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Freelance tech jobs can pay a lot — if you know where to find them

A person typing on a laptop
Don’t use just any website to find freelance tech jobs. Some have freelancers bid against one another, which can push rates way down. But plenty of freelance sites offer reasonable to excellent pay.
(Jenny Kane / Associated Press)

You don’t need a fancy college degree to make great money if you happen to have tech skills. If you can code, provide help with websites or test software, you may be able to earn a six-figure income. Experience and references are helpful, but no degree is required. Even if you don’t have the relevant skills today, if you’re willing to learn tech, you could earn plenty.

“Tech provides a comfortable living and can have huge upsides depending on career choices,” says Chris Kolmar, co-founder of Zippia and editor of its career advice blog.

Learning skills

If you don’t already have mad tech skills, you may need training to get into this field. Those training opportunities increasingly involve certificate programs that you can do online.

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Coursera, for instance, offers classes on user experience, web design, cybersecurity and data analytics. Most of these programs can be completed in six months of independent study that demands less than 10 hours a week. Coursera charges $39 a month for unlimited access to these classes, and Google offers some scholarships for those who can’t afford the cost.

The money

Google estimates that annual earnings of people who complete its certificate programs start at $50,000. Zippia estimates that information systems managers earn a median salary of $131,000, while information security directors pull in a median of $173,000. And those at the top of their craft earn considerably more.

Google says that there are hundreds of thousands more tech jobs than workers to fill them and that more than 100 big companies are committed to finding full-time jobs for graduates of its certificate training programs.

One of the benefits of tech careers is that demand is so great, people can work remotely, part time and freelance while earning five- and six-figure incomes. There are dozens of freelance sites vying for seasoned tech experts.

Finding gigs

When it comes to finding tech work in the freelance world, choose your agent carefully. Several big sites that promise to connect tech experts with work, such as Freelancer and Upwork, expect workers to bid against one another for jobs. That can push rates way, way down.

But plenty of freelance sites offer reasonable to excellent pay. Here are some of the best:

Working Not Working and Creatively are both geared toward artists and designers. The positions these sites advertise are increasingly digital, so if you’re a designer of beautiful websites or a user-experience expert who can make websites and apps both intuitive and attractive, these are great places to post a portfolio and look for work. Neither site takes a commission from creatives who find work here.

If you have at least five years of experience, you can apply to join Braintrust. All freelancer members of the tech cooperative get a piece of the network, so your acceptance to Braintrust hinges on being interviewed and accepted by the freelancers already there. Your Braintrust shares don’t pay dividends, but they give you a vote in how the network operates. If you find a job through Braintrust, you’ll get 100% of your rate. The site adds a 10% fee to the client’s bill to pay network expenses.

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SMA enlists freelancers for software development, systems engineering, computer graphics and presentation, management analytics and other projects. The site asks freelancers to sign up with a detailed resume explaining not only what jobs they’ve done in the past but also which systems they’ve used, how they measured their success and what roles they played in completing various projects. Those who make it through the screening process are invited to work on jobs that pay $28 to $80 an hour.

Freelancers on the FreeUp marketplace are also heavily screened. Those who clear this hurdle say that they find plenty of work and that it’s well-paid. You view open projects from employers. If you want to take a project, you contact the client for a 10- to 15-minute chat, during which the client decides whether to hire you. Freelancers are paid based on their skill level. The site doesn’t nick freelancers for fees, but it adds a 15% commission to the client’s bill.

Toptal likes to brag that it hires only the creme de la creme of tech talent. It then markets that talent to corporate clients needing project work. In theory, freelancers set their own hourly rates and simply make their services available through the platform. However, a Toptal spokesperson says the site lets freelancers know when their expected hourly rates make them “uncompetitive.” The site is secretive about its markup, which is rumored to be substantial. But freelancers say they’re still well-compensated.

You don’t necessarily need mad coding skills to build a simple website with Wix or WordPress, and if you can do it, you can find plenty of work on Fiverr. This broad-based marketplace enables freelancers to set the prices and parameters of the job they’re proposing. Clients come to you.

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GoLance is also a broad-based freelance platform that connects tech specialists with clients. You set up a profile that says what you do and what you charge. Companies contact you when they’re interested. If you get hired, you pay an 8% fee to GoLance for making the connection.

Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent site that reviews hundreds of money-making opportunities in the gig economy.


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