As a freelancer, you’re in charge of everything, including your own personal development. No one will force you to attend classes, take courses, study new techniques, or practice new skills. That all falls on you.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t need to improve; I already know how to do my job,” you’re making a serious mistake. There is always something new to learn, some new way to improve yourself and the work you perform for your clients. To be competitive and find reasons to raise your rates, you must continually develop your skills.
But which skills should you improve? We can help with that. This article lays out the top freelancing skills that will help your career.
If you want to be competitive and find reasons to raise your rates, you must continually develop your skills. Click To Tweet
The Difference Between Soft and Hard Skills
Before we jump into the different skills you should develop as a freelancer, it’s important to distinguish between hard and soft skills. You need both types to be successful.
Hard skills refer to the skills you need to perform a specific job. These skills are easy to measure and directly create value in your role. You can usually back them up with evidence from degrees, licenses, accreditations, or portfolios. Examples of hard skills include search engine optimization, .NET programming languages, or audio transcription.
Soft skills refer to skills, behaviors, and traits that apply to all of your work but are harder to quantify. They’re also harder to back up with evidence. Examples of soft skills include communication, leadership, organization, and problem-solving. These skills are critical to your success but don’t directly add value to your work.
The Top Freelancing Hard Skills
If you want to charge top dollar, you need a toolbox of powerful skills to offer your clients. Below you’ll find the top hard freelancing skills that are in-demand (often requested) and pay the most. To compile this list, we looked at data from Upwork, FlexJobs, Indeed, eBiz Facts, and StartupTalky.
What should you do with this information? Identify the hard skills that make the most sense for your career. You’ll undoubtedly find skills that complement your existing skill set, or skills that you can offer as additional products and services. For example, a writer/editor could expand into search engine optimization. A web developer could expand into user experience design or graphic design. An audio engineer who also has video skills could charge top-dollar and work on interesting projects.
1. User Experience Design
This is one of the most in-demand freelance skills at the moment. UX designers create products and experiences to help users get more value from websites and apps.
3. Shopify Development
Shopify developers build sites and apps for the popular ecommerce platform. Some freelancers are hired by site owners and others are hired by agencies and resellers.
4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Anyone who wants their website found on search needs to think about search engine optimization at some point. After all, 67% of all link clicks go to the first five results, so it’s no surprise that SEO services (of many types) are in demand.
The bar is high for online content these days. 59% of customers won’t purchase from companies that use poor grammar. Organizations need to publish perfectly written copy. If any publication is serious about producing content, they need editors to eliminate spelling, grammar, and plagiarism mistakes. And no, the writer can’t do the editing themselves.
6. Voice Artistry
Voice artists narrate explanation videos, commercials, podcast segments, audiobooks, trailers, video games, training videos, and more. There’s a lot of available work for people with pleasant voices who can speak clearly.
7. Amazon Web Services
AWS is the largest cloud storage provider, used by countless big companies and web services. Using it well to build back-end infrastructure requires highly specialized skills and experience, but the compensation is generous.
8. Virtual Assistance
While virtual assistants don’t earn glamorous salaries, the need for them is greater than ever to complete a wide variety of digital tasks, like answering emails, finding/sorting data, or scheduling appointments. This skill can provide an excellent career for freelancers who don’t have many specialized skills.
9. Artificial Intelligence
Countless companies are using artificial intelligence to empower their systems and apps. There is a lot of money to be made here for freelancers who can use AI and machine learning well. Big companies pay top salaries to experts in this field.
10. Translation Services
In our increasingly global world with more content than ever, we need more translators. You can earn a lot of money if you can translate quickly and cleanly, especially if you can speak Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic.
Accounting software may be easier to use than ever, but most organizations still require a skilled professional to help them manage their money, generate reports, comply with financial regulations, and minimize their tax liability. You’ll want a bachelor’s degree and a CPA certification to earn the most money.
12. Web Design/Development
Our research shows this is one of the hottest areas for freelancers. Every brand needs a website, which means they all hire a designer, developer or web development company at some point. Website creators build attractive and engaging websites so brands can communicate with their customers and fans. You need experience with languages like HTML, CSS, PHP, Java, and AngularJS. Sometimes the designer and developer are different people, but in many cases, one person plays both roles.
13. Technical Writing
Technical writers are some of the highest-paid copywriters. They have highly specialized knowledge and are adept at turning complex topics into clear information. To make this your freelancing career, you must specialize in something deeply.
