Professionals with expertise in data analytics, virtual assistance programming and machine learning are enjoying lucrative remote working opportunities, according to a new report highlighting the fastest-growing freelance jobs.
Demand for data analytics professionals rose 58.9% last quarter, making it the most sought-after skill right now, according to freelance online marketplace Freelancer in its new Fast 50 jobs report.
Appetite for virtual assistant experts surged 55.6%, making it the second most in-demand capability, while Microsoft Office skills were the third hottest for freelancers, up 54.2%, the study noted.
The three top skills rank within a wider list of growing demand for freelancers with tech expertise, from machine learning to systems engineering, computer security and even design. And, according to Freelancer's CEO, Matt Barrie, they speak to a wider surge in freelance positions as more businesses shift to move their workforces online.
"I think it's going to play out like cloud computing," Barrie told CNBC Make It in Sydney, Australia. "In the future — or really, starting from now — every business is going to have a local, physical workforce, and they're going to have a virtual workforce."
"The physical workforce is going to do the core work of that business. You might need to keep that local because it requires certain customer interactions or intellectual property that you want to keep in-house. But then for your depth and your breadth, you'll have a virtual workforce," he said.
Barrie said that provides increasing opportunities for skilled employees to transition to freelance roles.
U.S. consulting firm McKinsey estimates that around 27% of U.S. workers are engaged in freelance work — a number that's expected to rise to around 50% in 2030.
For a third of those freelancers, the work can be precarious or "reluctant," the report found. However, Barrie noted that freelance work can also offer great opportunities, flexibility and, indeed, pay.
"The great thing about that is you get exposed to so many things that you wouldn't get in a traditional jobs market," said Barrie.
"It is a lot more flexible and gives you a lot more opportunity. But you do have to be constantly skilling yourself up and constantly agile."
The highest paying jobs tend to be those that require "high education, great communication, cognitive thought, strategic thinking, creative skills, customer relations, domain expertise," he said.
"They're the kind of jobs that you want to be getting into," he added.
1. Know yourself
When considering going freelance, the most important thing, first off, is to figure out if it's the right style of work for you, said Barrie.
"Some people like the ability freelancing gives to architect their career, said Barrie. "But not everyone is suited to an environment where, two weeks from now, you might be doing something different."
"Many people like the predictability of knowing what they're doing day in, day out," he continued, "so be honest with yourself."
2. Test the water
For many people, the prospect of quitting full-time, paid employment and diving headfirst into freelance life can be daunting — and ill-advised.
Barrie instead recommended "testing the water" first, by trying out a job or two while still working.
"You can try it and see is this something that excites you," he said. "And if you don't want to do it full-time, you can maybe do it part-time or one evening a week."
3. Build your brand
When you're ready to start committing to jobs, make sure you fill out any profile you may be using, present an up-to-date portfolio, and tailor your applications to each job specifically, said Barrie.
"You want to make sure you engage with the people posting the job. That's how you stand out from the pack," he noted.
4. Keep upskilling
As with any job, even once you start establishing yourself as a freelancer, it's important to keep developing your skills so you remain competitive.
For that, there are now many free resources available, including online courses from sites like edX, Udemy and Coursera, said Barrie.
"The most important thing is that you continuously skill yourself and train yourself. It's not a case of 'well, I got my skills today,' because industries change," he said.
5. Know your worth
Lastly, it's about setting your price. That can be one of biggest benefits of going freelance, said Barrie: "You get to charge whatever you want." However, he cautioned that you should know you market value and vary your costs according to your set of abilities.
"You might have an area that you're really skilled in and you want to charge a lot for that," he noted. "And then you might have areas where you're lower skilled and you actually want to be charged less because you want to try those areas out and prove your skill set."
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