Been there, did that, got the degree, now what?
September 28, 2009 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I've nearly finished my degree. Help me work out my future.

I am nearly finished my Bachelor of Multimedia Studies. By 30 October I will have graduated with a GPA between 6.5 and 6.95 out of 7 (say, between 3.71 and 3.97 on a 4 point scale) and more likely the upper end of that range than the lower. Unfortunately, despite the name of the degree, I cannot code a decent webpage, nor work within a 3D package or do more than the simplest of animations in Flash. I’m very good with Illustrator and general graphic design, layout and formatting, mediocre with Photoshop, out of practice with Indesign. I have a DSLR, but my understanding of composition far exceeds my technical ability.

I’ve been freelancing (part-time) during much of the last 3 years, working for academics (in a different field) doing things like: creating databases (and doing the data entry for it - blargh), formatting and editing a new international journal, contacting the authors and reviewers; designing documents for print; creating presentations for international conferences; producing diagrams – that sort of thing.

I enjoy the flexibility and variety of freelancing. I haven’t had any issues with payment disputes, or difficult attitudes with this client base. This is clearly awesome and incredibly unusual. So one of my career plans is to keep doing what I’m doing, only to find more people to do it for. So here are the questions about keeping on doing it:
Q1. How do I increase my client base without outlaying a lot of money?
Q2. What percentage increase in hourly rate can I charge, given that I now have a degree that says I can do what I was already doing without pricing myself out of the market?

On the other hand, what about a real job? I’ve kept track of advertised vacancies for graphic designers (etc) within a 300 kilometre radius. Last week I saw a job advertised, “experienced web designer and coder, graphic designer and data entry operator, $20 per hour”. (I charge nearly twice that now!) Many of the advertised jobs I would qualify for offer a wage less than what I was earning as an administrative assistant. So if I didn’t keep doing what I’m currently doing…
Q3. How can I take advantage of my GPA to land a good paying job, and/or a job with prospects of a good rate of pay?
Q4. If I don’t go to work for someone else now, will the advantage of achieving good results fade, and if so, how quickly?

Australian, female, 42, located near Brisbane (state capital). Any other job / career tips gratefully received.
posted by b33j to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Anecdotes don't prove anything, but I graduated with a 3.9/4 GPA, a bachelor's degree in computer science, and some fairly marketable software and database development skills in 2003 and it still took me almost 9 months to find a job despite steady hunting. I can't speak to your first 2 questions, but for questions 3 & 4 I'd say your GPA probably won't do that much for you, either now or later. That's not to say that it's worthless, but the impression I got in my job hunt was very much that a low GPA counts against you but a high GPA is just a tiny blip on the radar of goodness.

That said, your piles of on-the-job experience will count for WAY more than your GPA, so I think you're actually ahead of many of your fellow graduating students.

Specifically in answer to question 4, I would think it was weird to put your GPA on your resume unless you're applying for a job within a year or so of graduating, or for anything after your first "real" job out of college. If you graduate with honors or something, you could keep that on the resume, but a GPA is how you demonstrate your intelligence/work ethic/whatever BEFORE you have real career experiences to point to.

As for earning less in your first "real job" than you do now freelancing, consider that these jobs may help you build experience to eventually earn more, and so could lead to a higher lifetime salary (if that's what you're after). Working as an administrative assistant now to earn more in the near term would almost certainly limit your ability to advance your career in the future. It's hard to say how further freelancing would impact you future earnings; I suppose it depends on your motivation and business acumen.

Personally, I'd shoot for whatever job seems most likely to keep me happy, as opposed to the one that seems more lucrative. But for some people, money contributes to job satisfaction, and I don't judge.
posted by vytae at 7:03 PM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: I'm a freelancer, too, and also relatively new at it but I think I can take a stab at Q1

Q1) Re: increasing your client base for no cost or low cost.

Are you using linkedin and using it well? I list all the services I offer and have a link to my web page -- I had at least one very lucrative client find and hire me by doing a search. If you want me to elaborate more, feel free to memail me.

What type of projects do you want and for what type of client/companies? I also blindly emailed companies offering my services - I can easily pick up a client at this point by sending out a batch of these emails. I would google for email lists or check out webpages and start from there. This did not cost me anything, only time.

Low cost. I paid to be listed on a web page (american medical writers association), but that is my market. So far, I've only gotten tire kickers...but it was low cost (to me) - so many dollars per month. To be honest, my own web page, my own linked in profile, and sending out my own letters was a better approach rather than having my name listed with 200 other people who do the same thing.

From talking to other freelancers, I really believe a blog targeted towards your ideal customer is a brilliant idea. I haven't done this yet because I still can't quite answer the question as to who my ideal customer is -- but I've heard phenomenal success stories fromj people who use this approach (their clients approach them -- and already like certain things about him or her).
posted by Wolfster at 7:39 PM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: Is what you do the kind of thing that needs in person contact, or can you do it remotely? Have you asked the academics you currently work with for contacts? Have you tried asking the academics in your program of study for contacts, or gotten their opinion of your plan?

My mother works in admin at Deakin University in Melbourne, and a lot of what you describe sounds like the kind of thing they would try and get people in to do on an ad-hoc basis (oh god I wish they would create a database to replace their steaming pile of excel spreadsheets). So I guess I'm saying there seems to be a hell of a lot of that work available in academia, and you should use your current contacts there to find it :)
posted by jacalata at 10:32 PM on September 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the great responses.

I suspected the GPA wasn't going to count. for much, it's interesting to see that confirmed. I have been happy doing the freelance work, but didn't want to let an opportunity pass by.

I am on linkedin, but not really, y'know? I will fix that for sure. Also the blog idea is brilliant! I thought I had nothing to say (because I've considered it before and couldn't think of a theme) but I sure have been able to give a lot of advice to my clients about the way they do things that could be useful to a wider readership.

Actually I have been doing it remotely. I have at least three clients I have never met via academic contacts, and will ask all my contacts to pass my details on. I was thinking of creating an attractive calendar that featured multiple university holidays (they're not the same 'cross institution) and conference details particular to my academics' field, and provide printed ones to my current contacts, and PDF versions for them to forward to anyone who might find use of it.

Thanks again, really useful stuff.
posted by b33j at 10:58 PM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: I'm late to the thread, but:

Last week I saw a job advertised, “experienced web designer and coder, graphic designer and data entry operator, $20 per hour”. (I charge nearly twice that now!)

One job advertisement does not tell the whole story on local pay rates. Lots of job ads require tons of skills and pay very little. That doesn't mean they're ever filled, or that they're filled with someone reliable. It's just a low-risk gamble for the advertiser - if they CAN get someone for cheap, why not? ( ... because the cheap folks might turn out to be flakes, or less skilled than they thought, perhaps.)

In my experience, a full-time employment situation typically does pay less than contracting, but that's because a job includes benefits and (some) job security.

Your skills are worth what people will pay for them. If you have a handful of clients who will pay you your going rate, you may well be able to find several more who will, too. You can always quote them your regular rate and negotiate down from there if YOU feel the gig is good enough (large enough, interesting enough) to accept less money.
posted by kristi at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2009

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