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If you’re like many Americans, you might have a New Year’s resolution to make more money or manage your money more wisely in 2019. For some people, financial independence means starting a full-fledged business, but that’s not a viable or desirable path for everyone.
Some opt for a lucrative freelance gig or side hustle to supplement other income and get a taste of entrepreneurial life. Four out of 10 Americans use “gig economy” websites like Upwork, Guru, and PeoplePerHour to find freelance opportunities.
To some extent, your skill set limits which opportunities you can take. But, some freelance and side hustle work is definitely in greater market demand and commands higher pay than others.
We reviewed postings on four of the largest freelancer websites—Upwork, Guru, PeoplePerHour, and Simply Hired—to determine which are the best opportunities in terms of demand, pay, and client ratings.
These are some of our key findings:
These rankings are important for people looking to venture into the gig economy and for companies that market products and services to freelancers.
Read on to see the full results on our study and to learn more about each of the top 10 freelance gigs and side hustles of 2019.
Although many freelancers and side hustlers work part-time and have a day job, they still have some of the responsibilities of a regular business owner. For example, in order to be successful, you need to acquire customers, market your services, and pay small business taxes.
To make the most of your venture into entrepreneurship, try focusing on the most lucrative opportunities that fit your experience and skill set.
Here are the 10 best freelance gigs and side hustles of 2019:
It might feel funny to call web and software development a “side gig,” but many programmers who work a day job also freelance on the side. Entry-level developers often take clients on the side to earn extra cash and learn the ropes. And there’s no shortage of clients who need web design or software development help. In our study, we found that over 600,000 developers are active on freelance sites and, on average, more than 20% of developer-freelancers earn more than $50 per hour.
Software development is a highly saturated field, so freelancers and side hustlers must find a way to stand out. The most successful freelance programmers work in a narrowly defined niche. For example, we saw lots of freelance programmers specializing in Amazon Web Services, React Native, and WordPress.
Hiring an in-house developer or web designer is not a possibility for most small businesses, with the average developer making an annual salary of $104,300. Plus, most small businesses have a need for software development on a one-off basis. That kind of irregularity fits nicely into the workflow of a freelancer with multiple clients.
This has been freelancer Jill Caren’s experience. Caren, owner of 2 Dogs Media LLC, says:
“I have been freelancing for almost 12 years now. I add value to my clients, which are mostly nonprofit organizations, by not only building and designing websites, but offering strategies for improving visibility and engagement. Most of my clients would not have the budget for a full-time web developer. I specialize in creating websites that clients can easily manage so they don’t have the extra expense of doing updates or management. They only come back to us if they need new additional features.”
It’s become very clear to businesses that certain groups of customers, especially millennials, crave a visual, immersive experience when purchasing goods and services. This makes graphic designers and creatives very valuable for companies. A good designer, in large part, defines your company’s brand. On just Upwork alone, there are over 150,000 freelance designers, 14% of whom earn more than $60 per hour.
Concepts like augmented intelligence (AI), adaptive learning, and sustainable design are entering the lexicons of more business owners, creating more opportunities for freelance designers and creative professionals. Although some designers fear that AI and other technology will replace them, other experts believe that technology will work in tandem with design. For instance, AI can be used to quickly produce multiple prototypes, which designers can then approve, reject, or modify. And as technology speeds up foundational work, more companies will likely look to shift design and creative responsibility to freelancers.
Businesses prefer the personalized, targeted approach that freelance designers can provide, as opposed to mega-agencies’ one-size-fits-all solutions.
This is what James Finder, who runs the freelance consultancy Promethean Learning Experience Design, discovered. He says:
“I started my consultancy in 2015. I was able to use my LinkedIn connections to network and find an organization that needed an instructional designer and elearning developer. I have also used Upwork and Guru to find clients. Oftentimes, organizations ‘don’t know what they don’t know.’ Our clients appreciate our ability to meet tight deadlines, provide strong project management, communicate clearly and proactively, leverage our technical expertise, and offer unique insights to their talent development challenges.”
You might be surprised to find writing and translation third on our list. Freelancers with these skills are in high demand, with 572,701 writing and translation freelancers active across the four platforms that we looked at for this report. Pay isn’t very high, though. On three out of four platforms, only 5% to 7% of freelance writers and translators make more than $50 per hour.
No matter what industry a business belongs to, a web presence is essential. Along with that comes the need for content. According to HubSpot, 60% of businesses that blog have more customers because blog posts increase traffic coming from Google and other search engines. The best freelance writers understand search engine optimization and how to get a business’s content ranking. Ultimately, marketing to customers with useful, relevant blog content works better than pushy promotional tactics.
