rates should be reasonable within the market you’re entering so do some research on what others are charging and reflect what it costs you to be in business.

You’ll also need to advertise your services and availability to the wider world. Sites such as Upwork match freelancers to clients while online marketplace 99designs caters specifically for freelance designers. Gradlancer, a site which connects businesses with university freelancers is another potential option. If you’re providing a local service for students at your university then this could be as simple as posting on university web pages or generating interest by word of mouth.

Read our guide on becoming a freelancer here.

Student start-up inspiration

Ben Alfrey

Gradlancer founder Ben Alfrey began his career as a freelancer in university, creating marketing strategies, plans and material for various events around his university town of Portsmouth. The young entrepreneur says that the hands-on experience grew his knowledge of digital marketing immensely and opened a number of doors towards a career after university.

Moreover it was Alfrey’s freelancing days that was the driving force behind Gradlancer after he found that the field was “exceptionally limited with the only opportunity to freelance seemingly available to web designers/coders”. Alfrey joined up with co-founders Jay Gujral (the brainchild behind the business) and Anthony Adeloye, and in less than a year Gradlancer has acquired a six figure angel investment fund, over 5,000 students and 400 employers. The business has just launched its own app and Alfrey says they are currently setting the groundwork to scale with new hires and a strategic marketing campaign planned.

Alfrey advises all students to consider freelancing for the experience as well as the pay cheque: “There's always an opportunity for you to benefit from so have the confidence in yourself to go after it!”

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.


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