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Five tips for graduates going self-employed

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The last decade has been particularly rough on university students and graduates. Between rising fees and an aggressively competitive job market, you’d forgive graduates for feeling apprehensive about leaving student life.

High Fliers produced a report in 2018 that showed graduate employment in the organisations featured in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list had fallen for the first time in five years. Recruitment fell by 4.9% – the largest annual decrease in graduate employment since 2009.

All that said, it’s not always as bleak as the statistics suggest. There’s plenty of options on the table for graduates looking to go self-employed, or who want to use self-employment as a leg-up into full-time work. With that in mind, here are five tips (and a few stories) from people who’ve been there and done it.

1. Start now!

If you’re an undergraduate and looking at the job market with dread, start taking small steps now to earning an income. Is your degree in languages? Become a private tutor via sites like First Tutors or sell your language skills to business through the likes of Lingo 24 and Language123.com. Are you good at making things? Make a few more and upload to sites such as Etsy, Folksy.com and MyEhive.com so you can sell to a wider audience. You could also look at freelance job sites to see if there is work there for you.

2. Seek out help

There’s plenty of help on offer whilst you’re studying – and still more when you leave.

Check to see if your college or uni hosts an enterprise society; NACUE is a good source for this. Make the most of events, competitions and awards hosted by National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship and Shell LiveWIRE and take on work experience with entrepreneurial upstarts so you can learn on the job via sites including Enternships and Gumtree.

3. Club together

Does starting a business seem a bit too daunting when you haven’t even left learning? Then pool your talent, join with friends and start that way. This is what the three amigos Oliver Sidwell, Ali Lindsay and Chris Wickson did when they came up with the idea for RateMyPlacement – Work Placements & Internships for Students whilst studying at Loughborough University. After graduating, they all secured jobs and worked collectively on the business at nights and weekends. That was back in 2007 and the company is now a startling success.

4. Go Global

To be sure of a wide market for your products and services, go global from the start. Technology enables you to do this with sites such as Upwork and Elance, allowing you to be found by customers around the world if you’re selling time and knowledge. Having your own website (with good search engine optimisation) increases your chances of picking up overseas trade.

5. Thanks be to friends and family

We hear from many students who are running a business and getting much-needed help from parents or (good!) friends whether it be rent-free accommodation or having a bookkeeper/mentor/telephone receptionist on tap who won’t expect a salary in return!

Even if you don’t turn your business into a full-time venture, the experience of being your own boss and showing you have the attitude and skills to make a living will look good on your CV and set you apart from all those other applicants.

Grab a cuppa and check out the video

The debut episode of our jargon-free ‘Take The Leap’ video series take you through a bunch of important things you’ll have to think about when going self-employed.We've also got lots more information to help get you started, from understanding how to pay your self assessment, to working out how much tax you'll pay, enabling you to begin your self employed adventure the right way!

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Ross Bramble
Content Executive
Updated on
December 14, 2020

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