If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, you’ll want to get started the right way in the career path that generates the highest income, right?
Many new freelancers think that way. And it makes sense, doesn’t it?
But, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Just because a skill has a higher demand or pays better than the others doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best path to follow.
There’s a reason why some writers get paid $5 on Fiverr to write a 1000-word article while others make $100 for the same job somewhere else.
Getting paid well depends on your skill level, experience, and quality of work.
Having said that, it’s also important to know your market and see which type of jobs and skills get paid the most so that you can maybe start learning a new skill or plan for a future freelancing career.
Here are some of the top skills that pay the most.
1. AI Prompt Engineer
This is one of the newest jobs that’s seeing a rapid rise in the freelance marketplaces.
Prompt engineering is all about writing prompts for AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools to do the work for you. As a prompt engineer, your job is to control these tools by writing the correct prompts or giving commands to get the most out of the AI tools.
For example, popular AI tools like chatGPT will likely replace most of the jobs on this list very soon. It can already write articles, write code, design websites, and so much more. But it still needs humans to operate. You have to write a prompt to give the commands to chatGPT in order to get the right results. This is what writing prompts are all about.
Freelance job boards like Indeed and SimplyHired already have dozens of jobs for prompt engineers that pay well over $100K per year.
It’s a fairly new job category so there are still very few jobs available on popular marketplaces. But keep an eye out for this skill this year. It’s going to be one of the hottest jobs in the near future.
2. Programming & Software Development
(Image Credit: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg)
Meet James Knight, a programmer who left a lucrative job at Google to pursue a career in freelancing. Now, he makes over $1,000 an hour working as a freelance developer.
Now, that article is a bit dated and there are freelance coders out there who earn way more than $1K an hour these days.
Programming jobs, especially software and mobile app development, pay the highest for freelancers. Only because it’s a skill that’s quite difficult to master and there aren’t many good coders out there. So, the demand for good coders is pretty high.
If you want to make an income like James, start learning to code. And I don’t mean learning through free courses on CodeAcademy or Udemy. They’ll only take you through the basics. You’ll need to invest some money and time into learning and practicing to develop proper coding skills.
Of course, you won’t be able to start charging $1,000 an hour right away. You’ll have to gradually build up your reputation. If you have solid skills in programming languages like iOS and WebGL, you could start charging somewhere around $150 per hour, or more.
According to an UpWork survey, Bitcoin developers also have high demand. Most Bitcoin developers earn over $200 per hour.
3. Social Video Marketing
In a surprise turn of events, a new skill is born—”social video marketing”. The skill was ranked in third place on UpWork’s Q2 2019 fastest-growing skills list. And for good reason as well.
A quick search on the platform showed that this skill pays over $150 per hour for marketers.
It’s no surprise that this skill is in high demand. Especially given the rise of video content marketing. The booming social media channels such as TikTok, Instagram video, and YouTube, will keep this skill relevant for years to come.
If you’re skilled at creating video content, optimizing them for SEO, and capturing audiences with new ideas and marketing strategies, this skill will help bring many gigs your way.
4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is still one of the top skills you can learn to earn big money.
According to a 2023 survey by Upwork, SEO is the number one most in-demand skill in the marketing category on the platform.
Google is still the king of search engines and businesses are still competing to get higher rankings on search results pages. SEO is the only way to achieve that goal.
SEO is one of the easiest skills you can learn but it’s better learned with your own experience.
I recommend starting your own website and getting it to rank for keywords. It’s the best way to learn SEO while gaining good experience.
5. Web Design & Development
According to UpWork’s most in-demand skills list for 2022, Web Design ranks at number one with the highest demand. WordPress ranks at the 2nd spot.
There’s great demand for web designers. But, it’s worth noting that the freelance web design industry is pretty crowded right now because it’s easy to learn web design and start coding websites.
