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The high-school freelancer: $30K per year before graduating?

We all know the saying "If I knew then what I know now, I'd be rich". Can it be true though? Could you actually be a high school student and make $30,000 per year in your freelance business? I believe it's possible and I will show you how in this article. When I was a teenager and getting involved in the computer, I heard this all of the time: You need to get off there and find something else to do. You know you won't make any money playing around on the computer all day and all night. How wrong were my parents? :) If you're still in school (or even just starting out in college) this article is for you.

How can the high school student make money?

For the freelancers out there, this one might seem like a pretty easy question to answer, but I think that for the younger aspiring freelancers, the answers below are key in learning what you could do to make money. Obviously, this article is geared towards online businesses, but you could take the principles in this article and build them into an offline business also.

  • Web Designer
  • Web Developer
  • Writer
  • Stock images/graphics/photos/audios

If I could give one quick piece of advice though - just because you're a high school student and you're just starting out, please do not let people bully you around on pricing and projects. If you're sticking to your guns on pricing, don't let people knock you on that. You could also just not even mention your age - it's not really required and not something a lot of people ask for - just make sure you're acting like a professional and thats all that will matter to your clients.

3 things every high school freelancer should remember

If you had only 2 minutes to read this article and take away a couple of points, these are the ones I'd hope you take away.

  1. Find something you love, and do it - even if people say not to
  2. Present yourself as a 30 year old seasoned businessman - even if you're only 14
  3. Stick to your deadlines and keep everything positive

Breaking down the numbers to hit $30,000

O.K. here's where we get to the actual numbers, so I can prove my point and show you that it IS possible to make this much money as a high school student.

Web Designing
  • $400.00 per website design (no coding)
  • 7 jobs per month (around 2 on average per week)
  • $2,800.00 total per month
  • $33,600.00 total per year*
Web Development
  • $50.00 per hour (php, css, xhtml, jquery, ruby on rails, ect)
  • 50 hours per month / 600 hours per year
  • $2,500 total per month
  • $30,000 total per year
  • $20.00 per 500 words
  • 1,500 total articles
  • 125 articles per month
  • 31 articles per week
  • 4-5 articles per day

There are just three examples. The numbers don't lie - they're even on the low end of the pay scale and tend to keep your time needed small. This doesn't take the time needed for invoicing, conversations, networking, ect - just strictly money making time. I hope this article helps the aspiring high school freelancers out there to realize that you can make a solid income without having to flip burgers, bag groceries or even go to college if you don't really feel like it.

*thanks to Ali for the typo note. I appreciate it

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  1. I doubt many aspiring web-designers (and even experienced ones) can pull off more than 2-3 designs / month :)

    All in all it was a good read :)

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the comment Dumitru. However, I have to disagree – I am averaging 2-3 designs per week. If every design takes 5-6 hours, thats only 10-20 hours per week. Definitely doable, even if you work 2 hours a day mon-fri.

  2. ad says:

    I am an aspiring writer and currently in my final year of University, but boy doing 4-5 articles a day seems quite daunting. On my current website, I do about 1 article a week which usually takes quite a bit of time. But i guess when you say 4-5 articles you mean small 500 word articles for things like newspapers? magazines? which require little research and background reading?

    • Mike says:

      Hi ad. thanks for the comment. And yes, I mean, smaller, 500 word articles. Nothing too daunting. Obviously, larger articles will gain you more cash, so adjust accordingly.

  3. Ali says:

    I love this article. A high school student myself, I totally believe that it’s possible. I’ve picked up a surprising amount of custom projects in the last couple of months between my graphic design and my crafting. I’m starting to pick up experience, and I have no doubt that I could be pulling in an impressive income by high school standards before long, if I work at it. Thanks for the encouragement. :)

    Ooh, just to point out a couple typos in the article:

    Under web design, that would be $31,200 per year, not $3,120, and under web development, that’s 6000 hours per year. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the comment Ali. and thanks for the typo spotting. I edited the post and made sure to credit you with finding it :) I hope you stick around. And if you want to have a custom avatar, sign up at Gravatar with your email address you leave comments with.

  4. Ali says:

    No problem, and thanks for the tip. :)

  5. Dwyndal says:

    Great read, I could see this happening as a positive view for any young designers, photographer or writer. I do feel it would be a bit much with all studies and items ahead in regards to graduating again, this is pure focus on the win situation.

    Despite the time required and you not handling extracurricular activities, the only hard part I would find then that you can’t truly know now. Is that it’s hard to play a 30 year old at 14 and more so difficult to sometimes empathize what your client may want, given you age. A young person’s cool may be way off from a old timer groovy. Then again, that can also be the competitive edge, just learn to read you client.