14. Graphic Design
The world needs lots of visual content. Clients need it for websites, social media profiles, emails, print ads, packaging, film, and more. If you wade into graphic design, it’s smart to niche into a particular style and build a strong portfolio. However, if you prefer to experiment with the art of design before you commit to graphics, consider trying out an image generator using AI. They can offer up some inspiration for your portfolio.
15. Career Coaching
This is a unique skill that’s grown in demand due to the Great Resignation: If you have experience in a particular field, those new to the industry or people who need help will pay you for advice, guidance, and direction. Clients expect to see hard evidence of your experience, like certifications and documented years doing the work.
16. Audio Transcription
Videos and podcasts need audio transcription. In fact, people watch 85% of videos posted on Facebook without sound. Audio transcription can be a lucrative career if you can think and type quickly. The pay is based on the total minutes of video/audio, so it is only lucrative if you’re fast.
Freelancing is one of the most lucrative ways to earn an income as a writer. Countless brands are investing in all sorts of content, including AI content. 62% of businesses hire external talent to create content on their blogs or virtual magazines. If you want to be successful, it’s wise to select a niche where you can be most effective.
Do you have strong skills in a particular subject? If so, consider tutoring students of any level. You don’t have to be a qualified teacher, but clients usually expect some education or certification. Some third-party agencies already have a database filled with pupils looking to hire experts.
19. Social Media Marketing
With 3.8 billion users, social media certainly isn’t going away, and brands will never abandon this powerful channel. This skill is vital for all freelancers, even if you don’t offer it to your clients as a service, as you can use it to market yourself.
20. Independent Sales
If you’re good at sales, some companies will hire you on a freelance basis to sell their products for commissions. You just have to find a company whose product works best with direct sales.
21. Video Production
Not only does the web need lots of video content, but it also needs different kinds of video content. For instance, a YouTube video producer differs greatly from a TikTok or a Twitch stream producer. You could also specialize in product review videos, explainer videos, live production, or creating stock videos that others could use in their own productions. One popular area for stock videos would be free stock video footage of nature, for example. But regardless of what kind of video you produce, a video compressor tool can help reduce file sizes and improve upload times.
22. Audio Engineering
Similar to video production, brands need skilled audio engineers to develop ads, produce podcasts, and more. Many audio engineers work alongside video producers.
Clients hire illustrators to create unique graphics for their sites and social media pages rather than generic stock photos. There are also markets for illustrated ads, promotional materials, books, comics, print designs, and more – online and off. (Pro tip: Come up with your own style that stands out from other illustrators.)
The Top Freelancing Soft Skills
As we said earlier, soft skills are hard to quantify but tremendously important. Soft skills affect your other skills and ultimately help you perform at a higher level. Mastering the following skills will improve your work output, make your life easier, and improve your relationships with your clients stronger.
Communication is an important skill no matter how you work, and freelancing is no exception. Your ability to communicate with your clients, vendors, and colleagues can make or break a successful freelance career.
It’s imperative in our technology-driven world, where communication often occurs through text. If your communication skills are poor, your clients and colleagues may misinterpret your meaning, which could lead to poor relationships. But if you can articulate what you mean, your clients and colleagues will appreciate the clarity and simplicity of communicating with you.
Whenever you write, ask yourself two questions: 1) Am I as clear as I could be? 2) Am I as concise as I could be? Remember that good communication doesn’t always mean burdening your contacts with a lot of information. Sometimes, being clear means stripping out unnecessary details.
The best communicators are proactive. They anticipate what their clients need before they ask. Good communication also means keeping your client updated and providing transparency, so they don’t feel abandoned. It also means making you and your clients’ tasks, expectations, and deadlines crystal clear.
A quick technique to improve your communication is to use more video. Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions are key parts of the language. If your clients can see you, there’s a better chance your message will come across more clearly. With tools like Cloud App, Droplr, and Loom, you can make quick videos from your browser.
One of the main advantages of freelancing is the autonomy it provides. But this autonomy comes with a price: You must figure things out for yourself when you work alone. You need to be able to find solutions and answer difficult questions independently.
No client wants to work with a freelancer who says, “Sorry, I can’t figure it out.” After all, they hired you to make their life easier. If you give up on challenges, why would they stick with you?
For instance, suppose a client asks for a service you have never provided. It’s good money and a great For instance, suppose a client asks for a service you have never provided. It’s good money and a great way to satisfy a client, but you will need to figure out how to meet the client’s needs on your own. You may need to learn a new skill quickly, consult with other freelancers who provide similar services or practice with a new tool. (Important point: Promising to deliver something without the appropriate skills or experience may be unethical. Just make sure your client understands your skill level.)
