Freelance work is more lucrative than ever thanks to lingering norms from the COVID-19 epidemic and recent advances in remote workplace protocols. That said, modern freelancers can still have a rough time finding positions and building long-lasting relationships with clients.
To make a decent living from your freelance work and avoid periods of “famine,” it’s important to learn and master technical skills that are in-demand and require minimal oversight from your would-be employees, i.e. you can hit the ground running once hired.
The popular top freelance skills described in this article can be divided into these categories:
Content creation skills such as article writing and product reviews
Promotional skills such as social media marketing and Search Engine Optimization
Visual skills such as illustration, graphic design, or document formatting
Website design and development skills
Software and AI development skills
Information processing skills such as data analysis and accounting
Language translation and secondary language instruction
Examples of top freelancing skills
Article writing, review writing, and other content creation skills
There’s no shortage of media companies that need content for their websites, blogs, and news feeds. Said content can take many forms: feature articles that analyze works of media, reports about recent events, reviews of products and consumer goods, top 10 lists, and so on. A few lucky freelancers might even get hired to write cover letters, resumes, or blog posts full of advice for job-seekers (wink-wink).
If you have a creative writing, journalism, or English language degree (or equivalent experience), a freelance content writing job is a great way to earn money on the side and learn how to create/edit/submit content on a strict schedule. Regularly publishing content with your name and author bio attached is also a decent way to promote yourself online and grab the attention of new clients.
Top skills for freelancing as a content writer
To be a good freelance content writer, you must be able to adjust your personal writing style on the fly, composing passages with different levels of length, tone, or formality depending on what the client needs.
You also need to perform careful research when your client asks you to write about topics you know nothing about. Key research skills include searching for multiple sources of information that don’t come from competitors and then checking each one carefully for incorrect information or polarizing viewpoints based on your client’s guidelines.
Finally, a good freelance writer should be skilled at proofreading their own work and formatting it to fit the style guides of their employers. Most media companies have a team of editors who will go over your work before publishing it, but that’s no excuse to write sloppily.
Build a reputation as a reliable, in-demand content creator by correcting errors/ambiguities in your text and making the jobs of your editors as easy as possible.
Not all content writing jobs are created equal. Some media companies will underpay their freelancers or provide compensation based on the number of page views. Other media companies might want you to create articles that are pure “click-bait,” full of provocative, over-exuberant titles and headings designed to attract internet surfers at the expense of accuracy or good writing.
The ideal content writing freelance position:
Pays you well for each article or individual assignment.
Lets you research and write about engaging topics.
Gives you the chance to work with supportive editors who care about the quality of articles (and not just page views).
Freelance content writing jobs won’t always have all three of these perks. All the same, steer clear of any content writing job that doesn’t have at least two of the three qualities listed above.
Social media marketing and Search Engine Optimization skills
There’s a lot of overlap between freelance content writing work and freelance social media marketing work. These types of freelance careers both try to draw in readers with keywords and bold statements, then retain that interest with interesting ideas, important facts, and tantalizing suggestions.
Many social media marketing professionals are hired by companies to manage their accounts on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, regularly posting updates that keep people informed about the company’s services, endeavors, and upcoming events.
Writing skills aside, many companies want social media marketing experts skilled at crafting helpful responses to customer requests, analyzing website traffic to identify popular trends, and crafting memorable messages with minimum word count to allay costs.
Content writers and social media experts alike also benefit greatly from mastering the art of Search Engine Optimization – “SEO” for short. The essence of SEO is understanding how search engines locate certain web pages, knowing where to find their data analytics, and locating the most popular search terms for certain topics within said data.
By mastering these three skills, your online content will show up more often in the top results of web searches, making you a major catch for any employers who rely on high website traffic to generate income.
Visual skills such as illustration, graphic design, or typography
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” especially with company websites, ebooks, or print publications that need interesting illustrations and colors to spark interest. Competent visual designers with a strong reputation can earn a lot from their clients while also having the freedom to really exercise their creativity.
There are lots of creative skills that freelance visual designers can master. These include the traditional arts of sketching and painting, the creation of new letter fonts, the designing of icons, the taking/alteration of photos, and so on. To translate these skills into a successful modern freelance career, you’ll also need to master the use of design software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.
The one skill no visual designer can go without is arguably the art of assembling graphic portfolios. A well-made career portfolio or website doesn’t just show clients your best visual achievements but also lets you demonstrate your skills with layout design and image presentation.
Include these in visual portfolios…
Include these in visual portfolios…
Samples of your best images
Text explanations that are too long
A layout that’s simple and uncluttered
Image samples that are too small or densely packed together
Links to videos and animations
Image samples that are too similar in style
Top freelancing skills: website design and development
In our modern digital age of computer networks and search engines, websites are the first things people will check to learn more about an unfamiliar business, event, or piece of media. For this reason, most modern companies will spend a lot of money hiring good website designers and developers who can keep the site up to date.
