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In Most Countries, Freelancers Earn More Than Average Workers

image for Poike / Getty Images
Poike / Getty Images

In just about every industry, freelancing has become a popular option for professionals looking for more control over their careers and work experiences. The freedom to set your own pace, work from anywhere and take on projects for numerous companies sounds appealing to those who are tired of the 9-to-5 office grind, but what's the reality of earning a living as a freelancer in the modern world?

According to ZipRecruiter the average annual salary for freelance writers in the United States was $63,488 in 2019.  The average freelance writer made $31 an hour, indicating that the market continues to grow from a $21 hourly rate in 2015 according to Payoneer. 

In the 2015 study, Payoneer surveyed more than 23,000 freelancers from 180 countries to uncover trends in billing rates, experience levels and work expectations. According to Payoneer's data, the average freelancer worked 36 hours a week at a rate of $21 per hour, for an annual pretax salary of more than $39,000. This was significantly higher than the average salary for nonfreelancers in most of the countries in the survey. It's important to note, however, that these numbers were global averages, and freelance take-home pay can vary greatly depending on the industry, billing method and whether freelancing is a person's primary source of income.

In the 2019 study, ZipRecruiter compiled data from freelance writing jobs according to the company's "ZipEstimate." According to the new data, if the average freelancer works 36 hours a week at a rate of $31 per hour, they would make $58,032. Compared with the numbers from the 2015 Payoneer study, that's about a 49% increase over four years.

Jonny Steel, vice president of marketing at Payoneer, said one of the most surprising data points uncovered by the survey was that freelancers with a college degree typically earn $20 an hour, which is less than the $22 an hour earned by those whose highest education level is high school. This suggests that companies who hire freelancers favor experience and client reviews over formal education, he said. 

"Not everyone has the same access to traditional higher education, but the beauty of the internet is that as long as you're connected, you have access to an almost infinite amount of knowledge," Steel told Business News Daily. "People can learn skills from watching online tutorials, reading e-books and following the latest trends on top-notch blogs. So when it comes to making an impact on the freelance marketplaces, it matters a lot less where you acquired your skills from, as long as you can do the job."

A freelancer is someone with a particular set of skills who does work for clients for a price. For example, freelance writers often set their own prices per word or per article. They may work from home or utilize their talents as a side hustle. The benefit of being an independent contractor is that you are not beholden to a specific 9-to-5 schedule and can choose your preferred projects. However, work may be more unstable, and you need to be able to market yourself. [Want to Be a Full-Time Freelancer? What You Need to Know]

There are many reasons businesses hire freelancers. Search engines, especially Google, have changed the economics of advertising online. If you are interested in freelance writing, it's essential to educate yourself on search engine optimization (SEOs), keywords and link building. [The Beginner's Guide to Link Building and SEO]

Depending on your skill set, some companies may pay in excess of $100 per hour for legal writing, copywriting and tech writing.

Scott Galit, CEO of Payoneer, echoed what many freelancers have discovered in recent years: Today's hyperconnected, "borderless world" has created unprecedented work opportunities for talented professionals, no matter where they're located.

"There's an obvious appeal to freelancing — businesses worldwide can tap into a larger and more diverse talent pool than ever before, and ... freelancers and service providers [can] secure work with international companies," Galit said in a statement. "Freelancing offers smart, talented, hardworking professionals and business owners in emerging economies such as Argentina, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Serbia a major breakthrough in job prospects and earning potential that they would have never thought possible a few years ago."

For freelancers who want to market themselves better and earn more money, Steel advised creating a presence across multiple freelancing networks and asking clients to leave reviews on those sites. He also noted that branding yourself and promoting your work through a blog and social media channels can help you gain exposure, credibility and, ultimately, business growth.

"If you're good at your job, there really is no limit to how much you can grow your business," Steel said. "Many of the most successful entrepreneurs we come across just keep growing, and it's because they're bold and eager to promote themselves. Companies will be more drawn to you — and be willing to pay more — when they see you're serious."

To view the full Payoneer Freelancer Income Survey 2015 report, visit Payoneer's download page.

As the U.S. economy grew in 2019, so did the market for freelancers. With businesses thriving, opportunities to provide work for companies enabled freelance writers to earn an average salary of $63,488 in 2019, according to ZipRecruiter.

However, the average salary in the U.S. was $46,800 in 2019. But how much of this data is skewed by those who write only part-time?

Carol Tice, creator of makealivingwriting.com and an author of dozens of books dedicated to making money as a freelance writer, conducted an independent study of 1,400 writers in 2019. She found that 45% of respondents wrote part-time.

Tice indicated that the most lucrative path involved content marketing. "When you compare types of writing, sophisticated content marketing work — content strategy, white papers, case studies, client e-books — appears to be a faster track to good pay for newbies than does sales-focused copywriting such as direct-response, email marketing and sales pages," she said.

There are many opportunities for writers to make a living freelancing. The challenges are determining your niche, embracing your passions and applying your skills.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.

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