The Critical (and Easy) First Step to Earning as an Online Freelancer

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on September 24, 2020 in Make Money

I want to start off today with a graphic…

That’s the month-to-month income growth through the first six months of 2020 for U.S.-based freelancers, according to Payoneer, a popular money-transfer and cross-border payment system that I and other freelancers rely on for getting paid.

To me, it’s a telling number because it says so much about where we are and where we’re likely headed.

Here’s what it says:

• As the U.S. economy lost tens of millions of jobs amid the COVID crisis, Americans increasingly looked to the online marketplace to create an income source that isn’t reliant on a single employer.

• The freelance economy has proven its staying power by not only surviving, but growing during the worst social and economic crisis in a century.

• That employers are increasingly gravitating toward freelancers to fill some or all of their needs.

Indeed, there are several statistics that bolster these claims:

• 35% of American workers—some 57 million people—earned all or part of their income from freelance gigs or side-hustles, according to Upwork, one of the leading freelancer websites.

• Freelance job postings were up 41% in the second quarter over the first quarter, according to, an Australian freelancing site with freelancers all over the world. That would indicate employers are actively seeking online, work-from-wherever freelancers.

• Payoneer has found that small- and medium-sized businesses are flocking in large numbers to freelance arrangements as a way to remain nimble and viable in what, outside of Wall Street’s weirdly myopic bubble, is a decidedly shaky economy. That means there are increasingly vast opportunities for freelancers across everything from web design to writing to information technology, online teaching, remote consulting, graphic design, photography, voice-over work, and so many others.

• And, finally, 64% of professionals say they’re increasingly choosing to work independently.

In short, we’ve entered the golden age of freelancing, where we—the worker—now have the power to dictate our own lives. We can chase the lifestyle and the geography we want…or both.

We can build into our lives the flexibility that allows us to work when we want, and play when we want, without having to seek permission from a boss. You no longer have to look forward to that lone, two-week vacation every year, or a few four-day weekends. Indeed, I’m in Istanbul, Turkey, this week, hanging out with my girlfriend (who after this weekend will be fiancée). 

Before I left, I wrote a few extra columns for The Savvy Retiree Daily, and I stockpiled several extra columns for an investment app I write for. And suddenly I have an unburdened week. I didn’t have to seek permission for time off, and being away doesn’t affect my job or my income in any way…and, better yet, I don’t have to consider this my big vacation for the year. I can dash off to Russia for a couple weeks (where my girlfriend lives), or I can plot the adventure I want later this fall in the Norwegian fjords (COVID willing). 

It’s easy for me to claim this is the golden age of freelancing, but the fact is I’m not alone in that assessment. More than 90% of freelancers in an Upwork survey say that, based on what they’re now experiencing, freelancing’s best days are ahead.

When I proselytize about the benefits of freelancing, people always want to know how to get started. But, then, most never follow through. And I understand why. There’s a motivation aspect to freelancing. When you have a job, even if it’s one you’re ambivalent about, the leap into freelancing is huge. Even friends of mine who’ve lost jobs and need an income stream sluggishly move toward freelancing opportunities, assuming they move at all.

But slowly some of them are coming around. One of my friends has finally filled out a profile on one of the freelance sites. She hasn’t activated it yet, but she has taken the first step. For that, I am happy. Baby steps.

And that’s really the message I am hoping to leave you with today: Baby steps.

Even if you don’t feel prepared to leap into a freelance career, at least build your profile. Find the freelancing site that fits your skill set; you have a lot to choose from: Upwork, Toptal, Fiverr, Freelancer, Guru, PeoplePerHour, and numerous others (Google “site for freelance ______,” filling in the blank with your skill). Then, sign up and build your profile.

You don’t have to start selling immediately. Build yourself up to that point, if you need to. But at least get the process going. Traditional jobs certainly won’t vanish, but freelancing is the future for both workers and so many companies, big and small. Better to be prepared for this golden age than to let it pass you by.

By Jeff D. Opdyke