This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, iPleaders.
In the last two years of my college, I earned between 50,000 and 90,000 per month, working about 6-7 hours a day. I have helped numerous other students achieve the goal of earning money while studying, usually to support their studies, most in the range of 10,000-15,000 per month. I will tell you how you can too, if you want.
My parents always told me “never run after money, only focus on your studies”.
It’s not that we had a lot of money. We could just about afford the necessities of life. There wasn’t much of discretionary spending possible. We still used to buy tons and tons of books though. Somehow we always had money for books.
I used to come up with business ideas as a kid as well as a teen ager. Those vagaries were strictly discouraged.
Anyway, I got into law school. I took an education loan which was to cover 80% of the fees over 5 years. My father and later mother came up with the rest.
Unfortunately, halfway through my 2nd year the university decided to dramatically increase the fees. From 67000 a year it was suddenly 1.3 lakhs per year. I was dumbfounded. What the hell would I do now?
I remember the anxiety even today. That’s what made me write my first blogpost ever. It was about why such a fee increase was unfair.
First I thought students will revolt and protest. But that never happened.
Most others were not particularly bothered about this fee hike. The average NLU student, at least in those times, used to be fairly rich and this wasn’t even a noticeable increase for them.
Some teachers asked me to apply for a scholarship. I did. But I wasn’t qualified for the scholarship, as preference was given to disabled and those from backward castes. Both my parents worked for government. I wasn’t poor enough to get scholarship, but not rich enough to afford the fee either.
I approached the bank. The manager said that they will increase the loan as I go to a good institute. But they will need a security. My parents had no property to their name except a plot of land where they wanted to build a house someday.
They decided to mortgage it. My mother was planning to sell the little gold she had. They never hesitated. They never wondered what if I don’t get a job after such expensive education etc. I hope I make them right to an extent today.
My heart was breaking. I didn’t want them to mortgage anything.
I told them hold on to it. I still had some time till my existing loan would run out, in the middle of my 3rd year. I had time till then.
So what to do? Now I knew, this is the time. I was going to earn. I didn’t know how, just 19 years old. But I would.
That decision changed my life. Within another year, I was earning more than my parents earned put together, through freelancing. I was creating study material for IMS CLAT coaching, ghost writing books, taking CLAT classes, promoting legal education in schools, and even doing some legal work on the side such as drafting contracts. I not only managed to pay my fees, it also enabled me to do many other things, such as travelling abroad for conferences, traveling to almost every state in India and getting access to the social circles I wanted to be part of. Later, when I sat for job interviews, that experience of doing work on my own was very valuable.
When the goal is clear, there is no stopping.
I wrote an article last week about why doing cheap online courses can be detrimental to one’s career. I also promised in that article that if you can’t afford a properly priced premium course, I will tell you how to earn enough so that you can break free from financial dire straits, so that you can afford to invest in yourself.
Change what you believe
Students are programmed with many belief systems that prevent them from even attempting to earn. Before I tell you what are the specific ways to earn, I want to tell you that unless you detect these faulty programming and take action to counter them, there is very little chance that you are ever going to earn on the side as a student.
Your biggest restraint is that you only have limited time. You are going to compete with people who are working full time. You are not only new, but also forced to work only a few hours. So you must choose what to do and how to do very carefully.
Also, you must be as good as anybody else doing that work, if not better. You have to be professional. You can’t use your age or inexperience to justify low quality work, or undue delays. If you do that, you will be quickly discarded or treated like a lowly intern who gets a stipend and not a salary.
The biggest barrier for most students is that they do not believe that they deserve to be paid for work. If you don’t believe that you deserve, nobody else will either. It all starts from here.
Once you believe firmly that you are going to do work that is good enough to be paid for, the next step is to actually give it your all. The gap between belief and reality has to be bridged with hard work.
But you get what you deserve. Start with the firm belief that you are going to produce work worth paying for. I never doubted this for a moment. But when I started mentoring others, I noticed this was the biggest stumbling block. If you can’t really believe it, fake it till you make it works here.
Remember, the advice I am giving you is counterintuitive. Most people don’t do this and don’t believe in this.
You got to believe.
The first CLAT module I created, I was paid Rs 9000 for it. The last one I developed for someone else, it was Rs 90,000.
The last book I had ghostwritten, brought me around 2,00,000. While I was still a student. I was paying income tax while others just looked forward to attending income tax law classes.
I believed I was worth it, and asked for it without any hesitation. I was worth it. I got it. If I asked for 20,000, I would have got that.
Build a team
One person is nothing. No matter how smart. A team is always better. I used to turn in work at record speed, because I built up a team around me. In every business I have been involved in, my real secret to success has been my team. Relationship with some of the team members and others who still help me today date back to college days! For example, I met my cofounder Abhyuday back in college. Some of the people I got to know back then and collaborated with are now rising stars in their chosen fields. We still collaborate!