If you’re planning to reinvent yourself as a freelance website designer or developer, start by learning website coding languages such as HTML and CSS. Website designers rely on these languages to build up new websites from (mostly) scratch, while website developers need to be able to scan a website’s code in order to correct any errors visible in the website’s front end which is what people see.
Website designers/developers also need to be familiar with the principles of “User Experience” or UX, researching and adapting popular website design trends to create sites that are pleasant to look at and easy to navigate. Visual design aside, website designers/developers must also know how to design button and page links, making sure they lead to the right parts of the website.
Computer programming and software development skills
The pop culture image of a computer programmer is a “techhead” who types on their computer at a rapid-fire pace. In real life, computer programming and software development can be a slow, painstaking process of writing, reviewing, and debugging code line by line.
Because of this, companies are always on the lookout for freelance programmers and software developers with abilities such as:
Strong problem-solving skills
A keen eye for detail
Patience and self-motivation
A knack for finding ways to improve a program’s efficiency
Knowing when to leave a functioning program be
Currently, there’s a high demand for programmers who can compile algorithms for AIs and machine-learning software. Many businesses are also looking for freelance cyber security specialists and designers of mobile apps who can both design software and test it for vulnerabilities.
According to this Berkeley Boot Camps article, the five most in-demand programming languages are as follows:
Python: A general-purpose programming language that’s intuitive and contains a library full of useful commands and self-testing features.
HTML: A markup language for designing and arranging text on a website.
CSS: A language used to shape the visual design, arrangement, and color of website pages.
Java: A general-purpose, object-oriented programming language that can run on any operating system.
Languages like SQL, C#, or Rust are also extremely popular at present and well worth learning if you’re a freelance computer programmer.
Information processing skills such as data analysis and accounting
In this modern information age, the demand for freelancers who can crunch numbers and find patterns in data is higher than ever. There’s no shortage of small businesses that like to hire freelance accountants and bookkeepers to deal with tax returns, complete year-end financial statements, and manage payrolls. By hiring trusted freelance experts on a seasonal basis, these businesses avoid the cost of hiring accountants/bookkeepers full-time.
Many large-scale businesses these days compete with each other over skilled data analysts who can identify important patterns in sales, customer behaviors, and operational costs. The reports that data analysts compile are essentially the maps which businesses use to improve productivity and identify new avenues of profit. A freelance data analyst whose findings can help secure a company’s future will never be out of work.
Freelance accountants, bookkeepers, and data analysts must have a keen eye for detail and a willingness to sort through vast seas of data and numbers to spot trends and correct errors. These three occupations also need strong communication and presentation skills, boiling down complicated arrangements of data into clear, accurate reports and graphic illustrations.
Language translation and second language instruction
Contrary to initial expectations, translation software like Google Translate hasn’t put freelance translators out of business. Human professionals with strong bilingual skills still outperform AIs when it comes to creating translations that sound natural in the target language and still capture the intent of the source language.
In some cases, translation/transcription software has created a new demand for freelance experts with the skills to catch translation mistakes and help programmers improve their machine learning algorithms.
Thanks to the high demand for freelance translators and multilingual employees, many companies are also looking for freelancers who can teach staff new languages or help bilingual professionals improve their grasp of their second language.
Besides being fluent in the languages they intend to teach, these freelance tutors also need the following skills:
An understanding of grammar rules and terminology
Knowledge of different language teaching methods
Soft communication skills to build rapport between students and teachers
Differences between major paradigms of language learning
There are many ways to teach students a secondary language – methods with technical names such as “Audio-Lingual” or “Total Physical Response.” In general, these language learning methods can be divided into three schools of thought:
Teachers who use grammar methods teach students by having them master the rules of a language – its sentence structures, its use of tenses, and so on.
Teachers who use audio-lingual methods get students to learn through spoken repetition and mimicry of a language’s most common expressions.
Teachers who use direct or immersion methods emphasize a “learning by doing” approach through exercises where students must only speak in their secondary languages and/or participate in game activities that recreate the process babies use to learn their first language.
Freelance content writers need to be good at writing, proofreading, and researching.
Freelance writers and social media marketers should both be familiar with Search Engine Optimization.
Freelance illustrators, graphic designers, typographers, and Photoshoppers can attract lots of clients with a solid visual portfolio.
Freelance website designers/developers should be familiar with both coding languages and User Experience principles.
Freelance computer programmers, software developers, accountants, and data analysts should all be familiar with modern programming languages and have a keen eye for detail.
Machine translation software hasn’t yet put freelance translators, transcribers, interpreters, and language tutors out of business.