Call it Gig, Freelance, Whatever: A Guide to Finding Project Work
Scores of websites match your skills with (temporary) employers; how to price yourself
As the unemployment rate approaches 14%, older workers are suffering disproportionately in the pandemic. For some, though, there might be a reprieve: freelancing.
Though not traditionally an arena where Gen X and boomer workers seek employment, the growth in work from home, online jobs and the elevated rates of joblessness are drawing 55+ workers into this brave new — and sometimes terrifying — world.
Upwork, one of the leading freelance websites, found in its research that nearly one-third of boomers and one-third of Gen Xers are actively freelancing, either full or part time. And that was before the coronavirus decimated the traditional workforce.
Freelance work spans as many as 8,000 skills across 70 job categories, according to Upwork research. Among the top 100 jobs, average income is nearly $44 per hour, equating to an annual salary in the $91,000 range. That's well above the median U.S. salary of just under $49,800. (For freelancing overall, the average hourly rate is about $28.)
What kind of jobs are we talking about in the top 100? As you might expect, many are in technology: database design, Amazon Web Services, search engine optimization, various programming languages and the like. But the field also includes more traditional work, such as architectural rendering, accounts payable management, project scheduling, systems administration, public accounting and such.
Outside of the top 100 is a vast range of skills from corporate law to statistical analysis to internal auditing.
A recent search on Upwork for the broad category of “project management” found nearly 1,400 gigs. Many are offering hourly pay in the range of $20 to $40. Others are higher. A company needing a Kronos project manager is offering an hourly rate of $75 to $100. Another for a project task manager lists wages of between $50 and $80 per hour. And a startup is seeking a product manager at up to $125 per hour.
A search of individual freelancers — the sites list both employers and workers — with expertise in various types of project management and a 100% success rating across at least 10 gigs (yes, you are rated) shows per-hour fees of $38 to $125.
Bridgestone, Airbnb, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Priceline and the universities of Colorado and Southern California are clients of Toptal, which markets its freelancers as the top 3% in industries ranging from software development to product management to financial modeling.
As of last year’s third quarter, 38% of the freelance jobs in the top 100 categories at Upwork came from foreign companies. Among the leading countries are Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, Israel and Germany.
To be sure, many older workers find themselves discombobulated by the world of freelancing. They're accustomed to cubicles, not kitchen tables. Many are also unsure of the technology skills required, and they must learn to navigate their own healthcare and retirement savings options. My colleague Carla Fried’s guide to managing your own benefits and pricing your freelance services: https://www.rate.com/research/news/gig-work-negotiate
Nevertheless, older workers often have some advantages. Because they've been in the workforce longer, they often possess a broader range of skill sets. That includes knowing how to develop work-arounds and solutions to common problems that crop up in industries they’ve worked in before. They can be great problem solvers.
To get started, open an account at one or more freelance sites, build a profile highlighting your skills, set your hourly fee.
The best profiles tend to be specific. This isn’t a resume listing your work history, but rather a sales document in which you sell your skillset. Potential buyers weed through dozens if not scores of profiles, so you want to clearly, plainly and immediately define the relevant and specific skills you offer.
Though many sites overlap in the skills they market, they all operate slightly differently, and they tend to appeal to different groups. So, it’s best to check out the different sites. Top ones include Toptal, Fiverr, Upwork, People Per Hour, Guru, Flexjobs and Freelancer. But well over 100 exist.
In most cases, you pay a monthly fee to the site to host your profile, though some offer a free basic plan. The fees range from about $10 a month to as much as $40, depending on how many job bids you wish to make in a given year. A basic free plan at Guru.com, for instance, allows for 120 bids per year. The $40 plan allows for 600.
You’ll also share a percentage of your earnings with the site. At Fiverr, which attracts clients including Netflix, MIT, Intuit and Procter & Gamble, 20% of your earnings go to the website. For that reason, you will want to adjust your rates to reflect the fees you’ll pay, though at the same time factoring in what others with your skills are charging on the same site.
Freelancing can certainly be a challenging world to navigate when you’ve spent your entire career in a traditional job. But amid the changing nature of work these days, and widespread joblessness, older workers across a wide swath of job categories might find luck online replacing lost paychecks.