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Highest Paying Jobs as A Freelancer in Southeast Asia

Joanna Paula Cailas

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Freelancer traveling in Thailand, Southeast Asia

What freelance jobs are in the highest demand? As a freelancer, you usually want to answer that need. Improving your skills and narrowing your niche can help you rake in dollars.

Freelancing gives you the coveted work-life balance. You avoid the daily commute and wading through office politics and bureaucracies. And the outlook continues to be positive as more and more micro businesses and big companies utilize the benefits of outsourcing.

Of the Fortune 500, 30% are now using the freelancing platform Upwork, and 59% of US companies now outsource to some degree, through remote workers and freelancers.
In the Philippines alone, 60% of the client base are from the US, 29% from Australia, 26% from the UK and 20% from Canada.

My own favorite clients come from those countries. The best bit about freelancing? You might work less and earn more. And you definitely earn waaay more when you do a full day’s hours. In the comfort of your home, to boot! In many Southeast Asian countries where work means having to lose hours in the daily commute because of heavy traffic and underdeveloped transportation systems, that’s HUGE.

Your time is better spent on your jobs, in job search, and in fulfilling your obligations as a freelancer–freelancers pay tax, too, and you should definitely register and make voluntary contributions to social security and national health insurance.

Without further ado, here are the highest paying jobs as a freelancer in Southeast Asia, in no particular order.

1. Programming, website, mobile, and software development

Upwork's highest rated developers

Hourly rates
Entry: $6-$8
Intermediate: $10-$13
Advanced: $15-$20
Expert: $25 and up

This is no surprise. Good coders are in high demand, since every business owner needs websites, platforms, and customizations. And all this needs upkeep. The work is ongoing.

Skills needed: Programming languages and coding expertise
Experience preferred? Yes. You need a portfolio to establish trust.

Hot niches:

  • Cybersecurity – Cybersecurity specialists protect websites from cybercrime, and they can do this remotely. When you’re the shield between businesses and hackers, you’re in high demand. Hourly rate: $25
  • Shopify and Bigcommerce – Bigcommerce is an established giant, and the ecommerce revolution has propelled Shopify to leading the pack with its intuitive interfaces and features. So many clients want to build, customize and optimize their ecommerce sites. Hourly rate: $7 to $15
  • Firmware/app engineer – Developing and implementing solutions for industry-specific applications and systems. You work with established or startup enterprises. Hourly rate: $25 to $50 and up.
  • WordPress, plugins and customizations – You could make thousands of dollars a month building, customizing, and maintaining WordPress sites. Hourly rate: $7 to $15
  • Computer vision engineer – These are senior/lead developers who work with computer learning and AI. Hourly rate: $20 and up
  • Game development/design and software testing – Mobile and computer games are moneymakers and those who write them get to share in this billion-dollar industry. Hourly rate: $15 and up, according to experience
  • 3D Modeller: Highly in demand in many industries, with the surge of VR and 3D marketing, not to mention 3D in gaming, medical technology and CAD and manufacturing. Hourly rate: $15-$20

2. Visual Design

Upwork's highest rated designers & creatives

Hourly rates
Entry: $6-$8
Intermediate: $10-$14
Advanced: $15-$20
Expert: $25 and up

Visuals command attention and successfully connect with target audiences in easy-to-understand, appealing and share-bait graphics, gifs, or videos, which means these materials also command a higher price point businesses are willing to pay.

According to Hubspot’s Visual Content Marketing Statistics, 80% of marketers use visuals in their social media marketing and 51% prioritize visual assets in their marketing strategies. Video has also surpassed blogging in use for content marketing.

