Should Schools Teach Basic Freelancing Skills?

The number of freelancers is growing. In fact, the latest studies show that a significant portion of today’s work force (as many as 1 in 4) are freelancers.

Yet, despite the growing popularity of freelancing, many freelancers fail. The most common cause of freelancing failure is a lack of concrete knowledge about how to run a business.

With these facts in mind, today I’m going to explore the question of whether schools should teach basic freelancing skills. I’ll look at the pros and cons surrounding the issue and give you a chance to weigh in with your own opinion.

Advantages of Teaching Freelancing Skills in School

Imagine graduating from school and going straight into a freelancing career with the confidence of fully understanding what freelancing is about.

This freelancing confidence could become reality if students were taught basic freelancing skills in school.

The strongest case for teaching freelancing in school is that many students eventually find themselves freelancing anyway. With the number of freelance workers rising and with many workers having multiple careers, the odds are good that today’s graduate will attempt freelancing at some point in his or her professional life.

While the schools may do a great job of teaching professions (like writing, graphic design, and programming) that lend themselves to freelancing, most schools don’t prepare their graduates to run a freelance business.

Here are some points in favor of teaching freelancing skills in our school:

  1. In the past, basic life skills (such as typing and basic computer skills) have been required subjects in school. Freelancing skills are becoming increasingly necessary to today’s worker. One never knows when they might need to turn to freelancing to earn a living or to supplement their other earnings.
  2. Teaching basic freelancing skills might increase the number of freelancers who succeed. Many freelancers fail after a short time. This is usually due to a lack of basic business knowledge, but with early training they would have the knowledge they need.
  3. Understanding basic freelancing skills helps give students a better understanding of business overall, which could also serve to make them more marketable as employees. Many of the same skills that freelancers use to succeed can also be used in traditional employment.
  4. Having freelancing skills gives recent graduates more options. Not everyone is cut out for a nine-to-five job. Many employees wish they worked more flexible hours, but just don’t have the opportunity to do so. Freelancing can provide that opportunity.

While the advantages of teaching freelancing in school seem compelling, there are also some disadvantages to consider.

Disadvantages of Teaching Freelancing Skills

There are some definite drawbacks to teaching students freelancing in school. Not everyone desires to be a freelancer. Many employees are perfectly happy working for someone else. Some may not even have a skill that could be offered in the freelance marketplace.

Here are a few disadvantages of teaching freelancing skills in school:

  1. What material should be included in a course in freelancing and who would decide? Freelancers wear many hats. Should a course in freelancing encompass business skills, marketing, social media, or some combination? Can one course cover enough ground? No one knows for sure.
  2. Many study programs are already crowded. Adding a required course (or courses) in freelancing might cause other useful courses to be dropped. Requiring freelance training might even mean that it takes longer for a student to graduate.
  3. At what level of a student’s learning should freelancing be taught? Should it be at the high school level or the college level? Most freelancers do have a college education, but some are self-taught. Would it be more effective to teach freelancing skills early on in high school, or should freelancing be taught in college just before a student starts his or her professional career?
  4. Some students still may never become freelancers. For those students, a course in freelancing would be wasted time. Besides, it could be argued that those students who are really interested in pursuing freelancing will make an effort to learn what they need to know on their own anyway.

Your Turn

What do you think? In your opinion, should freelancing skills should be taught to students in school? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by alamosbasement

Comments

  1. says

    This is an interesting topic. I have been a freelance graphic designer for the past three years. Prior to that, I worked in a corporate marketing environment for 5 years. In the corporate position, I learned a lot that ultimately helped my with my freelancing career. I couldn’t imagine starting freelancing right of school. I do agree that most freelancers fail because they lack basic business knowledge. The main negative comments I hear about fellow freelancers is that they don’t respond to correspondence in a timely manner, don’t meet their stated turnaround times, and flake out on projects all together. Nothing about their design skills. This leads me to believe that somewhere along the lines, they should have been taught some customer service skills! I worked in a corporate environment and learned to handle all customers requests and projects promptly. If not, I could lose my job. I attribute the success of my freelance business to my customer service skills first, design skills second.

    So, in response to the initial question, I think that freelancing skills need to be taught somewhere, somehow. Perhaps an optional freelance course could be offered in college for those intending to start out freelancing after graduation. College advisors should highly recommend it. Along with basic customer service skills, it could include accounting, marketing, and information on business tools and resources.

  2. says

    I believe that there is really no such thing as basic freelancing skills, other than figuring out how to market your services, and freelancers in different fields will need different approaches to marketing.

    I also think that it is best if every freelancer first works as an employee. This is very valuable experience: either you don’t mind having a stupid boss no matter where you work, or you do mind, in which case you are probably freelancer material. Being an employee in a few companies is in fact the best school that freelancers can go to.

    Also, should you start right away as a freelancer and do it for the rest of your life, you would not really learn that much about the world around you.

    Instead of teaching course for future freelancers, I think that schools should teach kids independent thinking in every subject they teach.

    I doubt that they are doing that. Big business does not need people who are able to think on their own.

