The Freelancing Income Ladder: What It Is and How to Climb It

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on January 6, 2021 in Freelancing

Arthur Ashe, the famous tennis champion, offered a quote that, to me, rings so true for baby boomers and Gen Xers who want to begin freelancing online:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Ashe may have uttered those words long before the online gig economy became popular, but they perfectly capture the best way to get involved in freelancing.

And once you dip your toes into this world and start climbing the freelancing income ladder, you’ll quickly realize that the modern gig economy offers a genuine pathway to earning some real money…in your own time…on your own terms.

Right now, on popular freelancing platforms where you can register for free today, countless baby boomers and Gen Xers just like you are making tens of thousands of dollars a year. And often, they’re earning these sums for doing tasks that you could likely do.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. The beauty of online freelancing platforms is that they are transparent. You can log onto these websites yourself right now and see exactly how much people are charging and earning online.

Here’s just a few examples I’ve seen recently on one of the major freelancing sites: Eric K. charges $80 an hour and has earned over $100,000 for helping people create PowerPoint presentations. Mae P. has pocketed more than $70,000 providing customer support to small online stores that typically can’t afford their own in-house support staff. And Melissa P. has accumulated more than $100,000 in earnings as a freelance editor and proofreader.

Once you know how to scale the freelancing income ladder, earning these kinds of sums is possible. Here’s how the income ladder works:

Rung 1: Pull together your profile (like a resume, but much more focused on skills rather than chronology and history).

You may not feel like you have skills that you can use to earn online, but trust me when I say, you do. As boomers and Gen Xers, we have three-plus decades of career experience, industry knowledge, and problem-solving skills to draw on.

With the right guidance it is easy to highlight your best, most marketable skills and put together an excellent profile that will attract clients.

Rung 2: Do simple jobs you find through online freelance platforms, usually for $20 to $50 per hour.

Now, some people scoff at $20 to $50 jobs. When I am working with a newcomer to freelancing, sometimes they say something like, “I’m not going to work for $35 per hour, that’s ridiculous… in my last job I was earning $70,000.”

What they don’t realize is that $70,000 a year is about $35 per hour! (That assumes a 40-hour workweek, and most boomers want to work less…but if you do work full time, $20 to $50 per hour gigs equate to annual earnings of $40,000 to $100,000.)

Rung 3: Getting to know your clients.

In the course of doing those simple jobs, you’ll learn about your clients, what their overall objectives are, and how the relatively small job you are doing fits into their big picture. Then, you’ll both likely discover you have a number of different ways to work with each other, which leads to higher-paying jobs.

That’s why, as you begin to work online, you want to “audition” your talent to a number of freelance buyers. Most of them will not hand you the reins of a big project until they are certain you can handle smaller assignments with skill and professionalism.

It makes sense, right? In your career, you probably had jobs and assignments of increasing complexity. And as you demonstrated the ability to complete the smaller tasks, you were promoted to bigger ones.

Invisible Benefits

Some hidden benefits accrue when you take this approach to scaling the online freelancing income ladder.

First, you learn your way around online freelancing platforms. It takes a little time to become familiar with any new system. You don’t want to be in the position of asking your client for help with this. The only way to learn it is to use it.

Second, you start conquering the algorithm. Every success you have in an online freelance marketplace typically increases your desirability on the platform. So, if you do one large job in a month for a client, the algorithm sees one success. If you complete six small jobs in a month, you have six client successes…that tells the algorithm that you can satisfy multiple clients, meet deadlines, listen well to instructions, etc.

Armed with that information, the algorithm will actually promote you to other clients, meaning that you will regularly be offered good-paying assignments, rather than having to seek them out.

As I demonstrated above, the idea that freelancers aren’t earning big dollars is a myth. And with freelancing, you have the added benefit of controlling your own hours and schedule. You can start off small in your spare time and use the extra income to pad your nest egg. Then, once you establish your reputation, you can transition to an early retirement.

So, isn’t it time you put your foot on the first rung of the ladder? You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

To get started, simply follow Arthur Ashe’s advice: start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

By Winton Churchill