We don’t advise picking your career for what it pays. That’s because the best people in any field can earn a ton of money and it’s much easier to become the best at something when you enjoy doing it. However, if you really must determine the rest of your life based on earning potential – we’ve got you covered.
We’ve got a list of the 10 freelance jobs that pay the best and the reasons why. These include coding, web design and development, legal services, video editing, teaching, writing, internet security, internet marketer, SEO specialist and recruiting.
We’ve left out a bunch of positions that you’ll find on other lists because those lists tend to cherry-pick the exceptional top jobs rather than the more standard work that most digital nomads are likely to get.
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The 10 Freelance Jobs That Pay The Best For 2020 and Beyond
It is important to keep in mind that these descriptions are high-level and fairly generic. Coders are going to earn different amounts depending on the stack they choose and the industries they work with – there’s no “one size fits all” earning level for any of these jobs.
However, the median earnings for professionals in all these fields are healthy enough that you can make a long-term living out of them. Having said that, some of these fields (like my own field of freelance writing) are going to be highly vulnerable to automation and artificial intelligence developments in the coming years.
I wouldn’t advise anyone to go into writing today, for example, except as a short-term plan while they learned another skill. There is already a substantial cash wager made by an award-winning novelist that the first AI written novel will be published by a major publisher in or before 2050.
That may sound a long way away now but it’s not and before the machines have mastered fiction, they’ll have mastered non-fiction easily enough years earlier.
One more thing before we get to our list: this list is in no particular order. Mainly because variances are going to mean that some writers earn more than some coders, for example. Though, on average we’d say that coders are the biggest earners overall.
Freelance Job Number One: Coding (Software Development)
Theoretically, there’s no upper limit to what a skilled programmer can earn. There are freelance coders raking in more than $1,000 an hour though this is not the norm.
Western programmers working in software and mobile application development will normally earn between $50 and $200 an hour. Entry-level positions may pay less but not a whole lot less.
There is definitely “nationality prejudice” involved in how much coding pays and Eastern Europeans, Indians, etc. will often work for a lot less without compromising the quality of their work.
If you intend to learn coding there are plenty of free courses (think Udemy or CodeAcademy) to get you started and Packt gives away a free book with some relevance to coding every single day of the year!
However, you’re going to need to get some real-world experience to earn the big bucks. Coding is not easy and it’s not for everyone. I learned to code before I left school, spent some time at university coding physical and mathematical models and have never done it since – coding bores the life out of me.
We’d recommend picking a job you like if you want to make a career out of it.
Freelance Job Number Two: Website Design and Web Development
Definitely the poor cousin of the coder, web design and web development skills are increasingly common and there’s nothing like the price premium that they once commanded when the Internet was new.
We think both of these roles are at high risk of losing out to automation and AI too. That’s not to say you can’t earn well – $25 – $75 an hour for designers of decent skill levels and more for developers but we think there’s a hard limit on most people’s maximum earnings in these fields.
We also think that over time, you’re going to see these rates fall rather than rising.
Freelance Job Number Three: Legal Services Provision
You’re definitely going to need a law degree to get into this and that’s partly why you’re going to be able to charge more for your work than many other freelancers.
The rates for legal services on average are $70-$120 an hour but we suspect that much of this is because winning over clients in a highly competitive market is very expensive.
We also see legal services as at risk for erosion by AI and automation. In particular, we think contract, tax, and property law are highly vulnerable.
Freelance Job Number Four: Internet Security Specialist
Hacking and phishing are everybody’s nightmare. DDoS attacks that bring down major websites are a serious issue to web-based businesses. The truth is that the Internet is a rough place and there’s always going to be a demand for skilled security people.
While there are definitely elements of this work at risk to AI erosion, we’re quite confident that it’s always going to need a human touch and thus we think internet security is a fairly secure career.
You can expect to make around $50 an hour on average and it’s possible to earn much more too.
Freelance Job Number Five: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialist
If you want to make your money online, then you need your website to be discoverable, the easiest way to get this done? Rank well in Google.
Ranking in search engines is something of an art form and the SEO specialist is who makes it happen. Salaries are decent and $50 an hour or more is reasonable.
The downside? You’ll need a proven track record to win over clients and this job is possibly the most vulnerable on our list to AI. It may have a fairly short shelf life as careers go.
Freelance Job Number Six: Internet Marketer
With a more broad-ranged remit than the SEO specialist, Internet Marketers are always looking to build brands and sell products and services. Their skills run from building conversion-focused websites to social media marketing.
There is no end in sight to demand for successful internet marketers because every business has to sell to survive. Because of the huge variances of tactics available to internet marketers we think this job is much less threatened by the emergence of AI. It is, however, a field that is very challenging to stay on top of – things change constantly for internet marketers.
We’d expect to see earnings of up to $50 an hour typically though the best can charge thousands of dollars a day based on conversion and commissions.
Freelance Job Number Seven: Video Editing
You can thank YouTube for this growth market. Given that YouTube is one of the few social media platforms that it remains relatively easy to monetize, you can expect to see short to medium-term job security too.
However, it’s easier to learn video editing than most of the other skills on our list and that means you’re not going to earn as much, and the median earnings are around the $35 an hour mark.
There’s a lot of investment in AI surrounding video production but most results so far have been pretty crappy. Whether it will stay that way is another question…
Freelance Job Number Eight: Writing
There are a lot of different ways to get paid as a writer. Article writing is a bad choice. There is high competition for work and most clients want to pay next to nothing for your work. Plus, short pieces are terribly vulnerable to AI competition as things move forward.
Book writing, technical writing, sales copywriting, etc. however are all far more lucrative. Writers with a niche and some more specialized experience can happily rack up $25-$75 an hour and sometimes more.
These specialist fields are not as immediately at risk from AI competition either.
Freelance Job Number Nine: Private Tutor
We’re not talking about signing up with one of those teach English as a foreign language apps – though the pay’s not terrible for South East Asia, you can’t make a living for the real world like that.
We’re talking about offering private tuition in a specialist subject area to students in your area over Skype or whatever.
If you have the academic experience this is fairly easy to get into. Average pay is around the $40 an hour mark and it can be a lot of fun.
The downside? We expect to see all online teaching disappear over the next 20 years; this is an area absolutely ripe to be destroyed by AI tutors.
Freelance Job Number Ten: Recruiter
Recruitment is a brilliant field to get into if you want to earn well online. You need no specialist skills apart from the ability to sell and access to some candidate databases (which you can buy from job sites).
While there’s normally no hourly rate (apart from special jobs) the commission potential is huge and it ought to be fairly easy for a good recruiter to make $50+ an hour.
It’s also a job that’s fairly unlikely to be threatened by AI any time soon.
There are plenty of jobs that appear on other lists such as “voice actor” or “transcriber” that we’re not convinced by at all. You might earn decent money doing these as a freelancer for local firms in the West but try landing anything that pays more than $5 an hour on Upwork and you’ll soon be starving.
If you’re surprised that “photographer” is not on the list, don’t be. This is currently one of the worst-paid freelance professions and digital nomads are particularly poorly positioned to earn money as a photographer. The truth is that you really need a studio unless you work for National Geographic – there’s no money in travel photography. (Sadly, because I’d love to quit everything and spend all day taking photos if I could).
So, we’ve given you the 10 freelance jobs that pay the best and enough information for you to get started and understand what the future might bring for them too. We hope you pick something that makes you happy and that you enjoy it.