    Nice share here Gurrilla

    @ali – leave my typos and grammar alone :)

    • Mike says:

      Hey Dwyndal – yeah, I agree with you that the young cool will be different than the older groovy. Like you said though, I think that it could be a benefit though because it will set them apart from the rest. As long as you can conduct yourself in a professional manner (no LOL or goofy IM type texting in proposals or first contact emails), you should be ok.

  6. Cool post. Although I think it is rather optimistic. I’m a college student, and while I haven’t really devoted a huge amount of time to marketing, it’s not easy finding work.

    Guess I should check out your 10 guerilla marketing tactics for designers :). Anyway, got you on the RSS so I’ll be keeping up with your stuff. Really like the blog design.

  7. Leonard says:

    Recently came across a UK ISP that hired a 15 year old to code their blog template.

    Worth noting that the 15 y/o in question didn’t design the hideous template. Either way, a 15 y/o working for a big ISP? That’s got to show that the age doesn’t matter.

  8. TJ says:

    Interesting article. But I think it is a bit exaggerated. Its quite difficult to do 7 web design gigs a month, especially due to time constraints with school etc. I am currently in high school, and I don’t think I get enough time to do more than maybe 2-3 a month. Also, landing 7 gigs a month isn’t too easy I suppose.

  9. Matthew says:

    Brilliant article. Here I was thinking I was being silly to consider starting out my freelance career early. You’ve inspired me to take my ideals of making money from web design/development seriously. It shouldn’t matter that I’m 17, if I can produce good work there’s no reason I shouldn’t already be getting paid for it.

  10. ragsagar says:

    Nice, This article encouraged me a lot. Hope i can start a web designing business soon.

  11. Trent says:

    I really enjoy this website, I am a high school student about to graduate and looking to go in this direction to pay some college!

  12. Hmmm i am a highschool student been doing development for roughly 3 years… took a year off and now it’s a pain to come back.

    Of course your not including taxes and all but yea for any teenager can do it, i am finally starting to set myself up for that kind of work again.

  13. Shini says:

    I think I spent my highschool years designing a lot of stuff for free just to get good experience and a portfolio.

    It’s quite true that nowadays people don’t really trust youth too much with the consistency of work – and I really doubt that you’d get that many clients while taking math classes ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But then again you could have a big online presence and have an awesome portfolio, who knows. I think its all about networking and how you get your clients. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. Hi, This article caught my eye as I actually was a high school freelancer. Started freelancing at the age of 16 in 2006 (however I also started University that year).

    From my experience, I feel the Web Development goals are a bit high. For a high school web developer, at least for me I didn’t have the experience or maturity that I did when I started charging $50/hour at 18, or even being able to handle a 50 hours a week work load (I even struggle doing that now! haha). Even handling clients at that age is difficult as the maturity is a big thing, for me I really did only see my way. I was lucky as I had a few middlemen who pulled me under their wings, they handled the clients and I handled the development, building up my skills.

    However, at the age of 20, I’ve finally reached my goal of 100/hour however that is a serious amount of dedication and experience. It is possible, but they do need experience first, they just can’t pull $50/hour out of nowhere though.

  15. aShocka says:

    i find this post very encouraging for young designers out there. great job :)

  16. Speaking as a 14-year old freelancer, I find this post very encouraging. Although I don’t claim to be some sort of design genius, I really enjoy designing and coding web sites as a freelancer. Lately I’ve been reading up a lot about freelancing and web design in general, and it has gotten me motivated to get out there!
    I’m now scouring job boards for possible freelance jobs. So far no luck, but I’m confident that if I keep trying, someone will take a chance on such an inexperienced designer.

    • Mike Smith says:

      Hey Max. Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you like the article. A piece of advice would be to not openly talk about your age. If people don’t read your age on your site, and you hold yourself as a professional in email conversations, they won’t even know you’re only 14. This way, they’re more open to work with you, compared to if they knew you were only 14. Being so young is definitely a set back in those types of situations, so if you don’t openly display your age, you might find a bit more luck.

  17. nathan says:

    Hey Mike,

    Great article. Are you really designing 7 sites a month? Thats amazing!

    I suppose its possible, but I think its unlikely for me. Pretty much anyone who comes to me wants the whole caboose, design, coding and maybe even help with copy.

    How do you convince the client that you will only be designing the site, or do you then add the coding onto it as a separate job?

    Where are you finding so much work?

