Empowering the Freelance Economy

The best freelance jobs of 2023: high pay, low hustle, and career stability

How are the best freelance jobs ranked? It's not just by pay according to new research/ Photo credit: Photo by Christina Morillo (Pexels)
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What determines the best freelance jobs? A new report ranks freelance industries by best paid, least hustle, most stable and least competitive. Where does yours stand and is it time to make a change?

Freelancing is never just about the pay, it’s about stability, competition and time spent versus what you get out of any one project or assignment. But how can you get the right balance?

Nerdwallet has conducted research to find out which freelance industries could be more attractive than others which could help decision-making easier when it comes to entering or pivoting into a freelance profession.

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After taking into consideration earnings ability, hustle, stability and competitiveness, the researchers calculated a star rating for each freelance profession. Here’s the methodology:

  • Best paid: Researchers analysed average freelance day rates combined with UK consumer price inflation (CPI) data for June 2023 to estimate this year’s earning rates.
  • Least hustle: Researchers worked out the number of freelance projects you would need to take on to match the average annual full-time salary per profession. They refer to this amount of work as “hustle”.
  • Most stable: Researchers estimated the potential available freelancer jobs (by working days) by analysing the number of jobs by profession available on the freelancing jobs website Upwork combined with the average project working length.
  • Least competitive: They analysed the number of available jobs for over 480 roles on Upwork, grouping them by profession. They then worked out the relative number of postings there were for every freelancer job search on Google.

The following chart provides some interesting data points.

RankProfessionsBest paid rating (out of 5)Least hustle rating (out of 5)Most stable rating (out of 5)Least competitive rating (out of 5)Best overall score (out of 5)
2Market research5.
7Client services2.
8QA & Testing3.
9Project management3.
10Social media0.
14Film & Motion2.
Source: Nerdwallet; Scores are rounded to one decimal place. If a score is tied, the profession with the best-unrounded score is ranked higher.

As both the least competitive and most stable profession, developers easily topped the list as the best freelance profession in 2023 with 4.4 stars. That includes developers of all types, from front-and back-end to games, apps and emails. 

Thanks to being the best-paid industry, market research is the second-best freelance profession with 3.4 stars. That’s despite having a star score of just 0.6 for its stability rating. 

With a strong earnings score, data came in third with 3.3 stars. This ranking is also due to the fact you would need to take on the fewest projects in a year of all the professions considered to match the average full-time salary in that field. Jobs in this industry include data analysts, scientists and engineers.

The day rates offered to take up a freelance strategy role helped to place it fourth, but its overall score was dragged down to 2.7 stars due to a lack of stability. User experience (UX) professionals, in fifth, had the same problem – a competitive field with little stability produced an overall rating of 2.6 stars.

Best-paid freelance jobs in the UK

One of the first considerations when going freelance is how much to charge for your services. Pitching your day or project rate at the correct level can be the difference between securing a contract and not getting one. So it’s useful to have a benchmark to work from.

Using average day rates in the UK from freelance hiring and management platform YunoJuno, and the latest UK inflation figures, researchers have calculated day rate estimates for 16 key freelance professions in 2023. 

Given the importance of pay, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that the top five best overall freelance professions also make up the best paid.

Those in the market research industry topped the list, with an average day rate estimate of £558.90. Data-based professions weren’t far behind at £555.70, followed by those working in strategy at £541.70. Freelance UX professionals were at £536.30, with developers completing the top five at £474.80. 

These roles typically require specialist technical knowledge or, in the case of strategy, the potential need for experience and seniority.

At the other end of the table, marketing specialists (£369), social media professionals (£349.60) and studio freelancers (£326.90), such as studio managers and photo retouchers, had the lowest average day rates. 

Of course, these numbers come with a couple of caveats. The figures are based on average day rates across entire industries – some roles in any given industry are going to have a higher premium attached than others. Similarly, when you are new to freelancing, you may not be able to charge as much for your services as when you are more established.

That said, if you are known in your industry due to years of experience or an exemplary project, your ‘newness’ to freelancing may not be a problem especially if you have an impressive professional profile that is accessible online for prospective clients to view. Also, if you have knowledge of an industry and provide nuggets of useful information on your social media channels that is another way to increase your profile and expertise.

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