Build teams, build relationships, share the benefits with others and do not try to do everything on your own. Your chances of success will be higher if you find the right team.
You need to network
If the people who can potentially give you work do not even know who you are, how are you supposed to get work? You need to play the long game here. People take time to trust. Keep in touch with people, give them reasons to remember you and like you. Give them a taste of your abilities, even if for no cost initially. Once people know that you can generate value for them, its possible to ask for a reasonable price. The more value you generate, and more clear it is to both parties, more you can raise your rates over time.
Networking does not mean giving your cards to people and shaking hands. Networking means meeting people who you need to impress, or build long term relationship with, and then demonstrating to them what value you can generate. Usually, you need to give before you can ask.
More than anything else, treat people well, with respect and kindness. That goes a very long way.
Develop your skills and reputation in a specific area
The biggest mistake you can make is to go wide. You need to go very specific, and very narrow. You need to dominate a small niche rather than targeting a big market.
Let me give you an example. I met a very promising young man in his 1st year. He had good tech talents considering he was a first year law student. But then he wanted to do many things, which one cannot blame him for. But he didn’t do one single, specific thing long enough to make a dent. He tried his hands in this and that, and having dabbled in many different things finally his time in college was up. It is not that he never earned anything, but it was not anything significant because he never committed to one specific thing.
One of the reasons I made very handsome figures as a college student (when I joined a big law firm after graduation, it was only a small pay hike) was that I kept working around the same area over the years. I learnt new skills, worked on new projects, experimented but all were related to education, specifically around how to crack competitive exams, teach law, build online communities, writing blog posts etc. Everything was connected. Teaching, blogging and law were the passion I pursued over all the years till today. If you do one thing for long enough you start getting good at it. You discover new things about it, and get to experiment on new aspects. You also build reputation, create trust all around and the more time you spend the better this factor gets. Those who just dabble will never get to know!
Stay focused. Over the years, build expertise in something, or even a bunch of well-connected skills and if you chose a small niche, you will begin to dominate it even before you graduate. That’s how you get to make money even as a student!
Step 1 – What would someone pay for?
Consider, what are the skills you have for which people will pay you?
Alternatively, what pain points to people have that you can solve that they will pay you?
In New York, there are dog walkers who make tons of money. Some dog walkers make more money than an engineer or a banker or a lawyer.
How is that possible?
Walking dogs is very important for dog owners. They want a reliable, trustworthy person. A very busy person is ready to pay a decent sum every month to a dog walker because the dog walker takes all the trouble of walking a dog, making time for it, following a schedule etc away.
Note that it doesn’t take great skills. It just takes time and care.
What can you do for wealthy people in your environment to take their trouble away? A common thing is writing the essays for rich kids. All of you must have heard about it. This falls in the same category, but if you think harder you can come up with better problems.
Can you help a lawyer in creating and maintaining a website? Can you help them with content writing?
Every lawyer wants to write books. They have money but they don’t have time. Can you help them to make their dreams of becoming a published author come true? Many will happily give you a very decent sum of money for that.
Can you ghost write articles for them and then help them to publish the same in newspapers and blogs? Of course, you will incorporate their inputs and let them finalize the final look and message. But if you can take away most of the grunt work from them, and do a good job at it, you will be very surprised by how much money you can make.
I had a friend who was drafting petitions and applications for INR 4000 per task back in 2010 for a lawyer in Delhi while he was sitting in Kolkata. The lawyer had too much work, no juniors or patience to train or handle them. He was happy to get the work done reliably and predictably and paid well for it.
I know someone who helps NGOs to raise funds, by making presentations, writing emails, speaking over phone and setting appointments for pitching. She does this as a service for several NGOs and make a very handsome sum.
A law student I know from his first year, began to offer fitness training and dietary advice to the girls in the hostel who wanted to slim down. It was hard to find the first couple of clients, but after that as results were visible, he had more than he could handle and raised his rates. When he graduated, predictably, he chose to go into the fitness industry, and I only assume he earns very well.
One easy thing to do to get quick money is social media marketing. You can help a startup or some local brand to manage their social media presence. Maybe you can manage their snapchat or instagram? If you do it well, in a way that generate revenue or branding for them, you can expect to get paid.
You can even help lawyers to create systems to manage their offices or clients better. Maybe a better filing system? Or introducing software for higher efficiency? They will pay you for it if your service is valuable.
It is also possible to get paid legal work from them. You will not get paid as much as a lawyer does, obviously, but if you can turn in a good first draft, it saves a lot of time for lawyers and the busy ones will pay you for it. You need to figure out who those lawyers are though, and how they are going to trust you.
