Want to Start a Business Fresh Out of College? Try Freelancing First.

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CEO of OnForce
4 min read
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As the next wave of college graduates enter the workforce, many are itching to pursue an that involves starting a blockbuster and raising millions in VC money no sooner than they put away their caps and gowns.

While this is certainly the flashiest way of entering working life after college, it isn’t always the most realistic. Entrepreneurial graduates often don’t know exactly what type of business they want to start the moment they leave school and have little idea about navigating the real-world intricacies of starting a company -- from creating a business plan that will resonate with potential investors to winning new customers and hiring staff. 

For all you recent college grads interested in being an entrepreneur, there is another option aside from immediately diving into forming a company: become a freelancer.

Related: The Freelance Economy Is Booming. But Is It Good Business?

Here are a few tips on how to get started:

Think of freelancing as the foot-in-the-door to becoming an entrepreneur. Freelancers are the fastest growing segment of the US workforce. It’s estimated that by the year 2020, 40 percent of the American workforce will be a freelance or contract worker, according to financial-software company Intuit.  But what does this mean to you as a recent college graduate interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial lifestyle? A lot.

Freelancing can be thought of as the highest form of individual entrepreneurism, and the foot in the door to starting your own business. Much like business-owners, freelancers make a living by successfully marketing their skills or services to prospective customers. Pursuing a career as a freelancer also offers many of the same “lifestyle benefits” that people normally associate with entrepreneurs -- from the ability to control the type of work you do and time spent working to the potential for higher earnings and improved mental and physical health.

Leverage to find your first gigs. Just like an entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a recent college grad starting out as a freelancer is landing your first paying gigs. Even if you spent your latter years of college grooming your network and making good business connections, you can’t expect your first freelancing jobs to come to you. You have to go out and get them!

Related: Find More Work With These 4 Pointers

Technology is undoubtedly leading the freelancer revolution. Freelancing is not a new phenomenon, but what is new is the ability for technology to connect freelancers with gigs. Today there are numerous online freelancer marketplaces available for virtually any job – from online only work (like writing or website development) to offline work (like IT field services).

Search for gigs you love. Freelancing gives you the opportunity to make sure you like what you do before starting a business in the field. If you’re a recent grad freelancing as a web designer, and you find out that you don’t enjoy doing it, you don’t have to go through the pain of laying off employees and closing a business. You just have to find a new type of job.

Transition from freelancer to business founder. If you love the freelancing you’re doing and are ready to take the next step towards starting a company, freelancing can help you build the necessary portfolio and reputation to make this possible. If you do great work for a variety of companies as a freelancer, they will inevitably become repeat customers. Once you have sufficient business coming in, it will make sense to take the next step and form a company, hire employees and start your career as a business owner.

Related: Up Your Odds of Snatching Freelancing Projects From Experienced Competitors

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