Freelancers, contractors, outsourced workers, remote employees: the many terms for those who sell their skills reflects the astronomical increase of the ‘side hustle.’
The rise of the gig economy is driven by changing business needs, globalization, and the realization that productivity and sitting in an office chair don’t always go hand in hand.
There were 53 million Americans doing freelance work in 2018, making up 34% of the total national workforce. In the EU, contractors represent 16% of all workers. Since over half of the global freelance workforce is under the age of 30, it’s a safe bet that this trend is here to stay.
Contrary to the beliefs of many, freelance jobs aren’t a last resort: over 60% of US freelancers said they’re doing working independently, or for themselves, by choice.
But while more and more workers are choosing to become contractors, very few are volunteering. Right up there with flexibility and independence, earning more money is one of the top reasons employees are becoming freelancers.
Unfortunately, dreams of endless dough aren’t a reality for many freelancers. The average contractor worldwide earns just $19 USD per hour, according to a 2018 study by Payoneer. However, the rates for freelance work vary wildly, anywhere from $3 per hour to $100, depending on your skillset, experience, and location.
So which freelancers are earning the most? The most in-demand skills in the modern gig economy may surprise you. Here are the types of freelance jobs that are set to earn the most in 2020 and beyond.
Web and software development
- +625,000 active freelancers
- Over 20% earn more than $50/hour
- Best side hustles: Amazon Web services, WordPress, mobile development.
While development isn’t usually thought of as a ‘side hustle’, the irregular demand for software experienced by many smaller businesses makes development the perfect fit for a freelance workflow.
There’s no shortage of clients looking for outsourced web design or software development. Over 600,000 developers are active on freelance sites such as Fiverr or Upwork. Over one-fifth of those earn more than $50.00 USD per hour. Some of the most in-demand skills include Amazon Web Services, WordPress, React Native, and mobile development.
As more and more of Gen Z comes of age, the demand for responsive and interactive software will only increase. A freelance career in development is one of the most stable contract based gigs you can get.
Design and Creative
- +600,000 active freelancers
- 14% earn more than $60/hour
- Best side hustles: Augmented Intelligence, Sustainable Design
For many small to medium size businesses (SMBs), their logo is their business. It’s how customers recognize you, know you, and trust you. UX designers, graphic designers, and other illustrators have become essential for any business looking to capture their audience’s attention in an increasingly noisy world.
Creative professional freelancers can provide a personalized and targeted approach, which is often more effective than a mega-agency’s one-size-fits-all solutions. In fact, there are over 150,000 graphic design contractors on Upwork alone.
Due to the piecemeal nature of graphic design work (very few companies require more than one logo), it’s become an extremely popular type of freelance job. Stay up to date on current industry trends (such as the use of AI, virtual reality, and augmented reality) to command an even higher hourly rate.
Wordsmiths, et al.
- +570,000 active freelancers
- 6% earn more than $50/hour
- Best side hustles: Translation, Content Marketing
As more and more businesses shift towards serving a global audience, the need for talented writers in every language is booming.
Sure, Google Translate works alright – if you’re a desperate traveller just looking to find the nearest washroom.
But businesses looking to enter new cultural or linguistic markets need a professional who understands the nuances of words, expressions, and more. Google does many things well, but local sayings, idioms, and cultural meanings are often missed by translation software.
So where should the aspiring contract writer begin on Duolingo? The most sought-after freelancers are professionals who can write and translate Mandarin, Spanish, and Arabic.
Another important niche for freelance writers is SEO writing and content marketing. Blog posts that rank highly for important keywords can get a business to the holy grail of organic customer acquisition: the first page of Google. Useful content that drives customers to your business is invaluable in this advertising saturated world.
In this writer’s unbiased opinion, a well written blog is a powerful thing.
- +400,000 active freelancers
- 2% earn more than $60/hour
- Best side hustles: healthcare admin, real estate admin, other highly specialized industries
Administrative assistants probably aren’t the first category you’d think of when describing a ‘freelancer’. But modern admin assistants or ‘virtual admins’ are much more than secretaries: duties include training and onboarding, project management, and customer service. Forget the ‘Mad Men’-esque image of a secretary filing papers and fetching coffee: modern virtual admin assistants are the lifeblood of a business.
While some freelance admin assistants don’t earn quite as much as other technical or creative contractors, rates vary considerably depending on experience.
For example, virtual admin assistants with experience in specialized industries like healthcare, insurance, or real estate can command much higher salaries. With a few courses, freelance admin assistants can pick up valuable industry-specific experience, greatly increasing the hourly rate they can command.
Accounting and finance
- +165,000 active freelancers
- 46% earn more than $50/hour
- Best side hustles: tax preparers, strategic planning and financial analysis, Quickbooks Experts
Accountants and other financial advisors are much more than simple number crunchers. Freelance bookkeeping is an industry that has been heavily utilized by small businesses in the past, and will likely continue to grow. Financial planning, strategic advice, tax planning, and business consulting are all essential functions that more business owners are outsourcing.
While freelance financial advisors number less than their creative counterparts, they typically earn more – much more. Looking at pay alone, accounting and finance were the highest paid categories on Upwork and Guru. Nearly half of freelance financial professionals make over $50 per hour.
Bookkeeping, cash flow forecasting, and tax preparation are types of freelance jobs that are expected to grow in 2020. Sought after designations include CPAs (Certified Professional Accountants), Quickbooks Certified ProAdvisor, and CPB (Certified Professional Bookkeeper).
How to choose the right side hustle for you
At the end of the day, contractors are choosing to work for themselves to increase their job satisfaction and work life balance. So, choose a type of freelance job that aligns with your personal preferences.
Are you looking to make as much money as possible, then retire on a beach? Or maybe you are already downsizing, and are simply looking to top up a fixed income with a few hours of work a week. Whatever your professional and financial goals may be, let them guide you when considering a new freelance career.