I got a lot of comments and emails about last week’s idea of freelancing as a way to find your passion and succeed as an analyst. I have been freelancing for more than five years and have done it full-time since 2013. Besides making extra money, it can be a great way to build your skill set before you land that dream job.
I thought I would share my story of how I got started as well as some tips for CFA candidates looking into the possibility of freelancing as an investment analyst.
Freelancing Opportunities for CFA Candidates
Freelancing is nothing more than working for yourself, finding small projects where you can and not being held to any single employer. There are two great benefits to freelancing for CFA candidates.
- The obvious benefit is extra money. You can charge by the project or by the hour with hourly rates ranging from $25 to several thousand dollars an hour for highly qualified CFA charterholders or candidates.
- You can use freelancing to gain practical experience while you are studying for the CFA exams. Employers want to see that you can apply what the CFA curriculum teaches you before they take a chance to extend a full-time position. I have gotten full-time job offers from people for whom I did freelance work.
There are risks and headaches to freelancing as well. You won’t make much to start and will have to do a lot of work just to get your first clients. You may even have to do some free analysis just to show people what you can do. One of my first projects was a report on the affect of market integration in Latin America. It wasn’t a paid project but something I wanted to do to show my ability as an analyst. It took several weeks to complete but ended up getting me an invite to speak as a panel expert at a Bloomberg conference in New York.
Occasionally you may also run into clients that refuse to pay or have to be reminded several times. This is extremely frustrating, especially if you’ve already delivered the work. Contracts outlining the payment terms help but are not really enforceable unless you want to spend a lot of money on legal fees. It’s rare that this happens but can turn you off freelancing when it does.
Despite the risks and occasional frustration, freelancing is a great option for CFA candidates. It can be fairly easy to get started but you’ll need to make sure you hit the important points.
How to Start Freelancing as an Investment Analyst
Freelancing as an investment analyst is pretty much the same as any freelancing strategy but it’s the job that appeals most to CFA candidates. The truth is that your freelancing business will probably grow to offering other services like white paper reports, content writing and consulting. Of course, the first thing to do if you are already employed is to get written permission to freelance from your employer.
You first need some practical skills. The CFA curriculum is great for understanding how the markets work and some of the tools you’ll use as an analyst but there isn’t much practical exercise in the curriculum. I started with a few financial statement modeling courses and small writing jobs to hone my skills. If you are not a proficient writer, you will need to put in some practice. Even if you are doing almost all your work in an Excel model, you still need to be able to explain the model and potential outcomes in a report. Holding the CFA charter or candidacy will help get your foot in the door, being able to write well will get you the job.
You will also need a basic website to present yourself as well as highlight some of your previous work. The site does not have to be expensive but should be professional-looking. You can launch a website for as little as $5 a month for hosting and just use basic WordPress themes.
Your freelancing business should be doing something you enjoy. You are probably not going to make much money at first so it helps to enjoy the work and be able to see future benefits.
Getting your first jobs will be difficult unless you already have some work experience to present. Make sure it is permissible to present your previous work from employers before posting it on your website. A few websites like Seeking Alpha will allow you to post short analysis and may even pay you to do it. Take some time to read through other articles to see how to put something together and publish. You may also want to reach out to other freelancers and offer to help with their projects. You’ll learn a lot in just a few short months and will have a portfolio of projects to present.
You might try posting for projects on the freelancer websites like Upwork and Freelancer but I have never seen much from these. In more than five years, I have only gotten four projects from these types of sites. Your best bet is reaching out to contacts to let them know you are freelancing and asking if they will refer your name to anyone in need of help.
After a while, people will start coming to you from your website and referrals. Make sure you only promise work that you can complete and deadlines that you can meet. The first job for a client is nice but you will only succeed if you can keep clients coming back for more work. Do well enough and you may find that you continue freelancing even after you pass the CFA exams.
‘til next time, happy freelancing!
Joseph Hogue, CFA