The dos and don’ts of graduate self-employment.

This week, we spoke to Tom Davenport, Founding Director at TPD Digital about the dos and don’ts of graduate self-employment.

What do you do when you’re stuck in a dead-end retail job with nothing to your name besides a Bachelor’s degree that has thus far proven pretty useless? Buying a second-hand camera from Ebay for a volunteer job that you haven’t even had the interview for yet probably wasn’t your answer… but it was mine.

I graduated in Music Technology from Keele University back in 2015. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Keele. And I loved Music Tech. But actually finding a viable career from the degree as a graduate was a whole different story. You’ve seen it all before I’m sure. The classic “To apply for this role you need exactly 14 years of industry experience, proficiency in every software known to man and expertise in all of the skills that funnily enough, weren’t on offer at your University”. Yikes.Tired of typing cover letters and scouring an assortment of samey job sites for anything and everything even slightly related to my degree, I decided to take a step back.

‘I broadened my horizons. What else was I capable of?’

I broadened my horizons. What else was I capable of? What other skills had I picked up along the way?

I suppose the liability of spending nine grand a year on a Music Technology course initially prevented me from even considering other options. But what if getting a degree wasn’t the end of my education? What if it was just the beginning? I realised that I needed to pivot. I had to change course (figuratively speaking). Naturally, this led me back to the job sites. But that’s not the point.

I was more open-minded now and this led me to stumble across a voluntary media position, making videos to promote children’s sports and theatre sessions. During my time at University I had taken a few elective media modules and also found that video was an important part of Music Tech (creating audio for video etc.). So using that to my advantage, I applied for the job and bagged myself an interview!

By giving my time away for free at the start, I had increased the worth of my time in the future.

Quickly establishing that I couldn’t film anything good on my budget smartphone, I headed to eBay and bought a pre-owned Canon DSLR for around £200. I figured that one of the first questions the employer would ask me is “Do you have a camera?”. Well as it turns out, that was one of the first questions. Though following my excitable confirmation the employer responded with “Great, we have one anyway if you need it”. *Facepalm*

Nonetheless, I started the following week. My part-time retail job funded the taxis to and from the sessions. While I had free time at home I was editing the videos. It wasn’t easy. But quickly I learned a LOT. Six months later I was getting paid to create video content for a new client and eventually the volunteer position started paying me too!

I had built the foundations of a business. By giving my time away for free at the start, I had increased the worth of my time in the future.

I know that the last thing you want to do when you graduate is learn more. And no one wants to work for free. But experience is essential. Keep working on yourself. Build your talent. Meet new people and network. Create those opportunities! It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

What have I learnt from starting a business as a graduate? Check out my Do’s and Don’ts below.

Some dos and don’ts of graduate self-employment:

1. Do remember that your education doesn’t end at graduation.

Never stop learning, never stop growing. Always be one step ahead of the competition. You will be faced with challenges and ultimately, adapting yourself and your business is essential if you wish to thrive.

2. Do diversify.

You can be the best at what you do but it doesn’t always guarantee reliable, paid work. Plus, you never know where your life will take you. Take advantage of the opportunities you have while you are young and try new things! It’s good to have options as an entrepreneur.

3. Do take your time.

Relax. If you are starting a business you need to have the right foundations in place. Build a portfolio, make connections and establish your core offer. Attend free networking and business support events to make your name known and learn business skills.

4. Don’t think that a degree = a high paying job/successful business

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. There are some great job opportunities out there but everyone is battling for them and they have the same qualifications as you! The same goes for business. You will always have competition. Come out of University ready to gain more experience and put in the extra hours to make your offer desirable and unique.

5. Don’t be afraid of working for free

Your time is valuable and you are worth every penny. But it’s going to be a lot harder to get experience if you don’t volunteer a little first. Do it in a way that suits you though, don’t put yourself in a difficult financial situation. You could try asking family and friends to be your first clients or provide a sample of your product/service for free.

6. Don’t let your degree define you

I understand, you have poured a lot of time, money and energy into your degree. It is an important part of who you are and what you can do. But remember that you have other qualities and skills. Use your individuality to your advantage and remember that people invest in people.

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