Before starting out as a freelancer, I had no idea how to find clients, format invoices, or track projects. Most of my early days were spent staring at the computer screen, begging it to figure things out for me.
Today, the screen may actually answer those pleas. Alongside the rise of freelance work, a slew of new digital companies are trying to help this growing cohort of independent contractors. Suddenly, freelancer courses and tools are everywhere, claiming to provide guidance, tips, and insider tricks of the trade. Even robust freelancer incubator programs are emerging, claiming to help beginners launch their own businesses from the ground up.
These programs span a wide range of prices, time commitments, and skill levels. But are any of them worth it?
According to freelance writer and digital marketing manager Jaci Schreckengost, targeted ones just might be. Schreckengost’s work involves writing, digital marketing, and a hodgepodge of related projects. She spends about a quarter of her workday writing about topics including beauty, entertainment, and technology for print and digital magazines, blogs, and newspapers.
When Schreckengost learned about a “how to freelance” course created by an alumna of her university, she was unsure if it would be a good fit. But reading through the site’s promise to “make you feel completely and totally confident that you can have the career you’ve dreamt of,” she decided to give it a shot.
I sat down to ask Schreckengost about her experience with the course. Here’s her verdict.
‘Zero To Freelance’ course overview
Full-time freelancer Olivia Muenter created the program known as Zero To Freelance. It retails for $427. The go-at-your-own-pace course includes five modules:
- How to Pitch (Your Ass Off). The course starts with a breakdown of why freelancers need to pitch, how to do so, and example pitches.
- Personal Branding for Freelancers. This module dives into creating a recognizable personal brand, as well as how it can help you get gigs as a freelancer.
- Money + Freelancing. Here, the course discusses everything from how much to charge for a project to saving for taxes.
- Organization Tips + Tools for Freelancers. This module provides templates for organizing your pitches and schedule, as well as how to keep track of payments.
- The Zero To Freelance Timeline. For people who have yet to start freelancing, this module provides a one-year breakdown of all the steps to take before jumping in.
Schreckengost worked through the program over the course of one week. “It was really informative. It walks you through everything you think about asking,” she said. “For example, when the program talks about payments, you begin wondering about taxes, which is in the next section. It’s well laid out.”
Schreckengost called the program’s content not only informative, but also honest and funny—she noted that learning something new was easier because she was entertained. Overall, she said the course provided an “incredibly fast” return on investment, teaching her not only about writing, but also about being a freelancer in general. When she began it just under a year ago, she was only thinking about going freelance—now, it’s her full-time career.
The most beneficial aspect of the course for Schreckengost was the part in the Money + Freelancing section about negotiating payment. “I didn’t know anything about negotiations,” she said. “Of course, I’m still learning and growing into the world of freelance, but that section alone helped me find my financial footing.”
Schreckengost said she now has the confidence to negotiate for higher rates, which has been a game-changer for growing her income. After completing the course, Schreckengost increased her hourly rate by $10. At just the halfway point of 2021, she’s already doubled her 2020 income.
When asked if the Zero To Freelance course had any negatives, Schreckengost had no complaints. Instead, she reiterated that she would recommend it to others looking to grow the same skills.
“Even though I don’t write all day every day, I found this course to be incredibly useful and continue to use it,” she said. “The spreadsheet and calendar advice helped me organize my life. I’m able to keep track of pitches, deadlines, invoices, and more without thinking about it.”
The initial course may be over, but Schreckengost refers to it at least once a week while working. In the future, she would be open to taking another course from Muenter or learning through other programs or incubators.
Other freelancer courses and incubators on the rise
Zero To Freelance is far from the only program marketing itself as a way for freelancers to grow their business and increase profits. There are entire companies dedicated to fast-tracking freelancers’ careers and boosting their revenue.
On the more affordable end of the spectrum, low-cost or free communities such as Freelancing Females and Study Hall provide freelancers advice on tools to use, opportunities to network, and potential job opportunities. There are also a plethora of courses on freelancing available on sites like Skillshare, Coursera, and Udemy.
In Schreckengost’s case, the freelance course she chose had a relatively low risk. The creator was someone she’d followed for years who could point to their own success. Larger-scale programs from an unknown company may pose a greater risk on return. If considering such an investment, freelancers may want to seek out the advice of their peers to determine if it is truly worth spending their money.