Good problem solvers are also decisive. They make a plan and then execute it. They accept that it won’t be perfect, but they are willing to make mistakes and then correct them. They don’t allow failure to deter them from solving the problem.
If you become known for problem-solving, people will gravitate toward you. They will see you as someone reliable who they feel safe working with because they know you always figure out how to get the job done.
Accepting criticism is one of the hardest soft skills to learn, but it has the tremendous potential to improve your skills, the services you provide, and your relationships with your clients. As a freelancer, you need the emotional maturity to incorporate feedback from your clients and your peers to make yourself better at whatever you do. If you can train yourself to think objectively about criticism, you can use that information to become stronger.
Most importantly, accepting criticism means separating the feedback from the sting of being critiqued. Some feedback may hurt to hear, but you can’t take it personally. You have to recognize it as wisdom and be thankful to the critic for helping you become better. Ultimately, this is an exercise in self-control.
As a freelancer, you probably spend a lot of time working alone. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore team working skills. You need the ability to work well with your clients and the people on your clients’ teams. You will become exponentially more valuable to your clients if they know you can slot into their team and work effectively from the get-go.
Teamwork is more than just meeting deadlines and sending off notifications. It means generating ideas together, distributing tasks, and supporting other people. Sometimes it means pitching in a little extra to get the job done. If people see you as a strong team player, they’ll undoubtedly want to work with you again in the future.
Proactivity and Work ethic
The best freelancers take the initiative, work ahead, think about the future, and know how to get the job done. They don’t wait until the last minute or look for ways to cut corners. They know they have to work to produce results for their clients.
Think of it like this: Every problem you encounter comes with a cost. The cost is usually time, but sometimes there’s a monetary penalty. If you are proactive, you will encounter problems sooner, which gives you more time to deal with them. For example, sometimes a project takes longer than anticipated, but you don’t learn this until you are deep into it. If you work proactively, you will identify this obstacle earlier, giving yourself time to either a) notify the client about the delay or b) manage your time to overcome it.
Of all of the soft skills on this list, good time management can have the greatest impact on your income.
Time management is your ability to stay on schedule and meet your deadlines. It’s your ability to estimate how long jobs will take correctly. You also have to plan for the inevitable disruptions that force work to take longer than it should.
Let’s say a client wants you to build a website. To give the client an accurate quote that compensates you apLet’s say a client wants you to build a website. To give the client an accurate quote that compensates you appropriately for your work, you need a very clear idea of how long it will take to build that site. If you estimate too low, you won’t be paid enough. If you estimate too high, you might lose the job/project.
Fortunately, this is one of the soft skills you can measure, at least to a degree. You can track your time to uFortunately, this is one of the soft skills you can measure with very little effort, especially with the right tool that can do the majority of the work for you. You can track your time and view a detailed report to understand the real-time cost of your work. Armed with that information, you can take steps to improve your time management.
For instance, suppose you were to use time tracking software like Timing to automatically track your time (without starting or stopping timers). You might notice that your “30-minute meetings” tend to last about 45 minutes. An extra 15 minutes isn’t a significant problem, but they add up over time. Knowing this, you might find ways to shorten your meetings or simply leave 45 minutes for each in your schedule. Either approach is better for time management.
Furthermore, Timing can give you a detailed overview of how you spend your time, like how long you spend writing code versus writing documentation or how long you spend editing videos versus searching for stock footage. These valuable insights can help you gauge whether you’re spending your time as productively as possible.
Timing is a powerful way to boost your time management. Keep focusing on your work while Timing records your time automatically, then review your time when you want. Download a free 30-day trial today.
This skill is undeniably the softest of the soft skills you need to be a successful freelancer. It’s hard to define, but it has an impact on all of your other skills.
Empathy refers to your ability to understand other people’s feelings and motivations. If you can put yourself in their position, you’ll be in a better spot to understand their needs, fears, goals, ambitions, pains, and desires. Sometimes your clients can’t or won’t tell you exactly what they need, but if you can empathize, you can find better ways to serve them.
For instance, let’s say you’re a speechwriter and a client has hired you to prepare some remarks for when they accept an award. You can tell the client is nervous about speaking in public, so you include some notes along with the speech to help them relax and perform better. The client never asked for that help, but they would undoubtedly be grateful. That’s an example of how empathy makes your work more valuable.
Grow Your Skills and Your Career
Now that we’ve explained the top hard and soft frequency skills, your next step is to ask yourself how you can develop your abilities. Choose the hard skills that make the most sense for your career, but find ways to improve all of the soft skills on our list, as well. If you make yourself a stronger freelancer, it won’t be long before you can use these skills to secure higher-paying clients and more satisfying projects.