  3. says

    I believe learning basics of business, how to manage, keep accounts, customer service is a must. Not because every one will be a freelancer after coming out of school right a way. It helps in understanding the company and corporate business they are hired to work there. It is a more well rounded student rather than just a designer

  4. says

    Steve Vitek–Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I do think that kids need to learn independent thinking, but I’m not sure if that can be taught.

    Saya, Great comment! Business knowledge could be helpful for many situations.

  5. says

    Why not? I believe that when a skill is in demand and it is growing, schools should teach that skill to children. I believe parents can also homeschool their children in order to teach their kids freelancing skills. On the other hand, schools should offer more unconventional study plans to children as the world is changing and the conventional curriculum of schools must change accordingly.

  6. says

    I don’t know if you can teach freelancing in school, since there’s a lot of ‘specialties’ involved in this, but some courses on basic small business management, how to start your freelancing career, how to handle clients etc would work. Most of the stuff is pretty similar whether you’re a web designer or a freelance movie director. While the ‘specialized’ stuff is different, running a small business, handling bad clients, promotion etc. are in the end similar.

  7. says

    It is really tough freelancing and instant results do not happen. It has taken me over a year to get frequent work. You have to be a designer, businesman, marketeer, accountant etc. It is hard work and fun, but great when you start to have a good client base.

  8. says

    I am an adjunct instructor in program for professional writers (undergraduates). The program used to have a “Professional Freelancing” course that combined business basics with information about how present yourself as a professional and how to find clients. So many of the undergraduates were so resistant (yeah, go figure) that the course as such was dropped, although we still go over the basics in the senior portfolio course I currently supervise. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those who were most resistant didn’t come back in five to ten years, wishing that they had paid attention when they had the chance.

    My own personal opinion is that it would be most useful if freelancing courses were taught when students express an interest in the skills. That means technology and career centers (high schools) would most likely have an interested group of students, those who eventually want to go into business for themselves. Colleges like mine need to consider offering it as an elective in their program or offering it through the business program, for non-business majors.

  9. says

    Katherine Quimby Johnsno–Thanks for weighing in with your experience on this topic. I think it’s interesting that the students didn’t like the class and I agree with you that it would be interesting to see how many of them now wish they had paid attention to it. :)

    Making it an elective is a good option, especially if professors and teachers stressed how important business skills are.

  10. says

    Our view is one can freelance just about anything, a cooking class, arts & craft, language teacher, all kinds of odd jobs. They definitely amount to some kind of work outside their careers. Doesn’t have to be necessarily deduced to one area of attained skills.

    Rather freelancing is like running a business, the scalability depends on how far you intend to push it, from part time to full time?

    Then again, ask yourself what exactly divides what is a freelance business from another brick & mortar business? Most people would see freelance as unpredictability equals instability in income. They think these guys have so much free time on their hands, it’s almost like bumming out.

    That’s a normal generalization but everyone’s entitled to their piece of mind.

    Then you ask yourself again, let’s say this brick & mortar ‘real’ business has a shop but so random customers that you sit your butt all day doing nothing but waiting.

    Isn’t that a lot of free time to spare too? So is he not considered a bum only because he has a store?

    Perhaps an explanation could be because of how society sees it that it reflects back int our schools’ education system, to not teach it means not encouraging it. They fear a nation of ‘bums’.

    Besides running a business is not a syllabus that schools can easily teach, simply because there’re too many factors needed like experience, drive, passion, wages etc. These are things that come from within the human spirit, not textbooks.

  11. says

    I WISH I’d had that class in college. For those who go freelance now, everything is trial by error and learning from your mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a stellar way to learn and probably the most effective but a little support couldn’t hurt.

    Even if a student doesn’t become a freelancer, the business, communication and customer service skills would be invaluable. Any manager would be glad to have an employee with a freelancer (read: entrepreneurial) mindset.

    I think it should definitely come at the college level, preferably in the last two years when it’s either time to start dabbling before graduation or as the students are being groomed for the professional world.

    Hell, I’m not in school any more, but I’d sign up!

  12. says

    I have to say that if I had learned at school what freelancing is and what it means to the quality of your life to be the boss of yourself, I wouldn’t have spent 10 years working in that lousy corporation.. I love freelancing and I would do anything to endorse it.
    I work as a freelancing lawyer in http://peopleperhour.com

  13. says

    I never really gave this a thought in the past. That being said, I wish I would have learned some basic freelancing skills while in schools. Maybe a high school elective? This could be a good way to offer the course without making it mandatory.

  14. says

    I’ve often suggested this to friends who teach journalism. There is some weird snobbery that the sole ideal is to “get a job” — when the fact is many of us will lose that job (or many jobs) and have no idea how to survive without one.

    I grew up in a freelance family (they worked in film and television). I realized I had learned a great deal from simply living that life — whether to save as much of your income as humanly possible (lean periods happen!) to finding and managing an agent to negotiate hard on your behalf to even realizing almost every offer is negotiable in some way.

    I think the very people happier freelancing can sometimes be “free spirits” who hate the business side of it. I was on staff for three major newspapers and several magazines and agree you must work for a few companies inside to truly understand your clients’ issues and pressures.

  15. says

    In my point of view, schools should also teach basic freelancing skills because some of the students after they graduated, they can’t easily get to work. It will help them have an part-time job while waiting for the work that they wish to work on.

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