Unveiling the secrets: What sets high-earning freelancers apart?

The onset of the pandemic and the ensuing shift in the way in which companies have been forced to operate, with many of their staff having to work remotely, has radically changed how employers view freelance consultants. In fact, seasoned, professional freelancers are now highly sought after, and in many cases earn more than their permanently employed counterparts. Many earn six figure salaries, while having the flexibility to work how and when they want, achieve a work-life balance, and have autonomy over their careers and the types of work they do.

These high-earning freelancers are part of the growing talent economy sweeping the world. There is a massive upsurge in the number of freelancers -in Asia, almost one-third (28%) of the population freelance as a career, while in Africa, more than 10% of the population currently freelance, and these numbers look set to soar over the coming years. So much so that it is predicted that by 2030 freelancers could make up as much as 80% of the global workforce.

So, how do high earning freelancers make their millions, or at least six figures?

We have compiled a comprehensive guide, a ‘how to,’ if you will, so that you too can join the ranks of this elite club of professionals who are winning top jobs and earning accordingly.

To begin with, there are two characteristics that all successful freelancers have:

  • Confidence – have a strong sense of self and a clear understanding of what you bring to the table. Know your worth, and don’t settle for anything less.  
  • Resilience – you aren’t going to win every pitch, and not everyone is going to see the value you add, so being able to take the knocks and get up and move is how you succeed as a freelancer.

Know what you’re worth, and price your skills accordingly

This is one of the most critical hurdles to overcome as a freelancer.

Knowing one’s value and charging clients accordingly is one of the universal challenges professional freelancers and consultants face. As an experienced professional freelancer, you have not only put in the time and financial outlay to gain a skillset, but you have years of experience; you started at the bottom of the freelance ladder and, over time, have climbed up and are now at the top of your game. These learnings and the experience you have picked up along the way all contribute to your worth and the value you add to any project, and as such, you need to charge your clients accordingly.

  • How to calculate your minimum hourly rate

In most countries, there is an industry trend regarding freelance rates for specific skill sets. It is essential to be aware of these trends so that when you come to setting your own rate, you don’t price yourself out of the market completely. That being said, there is a simple calculation that you can use for setting your hourly rate.

annual expenses ÷ number of billable hours in a year = hourly rate

Many freelancers fall into the trap of not charging clients what they’re worth and just taking on any work, regardless of whether or not the remuneration matches their skill set. If you want to be a high earner, you need to start placing a premium on what you bring to the table and be more selective.

Manage your freelance career like you would a small business

To become a highly successful top-earning freelancer you need to adopt the behaviour of a business owner, not an employee.

Part of achieving this is getting out of the side hustle mindset and electing to commit to working as a full time, independent consultant within the talent economy.

Other areas to consider are:

  • Know your market and know what skills potential clients in your industry are looking for
  • Choose your projects wisely – set yourself up for success by aligning your work with your strengths
  • Tak the initiative and reach out to potential clients and offer them your expertise
  • Once you have secured your clients, work on retention strategies. For example, once a big project is finished, offer your services as part of a monthly retainer
  • Set goals and targets and continuously revaluate these. Ensure these goals are realistic, measurable, and clearly defined
  • Give yourself a performance appraisal after each project and identify areas that need improvement and work on these
  • Manage your time correctly – be disciplined. Avoid multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time
  • Put time aside for admin such as invoicing, marketing, and networking
  • Make lists and prioritise the work that needs to be done
  • Juggling work and clients is part and parcel of life for freelancers, but it is important to make each client feel like they are your only one and that their project is taking precedence over everything else

Be flexible

Freelancing is all about flexibility. You have the power and the freedom to negotiate timelines, deliverables, and costs. If you are going to win the big contracts, it is important not to be too rigid and to allow some room for discussion with your client. For example, if it’s a more extended project, you might want to work out a rate for your client that still pays you what you’re worth but that also leaves the client’s budget intact.

Find your niche

All too often, freelancers say yes to everything, regardless of whether or not it’s their area of expertise. Find what you’re good at within your field, hone in on it and upskill yourself so that you become a leader among your peers, and you will become a highly sought-after resource. You will also be in a position to charge accordingly.

Upskill: Keep on learning. To be a high-earning freelancer, you must be at the top of your game, and one way to do this is to look at areas where you can upskill, learn more about your area of expertise and keep on top of trends.

Do the work fuels your fire

It is essential to pitching for the right work for you. Work that resonates with your interests and skillset and aligns with our strengths so that you are fully invested and passionate about your projects. Not only will this passion be infectious, but loving what you do makes it feel less like work and more of an extension of who you are.

The quality and productivity levels of people who are passionate about what they do and enjoy their work are significantly higher than those who are just going through the motions.

In the words of Steve Jobs, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Get yourself out there

As a freelancer it’s important to give yourself as much visibility as you can. There are two ways to achieve this, marketing, and networking.

Market yourself:

Many of us tend to shy away from self-promotion and putting ourselves out there. This is a huge mistake. If potential clients don’t know about you, they can’t hire you. It’s important to market yourself as well as your skills! See yourself as a brand and really put yourself out there. A strong digital footprint is a must! Be visible and create on online presence that showcases who you are and what you do.


No man is an island. To succeed as a high-earning freelancer, building your network is vital. You are more likely to get more work this way, and you will also connect with other freelancers in the same boat as you.

  • Join online a freelance community
  • Attend networking events
  • Reach out to potential clients and let them know how you can help them improve their business
  • Touch base with past clients and offer your services


Collaborating with other freelancers adds a host of new skills that you can offer clients, improving your value proposition. When it comes to hiring external talent for big projects that requires several different skills sets, it is much simpler for the client if they can hire an existing team that has already worked together and understands each other. Take the initiative and make your client’s life simpler!

And finally, knowing when to say no or walk away.

This is one of the most difficult but necessary skills to learn. Work that doesn’t pay enough, clients who don’t provide you with the tools needed to deliver, and shifting scopes of work; these are all red flags that need to be addressed, and if they are not resolved, it might be in your best interest to walk away.

There are plenty of opportunities for freelancers and independent consultants to be among the high-ranking earners in their fields. Adopting the right mindset and implementing the right approaches are game changers. Set yourself up for success and the sky will be the limit.