The best strategy to succeed is to find a niche in the field. For example, Jonathan Wold made over $5,000 a month by building websites with WordPress and doing small theme customizations. You’ll probably be able to earn more if you offer the right kind of services to the right clients.
6. Content Marketing & Writing
Thanks to the boom in online marketing trends and the development of new methodologies, like Inbound Marketing, content writing is considered one of the hottest fields for freelancers.
You don’t need to go anywhere to find proof of how well freelance writers are doing. Take me for example. Right now, I make around $5,000 a month (at least in most months) doing blogging work for businesses, writing, and content marketing work. And I know there are other freelance writers who earn much more.
Although, not everyone can be a skilled writer. You need to write, read, and, practice a lot. More importantly, you’ll need a creative mind to write amazing articles that pay well. Your master’s degree in literature and the A+ essay skills from college won’t do you any good when working online either.
The best bet would be to follow some online courses and learn how to write for online audiences.
7. Graphic Design
Graphic design ranks at number 10 on UpWork’s most in-demand skills list for 2022. But it’s still one of the best jobs to earn a steady income.
If you look at its top freelancers under the graphic design category, you’ll see some freelancers who make up to $85 per hour doing design work.
Infographic design has higher demand these days. Logo design, icon design, and illustrations pay pretty well too. But, like with content writing, to become a quality graphic designer, you’ll need to develop an eye for design.
Copywriters are different from content marketers and writers. These freelancers specialize in writing content for website pages, descriptions for products, services, etc.
The charge rates for copywriters depend on each freelancer’s level of experience and skill. Linda Formichelli, an experienced freelance copywriter, makes $250 per hour.
If you look at UpWork’s list of top copywriters, you’ll notice that they charge between $25 per hour to $100 per hour for copywriting jobs.
9. Video Editors
Freelance video editors in the US earn over $81,000 per year, while more experienced video editors make around $105,000 per year.
The demand for video editors in the freelance industry saw a rise in the last few years, thanks to the opportunities presented by platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
If you’re good at putting together video clips and creating awesome video content, this could be a great future-proof career to get into.
10. Social Media Managers
Social media marketing is the number one most in-demand skill in the marketing category of UpWork.
Social media marketing is an important part of brand and business marketing strategies. Almost every business, from small local coffee shops to big corporate brands, now use social networks to promote their products and brand.
This opened up a massive opportunity for freelancers when most of these brands and businesses started looking for people who would manage their social media channels for them. Now, it’s an entire industry of its own.
Earnings for social media managers in the US range from $46,000 per year up to $72,000 per year, according to PayScale. A quick search on LinkedIn brought up over 9,000 job results for Social Media Managers in the US alone. And over 2,000 jobs in India.
Some Friendly Advice
Most freelancers are always looking for ways to get rich quickly. Maybe all the stories about billion-dollar startup acquisitions and how people make quick millions with smartphone apps are starting to get to their heads.
As a result of the media hype, they don’t see the valuable message hidden inside all those success stories: It requires Hard Work to make money.
It took almost 5 years for Mark Zuckerberg to make Facebook a success. He didn’t even make any money through the platform in the first few years.
The moral of the story is: Don’t try to follow a career path just because it pays well. If you want to build a steady income and survive as a freelancer, choose to do work that you’re passionate about, work that gets you excited every day, and work that challenges you to learn something new every day.
That passion and burning desire inside you will drive you to be better at what you do and improve your skills and eventually leading you to earn more than ever before.
Learn to be patient as well. Because it will take some time before you start earning a steady income. And remember, you’ll only have to work hard for a short while. Then it’ll be like a walk in the park.
I also recommend you to read my how to start freelancing guide. And also check out the how to learn new skills guide.
Did you find this article useful? Then you should check out my book Freelance Like A Pro. It includes 21 lessons and 5 secrets from my freelance career to help you supercharge your journey as a freelancer. And I have just released the 2024 edition of the book with updated content. Click here to learn more.