Freelancer Moriah John writes as a side hustle:
“After I lost my last job last December, I started to get into freelance work to earn money. I started a profile on Upwork. Upwork takes a percentage of what you earn, but it is a good place to start and build your clientele. It took me months to finally land a client, but I started modeling my profile [after other successful freelancers], which is what finally got me contracts. I now make about $1,000 extra a month from my side hustle. Being able to write in a way that is engaging and also sells is a skill. Hiring a freelance writer is an affordable option for companies that do not have the budget for in-house talent.”
Translation services are also in high demand as borders between countries become more fluid in commerce. Despite the increasing intelligence of Google Translate, human translators have an edge over technology. People who can translate Mandarin, Spanish, and Arabic are some of the most sought-after freelancers and side hustlers.
Administrative support freelancers came in at number four on our list. Although this group of freelancers isn’t highly paid, they have big strength in numbers. The four freelance platforms we looked at for this study collectively have over 400,000 administrative professionals looking for work.
Over the last several decades, the definition of administrative work has changed significantly. Today’s administrative freelancers are people with highly versatile skill sets who act as collaborators with their clients. Administrative freelancers, or “virtual assistants” as they’re often called, often go beyond things like data entry and answering the phones to become training specialists, project managers, and customer service associates. There’s sometimes overlap between admin support and customer service, which places sixth on our list of best freelance gigs and side hustles.
These freelancers can make a good living by juggling multiple clients, and doing work that business owners either don’t have time to focus on or prefer not to do themselves. Plus, if you can do admin work in an industry that requires specialized expertise, such as health care or real estate, you can command higher-than-average pay.
Photo credit: TechHive
There are a variety of different types of IT and networking professionals. Some IT workers install computer systems and maintain networks and databases. Others prevent cyber attacks by monitoring business networks for weak points. Still others use software and programs to store and organize data.
Compared to freelance web developers, IT and networking freelancers are in lower demand but receive higher pay. Three hundred thousand freelancers were looking for IT and networking jobs on the four platforms we surveyed, less than half the number of web developers. But, IT freelancers tended to have more experience, which was reflected in higher levels of pay. In fact, on Upwork, IT freelancers are the highest paid out of all freelance groups, with 28% earning over $60 per hour.
The biggest value provided by IT freelancers is that they can provide highly specialized services for businesses that aren’t tech savvy. Many businesses are still using legacy networks and outdated infrastructure, and modernizing them helps keep pace with business decisions. And as more devices share a network, IT freelancers are critical to business security.
Customer service freelancers are another surprising entrant to the list, given that many companies have outsourced customer service overseas or replaced human agents with chatbots. Although there might come a time when technology takes full precedence, customer service is still very human-centered. We tracked over 230,000 customer service freelancers, and although pay isn’t very high, clients tend to use the same customer service workers over and over again. On Guru for instance, customer service freelancers received high success scores from users and multiple user reviews.
Even though they aren’t W2 employees, freelancers in this field are often the first point of interaction between a company and its customers. The most successful are those who can quickly understand a company’s product or service and communicate the benefits. Customer service freelancers work on a variety of channels, including phone, email, small business CRMs, and social media.
Jeff Moriarty, the CEO of jewelry company Moriarty’s Gem Art, uses freelance customer support representatives during the holiday season each year. He says:
“Our freelancers handle all incoming emails, social media inquiries, and live chat on our websites. The first year was tough, as they had to learn our business, but after the third year, they rarely need to contact us about anything anymore. While there is an added cost to using freelancers, it saves us time to focus on our business, and it improves the customer experience. They can get answers to their questions and comments right away without having to wait for us to answer them.”
Sales and marketing is another popular focus area for freelancers and side hustlers. These workers acquire new customers, connect with existing customers throughout the funnel, and close deals that improve a company’s bottom line. According to data we sourced from Upwork, one in five sales and marketing freelancers charge more than $60 per hour. Five percent of sales and marketing freelancers have a 90% or greater user success rating, and 4% have lifetime earnings of more than $10,000 on the platform.
Freelancers in sales and marketing need to go where consumers are going. Although search engine optimization (SEO) is still a central component of marketing strategy, Google is becoming oversaturated. By 2020, experts predict that 50% of online searches will be voice and visual searches, rather than text-based searches. Freelancers and side hustlers in the marketing or sales space should brush up their skills in voice search and video search to build up a client roster in 2019.
