Freelancing Fundamentals: Evergreen Careers For Newcomers
The Western employment climate has changed drastically over the past several decades. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for a University graduate to go from being a top academic performer to—after several months of failed applications—being dejected, unemployed, and feeling increasingly trapped in their parents’ home. This trend has resulted in an increasing number of persons taking on low-wage work in positions that make little, if any, use of their education.
Quite the harsh wake-up call for devoted students who had spent the majority of their lives up to that point being told that hard work and good grades would result in pay equivalent to their efforts.
An increasing number of skilled professionals are finding success while working as independent freelancers—a prospect that for many holds the potential to free them from the restrictions of their local job markets. In the 2019 edition of the annual “Freelancing in America” report, it was demonstrated that the industry has been steadily gaining popularity by the year, in particular among younger generations. In 2018 alone, the freelancing industry contributed more than $1 trillion to the GDP of the United States.
The efficacy of freelancing is also bolstered by the high degree of flexibility it can allow in work schedules. According to the report, more than half of the freelancers surveyed would avoid traditional employment regardless of how much money offered, with over 70% listing “having a flexible schedule” as a major motivation for pursuing the freelancing.
With statistics like these, it’s not hard to see why interest in freelancing is continuing to grow year by year. For someone only just learning about the industry and the potential it holds for them, there is one question that needs to be answered…
Where to start?
This article will attempt to—at least partially—address that initial question by reviewing five evergreen fields in freelancing. This information should enable anyone to make an informed decision as to whether the mentioned career paths seem like viable options for them.
The term “Copy” refers to the written content of a product, whether it be a book, webpage, or newspaper.
Becoming a freelance copywriter can entail a number of different things depending on one’s skill set and interests, but at its core deals with advertising. For example, SEO copywriting focuses on optimizing copy for search engines to maximize visibility in search results. This is often combined with Creative copywriting to convey a story with the intent to retain interest and, ideally, convert traffic into sales.
For those with a love for writing of any kind, copywriting can be a very lucrative and enjoyable means of generating income. This reddit user is able to manage a six-figure income in this field of work. I highly recommend checking his post out, as he has a mini-series detailing the basics of copywriting to complete newcomers. Others followed his advice and, combined with their existing skills, were able to break into the industry in a relatively short period of time.
Within the freelancing economy itself, marketing is considered to be the single most important expense for finding success. So long as businesses exist, there will be competition, and a need for skilled marketers and writers to decide which ones survive the test of time (and the free market).
This could involve anything from the development of websites to mobile apps. Regardless of platform, industry trends and the emergence of new technologies and platforms ensure an ever-increasing need for highly skilled and specialized programmers.
In the US alone, there is a relatively even spread of professional programmers between the ages of 20 and 60, with the majority of these finding their skills directed towards Computer Systems Design. Add to this the almost endless stream of opportunities for employment worldwide, and it can be said with certainty that there’s never a bad time to examine programming as a career, even for those with no prior coding experience.
Despite how it easy is for us to take it for granted due to our isolated experiences, English is not a universal language. Despite its widespread use as an official language in all developed nations, as of 2017, only 20% of the planet (1.5 billion people) was capable of speaking English, with less than a third of that speaking it as their native tongue. As of September 2019, English remains third-place among the world’s most spoken languages, with Chinese Mandarin taking the top spot with over 900 million native speakers.
What this translates to for multilinguals is practically infinite demand for conversion of content from one tongue to another.
Globally recognized translation firms have been around since the early 1990s. Businesses and individuals contract them for work which is then outsourced to individual translators or teams, depending on the scale of the project. The result of this is a fast turnaround and a relatively consistent standard of output. Depending on the project, however, hiring for a firm may not always be the right choice.
When dealing with one-person projects, hiring a freelance translator directly offers several advantages over an agency. Primarily, they are significantly cheaper, as there is no middle-man contractor to be paid. In the case of businesses that regularly expect to work with customers with a different native tongue, having an on-call rather than an in-house translator means that their services are only paid for as necessary without the need for full-time pay.
Working directly with a translator also has the benefit of fostering familiarity both ways, resulting in a mutual understanding of the desired final product, and higher employer satisfaction in the long-term. By comparison, unless a premium is paid, a worker under a firm has little incentive to develop an attachment to each project beyond surface-level translation, which can result in hit-or-miss delivery among foreign audiences due to loss of nuance.