    Keep up the good, informative work you’re getting a name for. (at least in my books)


  18. Bogdan Marginean says:

    /*Because at the end I noticed that I wrote a freaking story here, you may skip to the 6th paragraph in order to read my advice to high school/college freelancers. The rest is about myself and how I’m annoyed about freelancing websites.*/


    Been following you on twitter for some time and found most of your articles pretty interesting. Anyway, I didn’t expect to see one on this topic. I’m actually a high school freelancer (11th grade, turned 18 a month ago) but I’m working in a different area than the ones you mentioned; I’m working on programming (!web) jobs most of the time.

    I’ve started working as a freelancer less than a year ago and ever since, I’ve kept myself tied to different websites providing employers with remote workforce. At first it seemed awesome & stuff and I felt all powerful and amazing ๐Ÿ˜€
    Some time ago, I’ve read an article somewhere telling people that such websites are just plain evil and make you sell your craftsmanship for little money. At the time, I thought the article was complete bullsh*t. Now that I think again of it, it was not. I’ve gained more experience over time and I believe it’s wrong for me to keep the old rates. I believe my new work is worth more than my old work…

    It’s just frustrating how there’s always a “public abstract worker” charging less than half of most of the other bids. I can’t understand how an employer expects to see quality from a worker who thinks his work is worth that little. In the end, it’s all about paying as little as possible to get the job done. If the cheap contractor manages to screw everything up, they re-post the job and tell everyone how the project was not finished properly by the previous developer. What did they expect? They hired a programmer charging $100 for a job that was worth maybe more than $400.

    Looking at my situation:
    Right now, I’m getting more money from old clients that come back to me to help them on their new projects.
    I always lose on freelancing websites to some random worker charging half of my bid and getting the employer’s approval.
    I really think I need to change something. And fast.

    I started signing my application under a name that makes people think “we’re” a firm, company or software dev studio. Perhaps I should take it further and actually make a name for mys… ourselves. Build some free software to become more ‘famous’. To build something like a fan base, if you wish. Build some commercial software and then sell it, to increase the income. Instead of hoping for some employer to show up on a website, willing to pay for an application, I should think of a good one myself and then try to sell it. Maybe it will get viral, just like Doodle Jump, haha. Still, making 10.000.000 dollars with a $.99 app is insane ๐Ÿ˜€
    My point is: an employer who wants to get the job done perfectly and he/she means it, won’t expect it to be done cheap. Most likely, such an employer won’t be lurking around freelance websites where “public abstract workers” lie. Such an employer tries to find out who/what are the most competent developers/companies and then tries to contact them to negotiate a price for the job.
    In short, your portfolio looks best on your website. Not on a job marketplace site.

    I bet more experienced developers laughed after reading all of my text above (mainly because I’m a stupid n00b thinking that I’m good enough to make business), but that’s how I think about everything right now. Might be wrong, might be right by doing this, but I advise all starting freelancers (especially hi-school/college ones) who use remote workforce websites, that they should try moving on once they believe their work is worth *more*. Working hard for little money is bad for your sanity. Still, occasionally bidding on such websites might be a good idea. Who knows, maybe lady luck will smile on you and you’ll find an employer not willing to pay $50 for a $400 job :) It’s also a good idea to keep the employers once they hire you. If you start working for them privately, your payment won’t get cut down by each website’s fees. Needless to say, if an employer is happy with your work, he will come back to you again.

    Nice article really. I’m not doing $30k per year; I can only dream about such a sum of money right now :) I noticed that most web design projects are well paid for beginners but that’s not in my area of interests. I’m not a HTML/JS/PHP guy and I’m a sitting duck in Photoshop. I’m aiming to become a software engineer and won’t let anything stand in my way. Not even the differences between beginners’ pay @ programming and beginners’ pay @ webdesign :)

  19. ShyAelha Taylor says:

    I’m a good writer but I’m a high school student I mean I can make time but I want to know if I can really make money.

  20. Calum says:

    I was just wondering which website you freelance on as a high school student.

    • Mike Smith says:

      My personal opinion is to stay away from the bidding websites and build your own portfolio so you can contact potential clients directly. You can find potential clients by searching for tweets like “web designer”, or “logo designer”, etc. You can also check out job boards for potential work.

  21. Demitri Daniel says:

    Hello, I’m a newly high school graduate looking for writing gigs, however, I have no idea where to start. I have no experience or scholastic accolades to render myself a more potential resource to employers. What should I do?
    p.s. I am aware of the original date of this article so I completely understand if this reply goes unnoticed. Thank You.

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