The best freelance skills: the one skill to rule them all

The best freelance skills: the one skill to rule them all

Since I began freelancing, I’ve experimented with different ideas to find the best freelance skills for myself.

I’ve tried skills like WordPress setup, running ads and copywriting. From time to time, I’d get lucky and land some work but it wasn’t until I learned to look at the skills from the client’s perspective, that things started to click.

I noticed that while I was struggling, other freelancers offering the same skill were raking it in. At first, I couldn’t understand it and it took a hard look in the mirror to accept that I was probably doing something wrong…

Compare that to now where clients, out of the blue, often send projects my way because they love the service I offer.

It all changed when I discovered that the skill we use to offer our services might be the one that matters the most. Otherwise, they never get to experience how good we are at what we do.

I kept thinking that if I’m good enough they will come — they will recognize my talent and appreciate it.

That never happened because they didn’t understand it. 

In this article, we’ll look at the best freelance skills depending on if you are new to freelancing and are looking to get your first few clients or if you are experienced and looking for more advanced stuff.

The best freelance skills based on profits

Next, let’s look at the best freelance skills based on where freelancers are earning the most in my unscientific study below.

Freelance platforms like Upwork has a reputation for being low quality, low skilled freelance projects and workers. Contrary to what we might think, there are also a fair portion of decent, if not high-quality, work there as well.

Because they openly share a lot of data through their freelancers’ profiles it will be a decent representation of the larger scale freelance market since most other freelancers don’t openly share their rates and earnings.

Upwork categorizes a freelancers hourly rates within these four buckets:

  • $10 and less
  • $10 – $30
  • $30 – $60
  • $60 and above

Since many freelancers, both have clients within Upwork and outside the platform (where the earnings aren’t counted), I looked at how many freelancers priced themselves in the top bracket within the 12 most common categories of skills such as marketing, software development, and design.

The best freelance skills - upwork services and rates

Go here to find the zoom-ins.

The least profitable freelance skills

Let’s start with the services where the fewest freelancers were charging an hourly rate above $60/h. They were admin support, customer service, translation, and engineering and architecture – all with less than 10% each.

The most profitable freelance skills

To my surprise, each skill is well represented but in almost all cases there is a smaller portion of the freelancers charging the most. Why is that? What’s going on?

As I described in the beginning, it turns out that if it happens across most freelance skills, it must be because of something else than the skill it self: the ability to pick the right clients to help, solve the right problem for them with that skill and by being able to show how we can help.

The best freelance skills for new freelancers

Next, let’s what to do if you are new to freelancing and why your existing, if you have one, is probably good as it is.

Why there is nothing wrong with your freelance idea

If you can’t find anyone offering the same service as you, that is typically a red flag. It is often misunderstood that we need to find a unique idea that no one has ever done before. 

The reality is that with freelancing most ideas have been done before and so being able to find other people offering a similar service is great! It means that there is a market for it. 

I think you’ll agree that it is better to have an idea that clients want but is also offered by competitors, than an idea that no one cares about with no competition. 

We can always find a way to be different as long as we are solving a real problem in the first place.

If we are offering a freelance skill with no luck that we can see others are earning money with, the problem is likely that either the businesses we are offering it to are too small and have no money or the way we offer it to them — they might not understand the value.

Often, it isn’t the skill itself but the results it will bring. Most of the businesses that are looking for a particular skill already know that they have a problem and that the skill is needed to solve the it.

It takes a lot of energy for a busy person to figure out what is required to solve a problem that they aren’t familiar with in the first place. So imagine how many people out there have a problem but they haven’t yet figured out what is required to solve it.

Or imagine the number of businesses that don’t even know they have a problem yet.

By offering a specific skill we depend on a business to know that they have a problem, and that our skill is necessary to solve it.

If you are just starting out and looking to land your first few freelance clients, picking a skill and clients that know they need help with that skill is a good choice since it makes it easier for you to get started.

If you’re just looking for a random skill to get started freelancing, here’s a list of a few ideas that tend to be popular:

  • Programming
  • Digital marketing
  • Analytics
  • Writing
  • Design
  • Customer service

I urge to go a step deeper to pick something more specific, that way you get closer to the specific problem that your potential client has and it will be easier for them to see how their business might be a fit for your skills. For example:

  • Developing mobile games
  • Running Facebook ads
  • Ecommerce content writing
  • Website design
  • Customer service for online courses

The thing is that if all we need is an idea, its as simple as picking one of the above and go. But you are still here, so what’s really going on?

There’s a book called the Paradox of Choice that goes into more detail. It comes down to the point that having more options makes it challenging for us to decide because we don’t want to make the wrong decision or close any doors.

So instead, we do nothing, which might be worse than making the wrong choice. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “if you speak to everyone, you really speak to no one”. This is similar.

Advanced: the best freelance skills for intermediate freelancers

So, you’ve gotten clients, earned some money and it’s time to take it to the next level. Great.

As you and I discussed, virtually every market we servce as a freelancer has a small portion of the best people earning most of the money. Now, how do we get there?

In a private community, I once saw this freelancer being recommended with 10-20 comments of other people having booked him because of the recommendation. Amazing right? 

Well, the thing is that he was offering to make someone’s website load faster. There is a need for the service but that challenge is: how many times do you really need to improve how fast your website loads? Hopefully just once, right? 

One of the most profitable things we can do is to get repeat business because those clients already trust us and know the value of our work. That means we’ll spend less time persuading them to work with us, time that isn’t billable, than to find a new client that we have to build a relationship with. 

That freelancer might tweak his services to fit other freelancers and agencies offering his help to their clients and get repeat business that way. It is a subtle tweak that makes all the difference.

Existing clients that love you will also send you projects without us needing to ask for them or pitch them. I experience it frequently either in the sense that they have a particular project that they want help with or that they just want us to stick around because we are competent.

If we look at the best freelance skills from that point of view we can design a better freelance experience for ourselves.

The magic spot

Compare that “one-off” type freelance project to one at the other end of the spectrum: a project manager. Clients will want to continue working with them again and again since it is likely that if they can manage one project, they can probably manage another one. But there is a ceiling to how much money we can ask for since it isn’t particularly specialized.

On the other hand, it offers the benefit that it allows us to work on many different projects and spot those that are inclined to be repeated. That means we might pick something in the middle with a high likelihood of repeat work, yet specialized so we can do a good job and command a high rate.

If you don’t have a freelance business already it’s more important to get started and get clients than plan things out to perfection because you’ll be able to tweak things as you work with clients.

The best freelance skills are sales skills and being able to build a relationship with the potential client since they will not know how good we are at our service, if we never get to sell them and implement it for them. 

One way to look at it is that sales skills are how we land clients and whatever we offer them depends on if they will come back for more in the future. Luckily, we don’t have to be salesy or spammy to learn sales skills.

The best skill for freelancing is sales and social skills, so we can make life easy for our clients and help them understand the value of our work.

Skills that I’ve found are needed to be a freelancer are being organized, mindful of our client’s priorities and being able to talk about the projects from their point of view rather than our own.

The freelance jobs that tend to be the most in-demand are software development, digital marketing, writing, design, and customer service skills.

High-paying skills are often skills that can deliver a result such as more revenue, sales, leads, or being able to effectivize a process to cut cost for a business. That might be sales, digital marketing, software development or automation.


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