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Published 14 August 2023
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Best Freelance Jobs in the UK 2023

What are the best freelance jobs in the UK? NerdWallet has crunched the numbers to find the top freelance professions in 2023, considering pay, how much work you would need to take on to earn comparably to a full-time wage, stability and competitiveness.

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Whether you’re considering a new career, looking to forge your own path out of university or want to be your own boss, there is a lot to weigh up before joining the UK’s 1.9 million freelancers. 

But which profession should you pursue? To make your decision easier, we have taken a look at the best freelance jobs in the UK as of 2023.

However, we know that the best overall freelance profession might not be the best for you. You may prioritise stability over pay. Or you may prefer a job where you need to take on only a few projects a year to make up your annual salary.

That’s why we have broken down our chosen freelance industries into four categories: best paid, least hustle, most stable and least competitive. 

» MORE: What is freelancing?

Key findings

Best Overall Freelance Jobs

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)
1Developers3.44.05.05.04.4
2Market research5.04.60.63.33.4
3Data4.95.02.01.23.3
4Strategy4.73.90.71.62.7
5UX4.64.30.60.82.6
6Marketing1.34.63.01.12.5
7Client services2.14.51.01.52.3
8QA & Testing3.04.90.50.62.2
9Project management3.04.40.70.72.2
10Social media0.94.51.61.52.1
11PR2.44.60.50.52.0
12Creatives2.53.11.60.72.0
13Designers1.72.11.71.41.7
14Film & Motion2.10.50.71.51.2
15Photography2.11.10.50.61.1
16Studio0.50.80.50.70.6

Scores are rounded to one decimal place. If a score is tied, the profession with the best unrounded score is ranked higher.

After taking into consideration earnings ability, hustle, stability and competitiveness, we calculated a star rating for each freelance profession. The methodology is as follows:

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 stripes, 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

One of the first considerations when going freelance is how much to charge for your services. Pitching your day 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, we 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 newer to freelancing, you may not be able to charge as much for your services as when you are more established.

Least hustle freelance jobs

How much you can charge as a freelancer is only one part of the equation. How much work you need to take on each year to earn a comparable wage to that of a full-time employee – which we’re referring to as “hustle” – is arguably just as important. 

That’s because the fewer projects you need to take on in a year, the more you can focus on doing a good job rather than pitching for the next one.

Using the average salary in each industry from recruitment site Reed.co.uk as the benchmark, we have worked out how many projects a freelancer would need to take on in a year to at least match the earnings of a full-time employee in that same industry.

Freelance data professionals, for example, needed to take on only roughly 1.7 projects a year to match the average annual salary of a full-time employee in that field.

Those in quality assurance (QA) and testing weren’t far behind, needing only 1.8 projects a year to meet the industry average salary. 

Market research and public relations (PR) specialists were next, both needing 2.3 projects a year to match the average salaries in their respective industries, with marketing next at 2.4 projects.

These numbers are in stark contrast to those working in film and motion, who had to take on an estimated 9.8 projects a year to get the same average full-time salary in that industry. However, that isn’t necessarily surprising given the project-based nature of film and television.

Most stable freelance jobs

One aspect of full-time employment that can be missing from freelance life is stability. Instead of a guaranteed salary, the money you make will depend on the work you can find.

As a freelancer, the more jobs that are available, the better your chances of reaching the level of stability of a full-time employee.

To work out the most stable freelancer professions, we calculated the number of total potential working days available for each industry by using a snapshot of jobs posted on freelancing platform Upwork and the average project length according to YunoJuno. 

If stability is what you are looking for, then working as a freelance developer may be your best bet, with over 4.6 million available working days. Developers have over 20,000 more jobs available on Upwork than the next closest profession.

Marketing, in second place, has just over 2.6 million working days in projects listed on Upwork, followed by the data industry with over 1.5 million. Designers came fourth with over 1.2 million working days available, followed by creatives, such as writers and illustrators, with over 1.1 million.

With only roughly 250 working days in the year, these figures may seem eye-wateringly high. But as an indication of demand, they are a useful measure to help you decide whether or not to make the leap to freelance work.

Least competitive freelance jobs

Before deciding whether or not to go freelance, it is a good idea to assess how unique your individual skill set is. One way to do so in broad terms is to look at how competitive your chosen industry is. 

We looked at the number of jobs posted on Upwork per freelancer job searches on Google. The higher the number, the more likely it is that you will be able to find work.

Through this approach, we found that being a freelance developer is the least competitive profession, with 190.5 jobs per search. As is the case with stability, this ranking is mostly due to the sheer number of jobs for developers available at any given time. 

In second place was market research, but for slightly different reasons. While there was a much smaller number of market research jobs on Upwork (3,627) compared with developer jobs (110,469), the search volume for freelance jobs for the former was tiny, at just 30 monthly searches. So whereas developers benefit from the vast number of jobs, market research specialists benefit from the seemingly smaller pool of freelancers competing for those contracts.

The suggestion of a smaller number of active freelancers was also the case for those working in strategy, such as content strategists, management consultants and business planners, who came in third place.

While social media had around a quarter of the jobs available for developers, a good balance between number of roles and volume of searches meant it came in fourth, while film and motion was fifth.

Despite over 55,000 available jobs, the third most after developers and designers, creatives ended up as the fourth most competitive industry. That’s because the number of Google searches for freelance writing, editing and illustrating jobs was far and away the highest when compared with other professions on the list. This volume makes sense – according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), 17% of freelancers in the UK work in artistic, media and literary occupations, more than double the next largest occupation.

What to know before going freelance

Becoming a freelancer can be a big – if exciting – step to take. But alongside the factors mentioned above, it is important to consider some of the practicalities of going freelance, and how it differs from full-time employment:

» MORE: How to become a freelancer

Methodology

NerdWallet used the following data to reach the conclusions of this article:

Best Paid:

Average day rates taken from the 2023 YunoJuno Freelancer Rates Report.

Inflation data based on the July 2023 CPI release from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), for the 12 months to June 2023. 

Least Hustle:

Average day rates and average project lengths taken from the 2023 YunoJuno Freelancer Rates Report.

Inflation data based on the July 2023 CPI release from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), for the 12 months to June 2023. 

Average full-time salaries for over 70 roles taken from Reed.co.uk on 2 August 2023.

Most Stable:

Average project lengths taken from the 2023 YunoJuno Freelancer Rates Report.

Number of freelance job postings for over 480 roles taken from freelancer recruitment site Upwork as of 24 July 2023, grouped by profession

Least Competitive:

Number of freelance job postings for over 480 roles taken from Upwork as of 24 July 2023, grouped by profession.

Keyword volume for over 190 search terms taken from online search tool Semrush on 2 August 2023, grouped by profession.

Statistics on the number of freelancers in the UK, and percentage of freelancers working in artistic, media and literary occupations taken from the IPSE Self-Employed Landscape Report 2022.  

Image source: Getty Images

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