Skills needed: A good eye, excellent comprehension for brief and target audience, Adobe Suite and/or CorelDRAW expertise
Experience preferred? No. But definitely show a portfolio to get started

Hot niches:

  • Infographics – For use in social media and blogs. $30 to $55 average per graphic
  • Logo and branding – Rebrands for bigger companies, or the first branding push for startups. Icons, themes, and company materials. Hourly rate: $10 and up, depending on skills
  • Video editing/Facebook and Instagram stories – Youtube is still there, but now businesses have 20 seconds to be memorable on Facebook and Instagram. It’s your job to make it happen. Hourly rate: $4-$15, depending on skills
  • Illustrations and doodles – Digitally hand-drawn images are unique and unforgettable. Businesses want that, especially with the emerging Gen Z market who are too immersed in their own photography on Insta to be much impressed by photos. You can charge a fixed rate on your original doodles. Hourly rate: $5 up, or fixed rate per “pack.”

Legal consultancy

Freelance lawyers and legal professionals

Hourly rate: $70 to $100 and up, or fixed rates per task/task sets.

Businesses need compliance with laws and regulations. There’s high demand for legal expertise and risk mitigation, and even big businesses with in-house legal departments outsource their overflows.

Legal work has evolved with new perspectives and opportunities because of the internet. Contract lawyering allows you to continue your work as a lawyer in your home office, without the demands of a firm. Go solo. Lawyers are famously traditional, but Asia is shifting toward flexible legal work.

Hot niches:

  • Contract drafting and contract law
  • Intellectual property law
  • Entertainment business law
  • Legal writing
  • Corporate law
  • Family law
  • Paralegal services

4. Content writing and copywriting

Upwork's highest rated writers & editors

Hourly rates
Entry: $6-$8
Intermediate: $10-$14
Advanced: $15-$20
Expert: $25 and up

The text for websites, products, and content marketing don’t write themselves. Today’s inbound methodology and Google’s new search ranking algorithms focus on appealing, customer-centric content, and even ad copy need to impart value. Announcing product features and competitive prices don’t cut it any longer. That’s where you come in.

Startups build content libraries of articles, guest posts, and freebies like reports and ebooks for their lead generation campaigns. You can work alongside web developers and graphic designers for website revamps.

This is a vast field and you can pick and choose a specific niche, or hone your skills in all of them so that you can create the blog posts and emails and social media posts that promote them.

Skills required: C1/C2 English proficiency, self-editing, excellent reading comprehension and research skills, voice adaptability, creativity.

Experience preferred? No. You can offer a free trial in lieu of samples. More experience, higher rates.

Hot niches:

  • Social media captions – Some writers specialize on social, with the use of emojis, small word counts and hashtags. It takes real skill to be witty and charming!
  • Facebook ads and Instagram ads – Copywriting is, of course, all about ad copy, which has changed drastically over the years. It takes skill to capture target audience attention and get them to click that button
    Hourly rate: $7 and up, or fixed rates per ad set (2 ads for A/B testing)
  • Video scripts – Youtube, splash videos onsite, IG and FB stories: they all need scripts. You can specialize in this if you have a good imagination and you’re skilled in articulating direction. Hourly rate: $8, or fixed rate by video length/word count equivalent
  • Finance writing – Business writing, equities, forecasts: this takes expertise and insider knowledge, and consequently commands a higher hourly rate from $50 to $100, depending on experience.
  • Email funnels/EDMs – Newsletters and emails keep businesses visible to their customers. Some writers guarantee that they can get recipients to open the email. And that IS doable, with a skilled writer! If you specialize in this niche, it’s a plus to know how to work with Mailchimp, Klaviyo, ActiveCampaign and so on.
    Hourly rate: $8 and up, or fixed rate by word count
  • Site pages (About page, homepage) – This is where you need creativity and killer vocabulary: you don’t need to do high-falutin turns of phrase, but you do need to use the right words, the right way, for powerful text that converts your client’s site visitors.
    Hourly rate: $7 and up, or fixed rate by word count
  • Product landing pages and product descriptions (Amazon, Shopify) – You’ll be surprised how businesses can struggle explaining their own products in an appealing way, or to differentiate it from the others in the market. This is a hot niche because it’s the age of ecommerce.
    Hourly rate: $7 and up, or fixed rate by word count or per description
  • Ebooks: fiction ghostwriting or non-fiction guides and mini ebooks, blogs and articles – Long form content is good for SEO and ranking. Guides and ebooks also build business reputation. I know some writers who exclusively ghostwrite fiction or non-fiction, or both. This is lucrative and it’s a long-term job, averaging a week or a month per article or ebook, respectively.
    Usually fixed rate by word count. Starts at $3 per 100 words (3c /word)
  • 5. Translations

