Get Paid to Learn: How My Freelance Business Furthers My Education

As a new graduate, your hope is to get a well-paying job right out of college. But in many cases, you need experience or more even more education to break into your ideal career field.

Getting a higher education can require an investment of time and money. However, both of these things are likely in short supply right now for you.

Fortunately, freelance work offers the ability to get paid to learn while continuing your education. You can even avoid forking out your own money for furthering your education while you’re freelancing on the side of your day job.

Here’s how other freelancers were able to advance their careers and even start their own businesses while getting paid to learn. They continued participating in classes, courses, and other education, without spending their own money to do so.

Switching careers

A traditional high school education can not prepare you for real-world events like building your personal brand, connecting with the right people, or even filing your taxes.

Usually, the only way you can learn these skills is by personally experiencing them, or participating in classes and stand-alone courses. I chose the latter and opted out of a traditional college education in order to further my skills as an accountant.

I started working for an employer as a junior bookkeeper and then worked my way up until I was able to specialize in small business accounting. Soon, my boss needed more in-depth legal and tax help and paid for me to take a 12-week tax class.

With the connections I made at this tax class, I applied for a freelance job at a local tax office where they hired me to work for the upcoming tax season. The next year, this new job paid for an advanced Tax Specialist class training to increase my expertise in the small business tax and accounting field.

After 10 years working for my employer and four years working at this tax office, I was able to leverage the skills and knowledge I had learned to quit both jobs, switch careers and start my own financial writing business.

Becoming a PR expert

The workforce has completely changed from the way it looked 10 years ago. To get a job in this economy you have to know the right people as well as how to market yourself as a personal brand.

From career-related social sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, you have to be your own best PR agent in order to land well-paying jobs and connect with the most influential people.

Before hiring you, most employers will check out your social media profiles and weigh those into account of whether or not they’ll hire you. So your personal brand needs to be an extension of your career pursuits.

Career coach Amanda Abella said that in the beginning stages of her freelance career, “a client paid for PR classes as a part of our work together. We may not be working together anymore but I learned enough to be a media maven for my own brand.”

Having multiple income streams

As a new grad, you don’t have the luxury of being selective with the types of jobs that come your way. But if you look at your full-time job as a way of paying the bills, you can start hustling on the side by creating multiple streams of income as a freelancer.

“I just started a few months ago in the freelancing world,” explains Kim Studdard, “but a client of mine bought me a membership to watch premium videos on Skillshare. Not only have I attracted more clients, but I’ve been offered better paying gigs as well, based on these new skills.”

Landing better-paying work as a freelancer will allow you to earn more money so you can pay off your student loans faster, as well as diversify your income. Having multiple income streams reduces the risk of being subjected to one employer who can pull the plug on your job at any time.

Getting a tax credit

One of the best things about using your freelance work to further your education is that it’s considered a deductible tax-related expense. Qualified costs related to courses and classes, as well as any books and course materials, can be deducted on your tax return.

There are multiple continuing education credits, from the Lifetime Learning credit to the tuition and fees deduction. Check with your tax professional to see which one you can claim. As long as the education costs are work related, or help continue your on-going training, you can claim them as a credit or deduction.

“I have committed to taking at least two courses, or attending two conference-type events each quarter,” says Melissa Zehner. “I have completed four online copywriting classes, an online email marketing course, and a freelancer course, just to name a few.

“Professional development is crucial to success,” Zehner adds. “Both my skills and confidence grow with each course.”

Finding a mentor

From business coaches to accountability partners, there’s no lack of help when you’re looking to break into the workforce. One of the most powerful connections you can make is finding someone who can mentor you in the area you’re trying to break into.

When I was switching careers in my early twenties, I started working with a well-known marketing expert. She trained me as a social media and marketing assistant. She also served as a mentor for all things career related.

I was getting paid to learn from her expert knowledge and experience. And I’m not the only one who’s found that working with a mentor is an invaluable career path.

“I had a client who served as a mentor while we were working together and continues to offer valuable guidance today,” says Ashley Gainer Lankford. “The email course [I took] opened my eyes to a new copywriting skill that I love and am now pivoting into more deliberately, and is something I use frequently as I build my business.”

Getting paid to learn

If you’ve been considering freelancing, you can now see the value in continuing education and understand how to do so affordably.

By getting paid to learn you can further your education without spending your personal funds. And, you can still access all the perks. Doing so will help you increase your skills and ultimately, your bottom line.

See you in class!

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