Madelene Rogers, a freelance public relations and marketing consultant for CanIRank, says:
“I have a full-time public relations position with another company, but took on the additional freelance role to broaden my work experience. Many of my clients are small ecommerce, B2B businesses, or startups who don’t have the infrastructure or budget to hire an in-house SEO and marketing team. They value the work that I’m able to do for them because they direct the tasks that are most beneficial to their business goals. We can build domain authority or backlinks, write press releases, maintain their on-site blogs, and much more. It’s a full-service system with transparency, so that the client can have as much (or as little) control as they like.”
Freelance accounting and finance comes in at number eight on our list. The number of freelancers in this category isn’t as high compared to the industries further up the list. However, in terms of pay, this is one of the best performing categories for freelancers and side hustlers. Looking at pay alone, accounting and finance came in first on Guru and second on Upwork. In fact, nearly half —46%—of finance, accounting, and business consulting freelancers make over $50 per hour on Guru.
Accounting and finance is an industry where small businesses have traditionally utilized freelancers. An accountant and financial professional can help with occasional tax filings and quarterly financial planning, freeing up the business owner to focus on the daily operations of the business. Accounting software like QuickBooks and Xero simplifies bookkeeping and financial analysis, but small business owners usually rely on experts (like QuickBooks certified freelancers) who understand the software.
Financial professionals become even more valuable to a business if they are able to go beyond bookkeeping and help with strategic planning. These freelancers pour through financial data and make recommendations about which strategies companies should and shouldn’t pursue. When you can add value to your clients’ bottom line, you can carve out a nice business for yourself.
Engineering and architecture is another top category for those considering freelance careers. About 80,000 engineers and architects were active across the freelancer sites we looked at. Engineering and architecture ranked in the top two-thirds of all freelance categories in terms of pay.
Architecture and engineering are fields where practitioners tend to specialize. Projects typically involve multiple specialists working together, such as civil engineers, architectural designers, and urban planners. Often, one of these specialists will call on the expertise of another to see a project through to completion. In other words, many freelancers work as part of a team with general contractors and design-build firms.
Trends that are driving engineering and architecture in 2019 and beyond include smart city planning and 3D modeling. Architects and engineers are deploying 3D renderings more frequently to give customers pre-project visualizations. And a variety of stakeholders—from governments to sharing economy companies like Airbnb and Uber—are interested in infrastructure and urban planning. Finding a niche in one of these areas will help you earn a good income as a freelancer or side hustler.
Data science is closely related, but distinct, from our top freelance category of software development. Software development is all about using programming languages to code frontend and backend tools for individuals and businesses to use. Data science brings together computer science and statistics. Data scientists use programming languages and software to process, refine, and display data.
Compared to software development, there’s not quite as much opportunity for freelancers in data science. There were only just over 44,000 data scientists active across the four freelancer platforms. Businesses hire data scientists only when they need to analyze and find patterns in huge volumes of data. At that point, a company is usually large enough to afford in-house data scientists.
The most active data science freelancers on Guru, Upwork, PeoplePerHour, and Simply Hired mined customer transaction data to boost their clients’ profitability and analyzed ad spend to pinpoint effective marketing strategies. Although freelancer demand isn’t very high in this category, pay was very good. Twenty-two percent of data science freelancers on Simply Hired earned the equivalent of over $145,000 per year, and 28% on Guru earned over $50 per hour.
To put our rankings together, we gathered raw data in November 2018 from four large freelancer sites—Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Guru, and Simply Hired—that post a wide variety of gigs.
Taking Upwork’s category listing as a jumping off point, we tabulated the number of freelancers per category on each site. We also looked at pay levels, customer reviews, and long-term earnings to rank the best freelance gigs and side hustles on each site. We then developed a collective ranking that reflects the totals across the four sites.
Each site lists freelancers slightly differently. As is pretty typical when comparing industries, we had to make some assumptions to put our ranking together. Here are some differences that we had to account for across sites:
Once we accounted for these differences, we were able to come up with a reliable ranking of the best freelance gigs and side hustles for 2019.
Ultimately, it’s important to keep in mind that the highest-paid freelance and side hustle opportunities don’t necessarily equate to the best ones. We looked at a combination of demand, pay, client ratings, and long-term success to rank these opportunities.
If you look just at compensation, technical industries like web development and data science would come out on top across all platforms. However, when you consider other variables, jobs with “soft skills” like writing and customer service make their way into the top 10.
Freelancers should gear up for a big 2019. Across industries, companies are using freelancers more and more, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. At this same time next year, about half of the U.S. workforce will be composed of freelancers.
The specific industries mentioned above will be experiencing the largest share of growth. The good news is that these include a variety of hard and soft skills, so a wide range of people will be able to participate in the gig economy.