Can You Make A Living As A Freelancer?

If you’re new to the freelancing world, you’re probably feeling a little lost at sea already. How do you make it work for you? Will this make you a good living? These are all very natural questions, and I’ve asked them myself over time. That’s why I have assembled this quick guide to help you make the most lucrative freelance career possible for yourself.

So, can you make a living as a freelancer? Yes, you can, provided you are willing to put in the time and labour to make a name for yourself as a trustworthy, efficient freelancer with valuable skills and the ability to carry through on your word. It does, however, depend a lot on the skills you have- some markets are very crowded and may not easily earn a full living (while still providing a lucrative side-line), while other, rarer or in-demand talents are easier to convert to a living income. The rest depends on you and the hard work you put in.

As the saying goes, however, if hard work was the only step needed to make your fortune, every person in Africa would be a millionaire. So how do you take your dream of freelance success and make them a solid reality? Let’s take an in-depth look at everything you need to know.

What are the top 5 hottest skills in demand as a freelancer?

As I mentioned above, there are certain skills that are more in demand from freelancers then others. If you currently own any of these lucrative skill sets, you could be ready to launch! Even if you don’t currently have them, however, you can always learn- and just because these are the most popular freelance skills at the moment doesn’t mean they will remain so. You can freelance almost any skill you have provided you have the motivation to work hard for success, so don’t worry if you aren’t yet a master of these particular skills.

1. Using the written word well

There’s an intense demand currently for high-quality written content in a variety of world languages. These are typically needed for marketing and web-presence boosting, so they cover a vast variety of sectors, lengths and needs. It’s not enough to be able to string a few words together, however. The content you create needs to be compelling, entertaining and suit your client. If creating that type of written word isn’t for you, then there is also copywriting, where you will need to create shorter (but still compelling) written content for ad copy, status updates and mass email campaigns. There’s also other, more niche areas of the writing world to explore. Ghostwriters take other people’s original ideas and help them make it flowing and coherent, allowing the other person to use the creation as their own. Specific forms of business and even medical/legal writing are always in demand, too.

2. Creating the future

The modern world is built on smart programming. From apps and PC programs through point-of-sales systems and pushing the boundaries of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the skills to help custom-create the future are goldmines to the freelancer who has them. South Africa, in particular, has a shortage of these skills, and many companies are willing to move away from the traditional employment arena to working remotely with freelancers. Brush up those programming skills, and get ready to make a name for yourself in the freelance world!

3. Handling digital needs

The future is increasingly digital- and people need help creating that content as well as the programs to deliver it. Specialised I.T skills are always in demand. Niche skills in programs like Final Cut Pro (a video editing software), vulnerability/threat assessment, and remote support roles are going strong. Skills related to computers and technology are hot to have right now. Web development also remains a firm, in-demand favourite. If you work with the web, apps or anything digital, chances are you will have excellent luck selling your skills.

4. Building brands

Companies are feeling the pressure to stand out in globalised, saturated markets- and any skill that helps you build your client’s brand is in demand. This overlaps a little with website development and content creation, but many traditional graphic design skills are also needed. The ability to make stand-out logos, business cards and social media profiles help your client’s brand stand out from the crowd- and in turn could help you make a lucrative freelance career. Skills with graphic design programs like Adobe InDesign are set to stay an in-demand freelancing skill.

5. Smart, modern marketing

Old-school saturation sales pitches don’t work for the modern consumer. Marketing has become a savvy, digitally-focused skill and companies are longing for help to successfully build their presences on-and-offline. In particular, social media marketing has become the key to smart company growth. While it’s a daunting skill set to build, and the metrics are ever-changing, many job opportunities exist for helping manage social media, analyse gathered data, plan smart campaigns and otherwise create the very best digital marketing opportunities there are for your clients.

I don’t have any of these skills! Can I still pursue freelancing?

These, of course, are not the only freelancing skills out there, but they are the ones currently attracting the most lucrative attention from clients in the freelance world. Does that mean, if you don’t have and can’t master these skills, you should retire your freelancing dreams and return to the 9-to-5 rat race? Don’t quit just yet!

