This post will help you with Phase 2 of Your Free Freelance Workbook
(Voiceover by David W.)
One thing I don’t worry about these days is whether or not there’s opportunity in my corner of freelancing.
Trust, that wasn’t always true but after these past few years, I’ve learned what exactly it is about the skillset and niche dimensions I’ve chosen that have helped me build some certainty into my freelance life. (I say “some”, because nothing lasts forever and nobody has complete visibility.)
I’m not taking credit for being some kind of niche whisperer, but I am practical (INTJ…comes with the territory) and tend to lean toward what works for my goals. That’s why, when someone asks me whether there’s opportunity in the direction they’re taking their freelance career (and I get that question quite a bit), I give pretty much the same answer…
“I’m not sure, but there are ways to find out”
I think a lot of us miss the fact that freelancing isn’t some magical game of balancing passion, manifesting, grinding, and guess work. There are a lot of really tangible ways to pay attention to opportunities to find well-paying and enjoyable work. Once you get used to looking for them, you’ll be in a much better spot to shape the freelance career you want.
Healthcare, real estate, information technology…those are all sectors.
Different sectors (one way to specialize) have different amounts of money flowing through them. The more money a sector’s got, the more space you’ll have to optimize the return on your labor.
Bookmark lists like these and get used to taking an occasional look.
As a freelancers, you’ll only be dealing with a microscopic section of any of these, but the point isn’t so much to deal with exact numbers. It’s to get used to thinking about your work in relation to a bigger picture and keep your mind open to aligning with higher earning potential.
Activity around a niche can be a strong indicator that it has earning potential, but you have to be careful about what kind of activity you’re paying attention to.
Likes don’t count. Podcasts don’t count. TED talks? Don’t count.
When I say “activity”, I mean the movement of actual money and transactions. I mean where people and organizations are spending. Pay attention to the spending habits of..
- You, your family, friends, and community
- Local governments and non-profits
That kind of activity is never a guarantee, but in the age of the attention economy and endless noise, developing a sense for the flow of money can be incredibly powerful.
I’m listing this one with a bit of a caveat because individual company news can lead you astray here.
Trend reports from organizations like the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S.) can be really useful in understanding where your work might fit with the needs of organizations, but, things can get murky if you get too precise.
For example, if I’m a content marketer and I see that AT&T’s pouring $10 million into expanding its content presence over the next year, I might want to hit up their marketing department, but I shouldn’t take their one decision as an indication that content marketing is blowing up across the board…it’s not even a reliable sign that AT&T themselves are open to working with freelancers. After all, some companies grow on an internal basis only.
Now, I MIGHT have an opportunity to align my skills with their overall strategy, but again, unless I‘ve got some kind of connection, that’s risky.
Remember that you’re not employed and aren’t trying to hitch your career to any one organization anymore.
There are a LOT of freelancers out here (55 million in the U.S. alone), and we’ve got a lot of community knowledge bouncing around between us. If you’ve got access to some of that insight? Don’t pass it by.
When individual freelancers say they’ve had success somewhere, believe them. When they say they’ve had problems (like, say, #EbonyOwes), the same thing goes. I know that personally, tuning into other freelancers and listening to their tips (vs. stubbornly sticking to my ideas of what the work should be like) helped me get past a bunch of early freelancer hurdles relatively quickly.
It’s not just about individuals though. As freelancing grows, we’re getting more and better high-level insight into what our world really looks like. My two favorites right now are Upwork’s Quarterly Skills Index (to understand what skillsets are growing the fastest), and Ed Gandia’s Freelance Niche Report. Take a look at those and revisit them as needed.
I think there’s HUGE opportunity here, especially for people who are willing to treat Black businesses with respect and dedication (especially those that serve Black consumers specifically.)
A lot of us have deep, life-earned understandings of Black spending habits and opportunities within our communities, countries, and regions around the world. The only caveat here is to keep a clear perspective on what we’re spending on vs. what’s hypervisible. (e.g. it will be VERY hard to optimize your income in social justice spaces even though there’s a huge amount of attention there.)
That goes back to the activity question again, so as long as you keep your eyes on the cash flows, you’ll be in a stronger position.
All that said, you’ve got to find your own balance…If you know me, you know I’ll take the job that pays $2 a word and camouflages the fact that I even exist over the one that pays $.30 and gets me some social media cred and a call from my great aunt (as it doesn’t stress me out that is). Income might be less important to you and you might be game for more demanding work. The point is to simply be aware so that you can make choices that actively push your freelance business in a direction that gets you closer to your goals.