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Letitia Henville

How I’m Hiring a Student to Support My Freelance Editing Business

Illustration of two women working together, each with a laptop on her lap sitting on red armchairs facing each other.
Illustration of two women working together, each with a laptop on her lap sitting on red armchairs facing each other.
teravector © 123RF.com

I’ve never been happy with the look of my website, shortishard.ca. Yet, I’ve never needed to update it, because I get all my work through referrals, word of mouth or my monthly column, Ask Dr Editor. In 2021, though, things are going to change: I’m hiring an undergraduate student to make my website finally look good.

Now’s a great time to hire a student, especially if you want help with marketing or communications work: for eligible positions, the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) is subsidizing the salaries of students who are Canadian citizens, permanent residents or people with refugee status in Canada. Specifically, SWPP will cover 75 per cent of a student’s salary up to $7,500 for work completed up to March 31, 2021.

Student Work Placement Program funders

SWPP funding is distributed by a few different funders, but the ones I think most appropriate for editors are

  • Technation, which subsidizes tech-focused roles including technology consultants, business analysts, sales and business development, project management, social media, digital marketing, graphic arts, user experience and design, and creative communications; and
  • Magnet, which subsidizes roles similar to those above, without the need for a tech focus. This program also subsidizes research-related work.

If you’re not sure if your role fits with Technation’s emphasis on immersing students in technology, then Magnet is a great choice. Note, though, that Magnet requires students to be registered in a work-integrated learning program at their institution — an internship or a co-operative education program — which may mean offering them a minimum of 250 or 280 hours of employment, depending on your student employee’s program.

Hiring a student as an employee

One key difference between SWPP and the kind of employment that most freelancers are accustomed to is that you must hire them as an employee rather than as an independent contractor. Check your province’s definitions of these terms; here in B.C., the Employee or Independent Contractor Factsheet covers these differences.

I’ve never administered payroll before, but it was easy for me to call the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and ask for a remuneration number to be added to my existing incorporated business. CRA just needed my business number, and the process took only a few minutes. I then signed up with Rise for free payroll software. (Unfortunately, Rise’s free payroll software isn’t available in Quebec.)

I suspect the reason that the SWPP requires these students be hired as employees is that they want their employment experience to include mentorship from the person who hires them. I’m excited to help my student learn about self-employment while she and I work together in the first three months of 2021. I’m also offering to pay for her self-study in WordPress, because I know that she has a great design eye but isn’t yet comfortable with that platform.

Breaking down the numbers

At $22 an hour (the maximum hourly wage that Technation will cover), and assuming 12 per cent for the Workers’ Compensation Board, employment insurance and Canada Pension Plan, it’ll cost me $3,000 to hire my student for the first three months of 2021. But after I’ve paid her and can prove to the SWPP that she’s done this work, I’ll receive approximately $2,250 in a refund. So, my 120 hours of work will cost me only $750 — or $6.25 an hour.

My student will earn a decent wage — about 1.5 times my province’s minimum wage — and she’ll get a deep dive into running a freelance business, something that should be of substantial value to her if she ends up graduating into the COVID economy.

Finding the right student for the job

Of course, the final step in the process is finding a great undergraduate student to support your business. I’m well-connected to a number of smart, skilled undergraduates through my work in the UBC Arts Co-op office, and so I drew on that network to invite a student I know and like to work with me next year.

If you’re able to offer 280 hours of work between Jan. 4 and March 31 — hiring a student for three eight-hour days per week, at a cost of $7,100 upfront, $1,775 after reimbursement — then the UBC Arts Co-op office can post your job and send you student applications. The co-operative education programs of any number of Canadian institutions could do the same — everyone is working remotely, so you could hire from anywhere in Canada.

If you’re not able to meet the 280-hour minimum threshold, though, then draw on your networks to find a student, or post on your favourite university’s job board. Just be clear that you can consider only the applications of Canadian citizens, permanent residents and people with refugee status, to save international students the trouble of submitting an application for a job they were ineligible for due to funding restrictions.

Is it worth it?

Is it worth it for me to spend $750 (and time hiring and mentoring my student employee) to update my website? What’s the ROI for this investment? To be honest, I have no idea. I never claimed to be a strategic businessperson. I’m just not a very good capitalist. But my business is successful enough that I can afford to hire this student, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with her, to empower her against wage exploitation after she graduates.

If you’ve ever thought of hiring a university student, either to support your business or as an apprentice editor, now’s a great time to do so.

This blog post is intended to share one person’s experience only. If you are interested in hiring a student, please read the fine print on the SWPP program to which you submit, as well as the Employment Standards Act in your and your employee’s jurisdiction(s).

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Previous post from Letitia Henville: Top Three Fixes for Academic Research Grant Applications

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