There are a lot of other skills which clients require. Many of these have lower entry points- some need no special skills, qualifications or knowledge at all. There will always be data which needs transcribing or assembling to fit company parameters and a need for customer service jobs in the digital sphere. You may even be suitable to teach English to interested foreign students, translate your home languages, or have sewing and creative skills you can learn to sell as a freelancer.

The facts of the matter are that the future is looking increasingly more freelance. Companies are moving away from the 9-5 model, and are willing to outsource a huge range of tasks, from ones which are specialised down to those for which it just isn’t worth creating positions and offering formal employment. If you are willing to work hard at creating a niche for yourself, and put in the grind of establishing yourself as a freelancer, you can capitalise on almost any skill you have. While you probably shouldn’t quit your day job just yet if you are still struggling to launch your freelance career, you certainly don’t need to abandon your ambitions.

Is the freelance market oversaturated?

However, remember one important thing- the less niche your skill, the more other freelancers will be competing for its jobs, creating a heavily saturated market. Many are from third world countries, willing to work for far less then you will likely find sustainable- but their shoddy quality will also soon send clients looking for better, more reliable freelancers. Don’t assume freelancing will be some easy way to stay at home on the internet all day while unsolicited work flows in!

Freelancing represents a switch from reactive working (waiting for the job to be offered to you, then waiting for work from the boss) to a proactive one, where the onus is on you to chase your dream. If you are willing to work hard, keep to your word, develop strong routines for productivity, and fight to establish yourself, you can stand out from the pack and make a bright freelancing future. It will take confidence, a good idea of your best, strongest skills, and willingness to work on your own ‘brand’ and push yourself all the way.

Other critical things to know to make a living as a freelancer

There are a few other important questions you will need to explore if you’re hoping to make a living as a freelancer. As someone who’s been there before, I’ve added some extra guidance below to help you get off to the best start possible.

How do I apply for freelance work? Once you’ve thought carefully about the skills you can offer, and decided on the right market for you, it’s time to start selling your skills. You can sometimes do this through word-of-mouth, industry contacts or online advertising, but you will also want to look at marketing through a freelance platform. There are many out there, with Upwork, Fiverr, and PeoplePerHour leading the international front and NoSweat and Freelance Cape Town offering solid local opportunities.

How do I look professional through the process? Now you know where to look, it’s a question of how to attract client’s attention. This is always most difficult in the beginning, as you seek to establish yourself. In time, your reputation and proven work portfolio will help bolster you. Be sure to have your combination sales pitch/CV ready, and offer a professional face through the whole process. List what you are good at (skills, relevant experience and education, achievements and portfolio) and work on an ‘elevator pitch’ that’s short, sweet and compelling. Spare the lengthy, pretty wordage- people want to see what you offer immediately. If you work with an online platform, chances are you will also be reviewed by your first clients, helping you establish a rating for future customers to judge by. Portfolios are great tools for writers and designers, offering solid proof of your skills.

What are common pitfalls freelancers’ experience? Firstly, don’t imagine you can quit your regular job and make back your full salary the first month. It’s a wiser strategy to either begin to build your freelancing career while still working, or have a 3-6 month emergency fund to cover your costs while you establish yourself. This allows you to explore the freelancing world with less stress, and find the right clients and niches for you. Never work off-contract, not for anyone (especially family)! Get everything in writing so everyone is protected. Don’t feel pushed to do free work or accept certain clients, either- you want to do work you find interesting, with people you communicate well with, and be compensated for it.

Make certain you establish yourself at a fair rate for the work you do, and resist the urge to undercut just to get work- you only harm yourself in the end. Charge what you are worth. Lastly, make certain you have a strong system and goals in place. Working for yourself is not easy. You will need to self-motivate, keep to deadlines, and communicate efficiently with your clients without a boss telling you to. The classic advice- under promise, over deliver- is very applicable to the freelance environment. Maintain your integrity, and do work you can be proud of.

With this handy guide under your belt, you’re doubtless feeling much more secure about attempting to earn a living as a freelancer. Remember, you are always free to get in touch if you have any questions, comments or feedback along your freelance journey!