In the Spring 2017 semester, McHenry County College debuted a new course: Digital Freelancing. I was lucky enough to run the first iteration online!
This is the course that I wish existed when I was in school. Before it existed, I used to get students asking my advice on their hourly rates or how to create a contract. A few semesters ago, I used one session of the Web Development I course to go over the business basics and recommend some reading materials, which eventually became the MCCDGM (digital media department) homepage. I didn’t want my students to make the same mistakes that I did starting out with my own business.
Because this was a brand-new course, a lot of content needed to be created:
- Business structures and registration
- Differentiating your brand
- Understanding your target audience (and how to reach them)
- Working with troublesome clients
- Drumming up new business
- Creating a contract that both parties will be happy to sign
- Rights management for creative works
- Figuring out what to charge
- Hiring employees and subcontractors
- Understanding self-employment taxes
- Funding opportunities
- Creating a formal business plan
I certainly had my hands full. Our previous department chair, Meri, likes to say that she is an educator first and a developer second (and that I am the opposite because I’m still so active in the field). I’m pretty evenly split between my design/dev work and my work as an educator, so this course was a good fit: I could bring my experience in the field (mistakes and all) to the course material.
Some of my students already had experience freelancing, but were undercharging or working without a contract. A few others were evaluating whether a traditional job or freelancing would be a better fit.
For the final, students created a formal business plan, with all the details you’d send to an investor: sales forecasts, breakeven analysis, target market strategies, and so on. It ended up being a pretty bulky project, but not so overwhelming once it was clear that we covered the majority of each section in previous homework assignments. As one student observed:
Sometimes I wonder if all of this is really necessary, but YES it is—how can you expect to realistically just “wing it” going into business?
I’m so proud of how hard my students (in Digital Freelancing as well as Website Development I!) worked this semester, and I’m excited for the next iteration of this course.