Age Is Irrelevant in This Online Earning Landscape
Sometimes you find yourself so deep in the weeds you don’t realize no one can see you.
Which I realized last week in a conversation with a friend. She lost her job in June—a nice job, sixty grand a year, a fine salary living as a single person in South Louisiana. She’ll be 61 later this year. Chances are, she tells me, “no one’s looking for an executive assistant at my age, particularly in this crummy economy.” She is, in a word, despondent.
I certainly can commiserate. I’ve recounted a few times the story of losing my job, so I won’t rehash it except to note that the unemployment axe befell my head a decade earlier than hers.
But here’s where our story begins: Aiming to raise her hopes, I told her that freelance websites such as Fiverr and Upwork are chockablock with opportunities to work from home as a freelance executive assistant, and that many of those doing so were earning her salary and more. I counseled her to sign up on both sites and create a profile, and begin marketing her skills there. I told her that as sad as she was feeling about her situation, this might just be an opportunity in disguise.
There was a pregnant moment of silence.
“Hello—did I lose you?” I asked into the void of Skype.
“I don’t know what any of that is,” she replied.
“None of it. I’m not a freelancer like you. And for God’s sake, Jeff, I’m 60.”
“So what? I wasn’t a freelancer until I called myself a freelancer and started freelancing. Plus, no one will care if you’re 30 or 60—online, you’re just an anonymous set of skills. They only care you have the experience to back up your profile.”
We spent the next hour or so talking about freelancing, the websites I use, how to build a profile, how to highlight her strengths. She realized that not only is she skilled in various executive assistant matters, but she has the skills to build detailed spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. She’s also fluent in Spanish and I showed her a number of gigs online seeking Spanish translation for business documents—offering as much as $40 per hour—something at which she’d excel, given her background.
By the time we hung up, she was a convert.
She’d begun building her first profile. And a conversation that began with her in a dour mood ended with her upbeat and confident that she had the skills to potentially rebuild an income stream, on her terms, online, working from home.
Though I write about the freelancing lifestyle regularly, I realize that I often forget that not everyone understands this world. Most of us Gen Xers and baby boomers grew up in the traditional nine-to-five environment: wake up, commute to work, complete your assigned tasks, then commute back home—and do it all over again tomorrow.
We weren’t raised in the work-from-wherever “gig” culture that millennials and Gen Z have adopted as their own.
As a photographer in college, I fell into freelancing when a buddy helped me land a gig as a photojournalist “stringer” with United Press International in the mid-1980s. Then, as a newspaper writer in the late-80s, I was further exposed to freelancing for magazines, which I pursued on occasion. My point being that freelancing has been such a commonplace element in my life that I sometimes fail to remember that my experiences are unique and that not everyone realizes all the opportunities that exist.
We are living through a paradigm shift in the history of work.
Because the internet is so ubiquitous globally, the concept of “work” is no longer limited by location. Age is no longer relevant. In my friend’s case, executives all over the world need assistants. Businesses routinely need smart people to build smart PowerPoints for a conference or a product presentation. Others need Excel experts to whip up smart spreadsheets. And, as I mentioned previously, companies and individuals need bilingual experts who turn English documents into grammatically and idiomatically correct foreign-language documents as they pursue cross-border business opportunities.
And that’s just tied to my one friend’s skill set.
The reality of modern freelancing is that pretty much any skill you have will find demand somewhere online. But you have to know that opportunities for those skills exist in order to pursue them. And you need to know how and where to find them. And maybe you, like my friend, need a little push.
So consider this your push.
Don’t think you’re too old to do this, regardless of your age. Don’t think this is a world limited to the creative types; it’s 100% not. Don’t think the technology is too challenging. Don’t think, “Well, I don’t really know anything about this, Jeff”; no dog is too old to learn new tricks. Read my June cover story in our premium publication The Savvy Retiree on freelancing 101. Check out Fiverr and Upwork and TopTal and PeoplePerHour and Guru and Freelancer (and any of scores of other freelancing sites) and find the one that best fits your skills. See what freelancers there are selling and what they’re earning for skills related to your own. Make note of their profiles and how those with the most gigs or the highest ratings are marketing themselves.
And when you feel comfortable and confident, sign up and build your own profile.
Frankly, I was freaked out when I lost my job, just as my friend is. But I know my skill set has value, just as hers does. I know I can slice and dice my skills multiple ways to appeal to multiple kinds of buyers and their multitude of differing needs.
And in that, I know I have a way to generate income on my own terms, anywhere I want to be. And given what I know exists out there in the world of freelancing, I’m confident you can too.
By Jeff D. Opdyke