Always check after internship if the lawyers who were happy with your work will like to give you some work even afterwards. Don’t ask for money at this point, just keep doing it and get them comfortable with the remote working arrangement. Later you can request to be paid! If your work is actually useful, they will not say no.
These are jobs that need not always require a lot of skills. Others require skills you can easily learn, and still others that will take years to learn.
Step 2 – How are you going to ask for it
It is not too bad to just walk up to them and ask. Worst you will ever hear is a no. Many a times when I was young I used to walk up to people completely blank, without any preparation and then asked for opportunities. I got rejected a lot. But some people said yes. I stayed in touch with the people who said no as well. Some day some of them did come back!
But the best way is to go prepared. I learned that over time. You can start right from the beginning. It’s much better.
Do a requirement analysis. Talk to people, do market research. Talk to 15-20 people trying to discover the real pain points. Then you will know exactly what you need to offer and how much to charge.
Let me give you an example.
How can you figure out whether to offer guitar lessons in college to other students, or create an youtube channel where you give guitar lessons? Or maybe you should try to find out some wealthy clients outside the college?
It’s tough, right?
Start talking to people. Who are the people who want to learn guitar? What is their motivation? Why are they not already learning? Have they bought a guitar? Do they want you to help them to choose a guitar? What sort of guitar do people want to learn?
And most of all, what is the problem? Why have they not already learned? Where are they stuck?
Maybe you find out that many people who bought expensive guitars then lost motivation. They felt lazy. Is it possible that if you give them lessons inside their hostel room, they will actually do it? Are they ready to pay a decent sum for it? That would depend on their motivation. If the goal is to serenade the girlfriend on her next birthday, and impress her with guitar skills, motivation is high. One would pay.
Similarly, you may find out that the local builders have a big problem in getting certain paperwork done. Lawyers charge a lot. They don’t really need a lawyer to do it. What if you could do it? What if you can get a part time job drafting real estate contracts for 2-3 local builders? What if you start offering services to help them to comply with applicable labour laws?
What if you could find a startup which needs some legal support? Maybe it can’t afford a proper lawyer yet, could you help them with some basic things as a paralegal and charge a fee?
There are thousands of possible options. But to pitch it right, you have to understand what is the pain point of your target group, and then propose a solution. How much they will pay you depends on how motivated they are to solve that particular problem.
Once you know what is the motivation, what is the pain point and what value people want but find hard to come by, you will also know where to find your customers. And you will know exactly what to say to them to open up their purses!
You tell people what their problem is, show them that you understand the problem, and then offer a solution. Not all will buy, but many will. That’s a very simple way to pitch your services!
Step 3 – take money first
Once you have a confirmed client, please make sure to take the money. Either an advance. Or if possible, the full amount. This serves two purposes.
One, as a rookie freelancer, you don’t know yet, but collecting money is a big problem for freelancers. A lot of time you do the work and don’t get paid. This is a typical problem in India.
Only serious people will give advance. Those who don’t, don’t work with them. So taking advance ensures that client is serious. I recommend minimum 50% advance.
Exception, when you are very new and do not have a reputation or success stories to show off yet, work for free. For a bit. Maybe a couple of days, maybe 10% of the work. Just to give a taste. Then insist that you must get paid to continue. If you don’t get paid, there may be two reasons. One is that your work is not worth paying for. Introspect, find out the truth. Ask around. See who is getting paid and if there is a difference in quality.
The other possibility is that the employer does not value you, for whatever reason. Or maybe his business is tanking, or just that he wants to exploit people. Either way, don’t waste your time there. Move to another potential client.
Also, taking money already means you must deliver. You make it serious for yourself too. There is no wriggle room after you take that advance. Go and make things happen.
Step 4 – Deliver
A very important step. How good the delivery is decides your future success. Did you do it well enough that you will be asked for the same service again? Are you going to get more, better paid work? Will you get referrals?
All that depends on the quality of delivery. Don’t compromise here.
Step 5 – ask for success stories, testimonials and referrals and showcase them
Many rookies think that after delivery you get paid and it’s over. No, it’s just the beginning if you have done the work well. You must keep in touch, you must give them reminders about when they should take the next set of actions, and you must ask for testimonial, which you are then going to display. In a physical business it can be on the wall, but these days it is far more profitable to get it on the internet. Make sure you get your reviews, testimonial, or case study, whatever makes sense, and put it out there for everyone to see.
Also don’t forget to take the bad feedback too. What could you do better? What was not quite upto the mark. This is also important for you to learn and then evolve.
You got to promote your success. You have to showcase it. Don’t miss that little but critical step. This will help you to get your next set of clients, or even repeat business. Nothing sells like results and success.
Most importantly, get out there and get started. It’s a long way, and you are not going to stumble into a regular income. It is the result of steady and long term effort.