I dropped out of school at a young age and never developed a formal education. I was fortunate enough to be a very curious kid and a bit of a loner, so I spent my days reading, creating, and learning—albeit not under the guidance of a tutor—and that ensured I didn’t have the mental capacity of a 12yr old, despite having the education of one.
I always wanted to be a writer and worked toward this goal from a very young age. I assumed that qualifications wouldn’t be necessary for this and that my writing would speak for itself. After all, agents/publishers ask for cover letters and sample chapters, not diplomas and degrees. But there have been times where I have regretted not getting a formal education, times when that simple piece of paper could have made my life much easier.
And that brings me to the point of this blog: do you need qualifications to be a successful freelancer?
When it Does Matter
If you’re just starting out then you won’t have experience. You won’t have completed any projects and you won’t have any references. This is where qualifications can help. A client needs a reason to hire you above other writers, a reason to choose your empty and brand new profile over one that is much more experienced, and qualifications can be that reason.
Relevant degrees not only prove that you know what you’re talking about, but they also show that you’re comfortable with academia, which is key for any clients seeking academic or technical writers.
I was a successful author before I moved into freelancing and that “bestselling author” tag was enough to get me jobs early on and to discount the lack of qualifications. But if you don’t have a previous career as an author, journalist or anything similar, a stack of qualifications is your best bet.
There are also major clients who will insist on qualifications and will ignore anyone who doesn’t have them. I once found myself on a shortlist for a job posted by one of the biggest brands in the world. They chose me and two others from a list of hundreds. They openly stated that they loved my submission and they were seemingly ready to hire me, but one of the final steps was to send a CV (a rarity in freelancing, but common with big firms) and to have at least a Bachelors degree. They assumed I had it and that it would be a mere formality, which is seemingly why they never brought it up until the last minute, but I didn’t, and as a result I had no choice but to withdraw.
When it Doesn’t Matter
A wealth of experience looks better to the average client than a stack of qualifications, but as mentioned above, that isn’t true for all of them and there are times when degrees will be useful. In that case, they are not essential to be a successful freelancer, but they will make your life a little easier.
You can easily make 6 figures a year without qualifications providing you work hard, write fast, and sacrifice your free time. But you also need to know what you’re doing and to be very good at what you’re doing, and if you don’t have a background in creative writing, journalism or academia, then that simply may not be the case.
The good news is that it is possible to make a lot of money freelancing without qualifications, the bad news is that it isn’t easy.
It’s like anything really, experience usually trumps qualifications, but not for all projects or all professions. If you want to enter the world of estate planning law or medicine, then you better be prepared to go through years of schooling because no one is going to let you take a stab at removing their appendix just because you’re handy with a knife, but if you want to make it as an artist, musician, or pretty much any other creative field, your past work is often proof enough of your capabilities.