Making a living wage as a freelancer

by Karin Meyer

Thinking of starting your own business as a freelancer? predicts that by 2020, over 50% of the US workforce will be making at least some of their wages through freelancing. So what jobs are the best ones to consider taking into a career of self-employment?  There are three factors that will impact your ability to make a viable living as an independent professional in your field, namely: 

Job Availability vs. Competition:  Some jobs are in huge demand, creating a very large talent pool competing for those jobs.  Even if you are one of the best in your field, it may be hard for customers to find you in a pool of tens of thousands of workers with a similar skill set.  To compete in this type of market, you will have to build an impeccable reputation and spend a good deal of time marketing yourself.

Pay: What is the average wage paid for the service you offer?  Hourly rates differ widely by location and skill, so you’ll need to research average hourly rates and hours per job for your skill set, and consider how many jobs you’ll have to land to make a decent living.

Location: Although many jobs, primarily technical ones, can be done over the web, many kinds of jobs still require geographic proximity to the work being performed.  Individuals looking to hire photographers, architects, designers, project managers or event planners will typically want to have their freelancing professional on site.  Does your skill fall into one of these categories, and if so, do you live near an area which has sufficient demand for your skills?

There are many tools that will help you research the above factors, and apply them specifically to your skills to help you decide whether to embark on a freelancing career.

Availability vs. Competition

According to US data from freelancing website elance*, the following are the top 12 skills in demand by total # of jobs. 



*Note that these are jobs originating in the U.S., although they might be largely filled by global talent.

A second elance report shows the following quarterly growth for specific skills (I’ve only included jobs with more than 1000 listings):

  • LinkedIn Developer (+241%)
  • Family Law (+136%)
  • Real Estate Law (+102%)
  • Data Structures (+93%)
  • Microsoft Excel (+63%)
  • Strategic Planning (+62%)
  • DHTML (+59%)
  • Computer-Aided Design (+56%)

[Due to its virtual work platform, elance tends to favor job listings that do not require geographic co-location, so you will see technical skills more highly weighted in their data.]

To determine the pool of talent elance sources for the skills in question, run a simple search for those skills from their main search page on  You can fine-tune these searches geographically by using the Location filter on the left navigation bar.

Demand and Pay

According to Forbes, the best freelancer careers, based on both pay and availability, along with their average hourly rates, are:

  • Marketing ($46-$52/hr)
  • Business Project Management ($34-$46/hr)
  • Web Development ($36-$43/hr)
  • Writing ($25-$30/hr)
  • Accounting ($16-$30)
  • Insurance Inspection ($28/hr)
  • Teaching and Tutoring ($20-$28/hr)
  • Social Media ($20-$25/hr)
  • Graphic Design ($21/hr)
  • Administrative Assistant ($17-$20/hr)

Pay by Location

For a great resource to help you determine how much your skills are worth in your location, try’s Salary Center.  Below


is the chart for US based Freelance Writers.  The tool will allow you to specify and compare various geographic locations. 


In order to help understand the market for your skills, you should start by using some of the big job search tools such as, and to help inform yourself on the demand, competition, geographic requirements and pay for your skill set.  Try to get answers to the following questions:

  1. Is there enough unmet demand out there for you to get work at your level of experience? 
  2. How many others are competing for those jobs at a rate and skill level competitive with yours? 
  3. How many jobs would you need to land in order to make a satisfactory living at a competitive hourly rate?  How does this compare to the average number of jobs most of the listed freelancers have obtained through the site?
  4. Are all of these people competitors or do you have an advantage because of your geographic location?
  5. Are there websites dedicated to your specialty or area that will help you stand out from the competition? 

Finally, even if you are not ready to take the plunge into freelancing as yet, keep your eye on the market, as more “freelancer friendly” tools will begin to emerge to support you in making a living in the independent workforce.