While the choice between a freelancer and an agency still depends on the scale and context of what needs to be done, the fact remains there will always be a market for independent translators. Should anyone be interested in learning a new language with the intent to work professionally, a good starting point to gauge potential demand would be Ethnologue’s yearly report of the world’s most spoken languages, native or otherwise. While the full report requires payment to access, the aggregated results are freely viewable on Wikipedia.
- Accounting Consultants
For those with a degree in Accounting or Business, as well as familiarity with Quickbooks or other industry-trusted accounting software, offering their services as a freelance accountant can be a lucrative source of income.
Companies—especially when small—often don’t have an in-house accountant and cannot afford to salary one. Doing so full-time entails not just a recurring wage, but legally required benefits. These companies can save a significant amount of money by hiring accountants on contract only as necessary. Meanwhile, for the freelancer, the lack of prolonged attachment leaves the door open to enter contracts with other businesses in rapid succession, if not simultaneously.
Freelancers can also offer bookkeeping services aside from their usual accounting duties, which involves maintaining records of all financial activity within a business. These very same records are a necessity in the accounting process, and so by contracting both tasks to a single person, the business can cut down on costs while the freelancer increases the value of their service.
- Content Writing
Last, but certainly not least, this niche entails producing long-form or short-form content in the format of a blog, article, or guide, just to name a few applications. Freelance writers are distinct from copywriters in their intent when writing. Whereas copywriters have to focus on promoting a specific product, content writers tailor their work to more general niches with the aim to entertain or educate.
This isn’t to say that content writers don’t try to sell things—it’s simply not as overt. Ultimately, for a craft to be worth money, it has to generate money. How this value is generated can vary depending on the platform paying for it. Several print publications accept unsolicited submissions of stories and articles relevant to their niche, with payment ranging from flat amounts per submission to per-word compensation. Meanwhile, an affiliate marketing website can take the form of a simple product review board that happens to include links to purchase the items in question, with the site’s owner receiving a percentage of all sales generated.
As with copywriting, this career path should be a consideration only for people who already enjoy writing and are comfortable with the prospect of dedicating a large portion of their lives to it.
Newcomers to the niche will find themselves competing with thousands of others—amateurs and professionals alike—who are willing to ruthlessly undercut one another to secure a client, and they may lack a proper portfolio to aid them in standing out. An aspiring content writer will likely have to accept low-paying or even uncompensated work when getting started in order to establish recognition and a regular client base. Once this is achieved, they can confidently begin to increase rates proportionally to the quality of their content.
Every one of the potential careers discussed above can be considered evergreen, meaning that there will always be a demand for the services of skilled professionals. This article covered only a fraction of the available freelancing opportunities, so in the event that none happen to appeal to someone considering freelancing as a career path, there are still many other avenues to exhaust.
A quick search for platforms on which to find freelance work will turn up scores of options to decide between. Before jumping headfirst into a commitment with any particular broker, it is advisable to consult the online freelancing community to determine their reputability. To this end, Reddit makes a fantastic resource.
The Freelance subreddit has over 100,000 active members with varying levels of experience across practically every major branch of the profession. Furthermore, depending on your chosen niche, there will almost certainly be a sub dedicated to it. Content writers, for example, will find invaluable guidance and discussion through the Freelance Writers subreddit, while copywriters should be sure to bookmark the Copywriting sub. For anyone serious about freelancing, Reddit will remain an indispensable tool throughout their career, especially for the purposes of market research.
As far as breaking into any given industry as an inexperienced newcomer without a reputation (Déjà vu, anyone?), college degrees and working experience can help immensely for establishing credibility. Even when lacking these qualifications, proper research and strategic outreach can enable an amateur to secure employment. The single most valuable skill any freelancer can have is a willingness to learn.
When it comes to finding work as a budding freelancer, especially if you’re a writer, many choose to start off on Content Mills. If you don’t know what these are, and want to know if this route is right for you, read my introduction to Content Mills and their role in building your brand.
If none of the potential career paths discussed here appeal to you, rest easy.
I’ll be revisiting this topic numerous times in greater detail with a focus on specific freelancing careers, providing overviews, tips, and resources specific to those niches. Be sure to bookmark the site and check back often so you don’t miss any future articles!