    List of Upwork's freelance English translators

    Hourly rates
    Entry: $7-$9
    Intermediate: $10-$14
    Advanced: $15-$20
    Expert: $25 and up

    The global economy is increasingly connected with B2B partnerships across continents, especially with tech migrating to Kuala Lumpur and several Chinese cities (Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou), alongside established Hong Kong, Taipei, and Singapore.

    There’s a high demand for real translation. And by that I mean good, genuine translation, not the kind we get from Google Translate. If you’re fluent in English and at least one Asian language, this is a very nice meal ticket!

    Translators work with documents, Skype or over-the-phone interpreting, translation/subtitle caption proofreading/editing, analyses and research.

    Skills required: Bilingual/multilingual fluency, expertise in the industry you choose to specialize in, excellent reading comprehension and research skills, vocabulary and mechanics

    Experience preferred? It depends on your chosen industry. Some areas like patent, legal and finance, would require a portfolio.

    Hot niches:

    • Legal, business, and patent translations – Committee decisions, patent applications, rejections, applications, proposals, plans, reports, purchase, distribution and agreement contracts, licensing, registration, etc.
    • Medical translations – Reports, diagnoses, medical product brochures and studies, sites and books.
    • Finance translations – Cryptocurrency/Blockchain, option/future trading, Ethereum, ICO, etc.
    • Travel translations – Destination guides, websites, etc.
    • Ecommerce translations – Product descriptions and features, reviews.
    • IT translations – Network security and cloud technology services, internal training, sales and advertising content, user guides, etc.

    6. Customer Service Support

    Upwork's highest rated admin staff and customer support

    Hourly rates
    Entry: $5-$7
    Intermediate: $8-10
    Advanced: $11-$20
    Expert: $25 and up

    E-commerce is booming, and these customer-facing tasks are essential but often a big time-suck for entrepreneurs who would rather concentrate on their businesses instead. And they can’t do that if they don’t take care of their customers!

    As a customer service rep, the more you know, the more you specialize, the higher you can charge by the hour.

    At its basics, customer service and support involves prompt moderation and replies on social media, Amazon, and on ticketing systems like Zendesk or Freshdesk, correspondence via Mailchimp/Active Campaign/Klaviyo, and organization of further action/tasks (returns/exchanges, refunds, etc.) through Trello, ClickUp, and so on.

    Skills required: excellent communication skills, self-starter, attention to detail and the big picture, people skills, technical skills with a vast array of tools and platforms

    Experience prefered? Yes. You definitely need to already know the tools and platforms most commonly used.

    Hot niches:

    • Real estate support: Real estate agents need back-end and customer-facing assistants on site and on digital. This niche involves listing updates and directories, familiarity with real estate IDX (internet data exchange), data/listing mining, generating leads through cold calls/emails, calendar management for appointments.
      Hourly rate: $8 to $15 and up
    • Solo lawyer digital assistant: This is a level up for experienced VAs. Lawyers and law firms are looking to streamline their often outdated SOPs.

      Also called legal secretaries in some job posts, this niche handles a lawyer’s emails from clients and prospects, info packets, document templates, calendar, and case management system, and includes implementing solutions for better digital efficiency in the law office/firm. Hourly rate: $8 and up

    7. SEO

    Hourly rates
    Entry: $7-$9
    Intermediate: $10-$14
    Advanced: $15-$20
    Expert: $25 and up

    Everyone wants to appear on the first page of search results. If not number one, then on page one! This keeps SEO specialists in high demand.

    Skills required: white hat optimization strategies, on-page and off-page; experience with SEO tools, Ahrefs, BuzzSumo, etc.
    Experience preferred? Absolutely. Most clients want proof of your track record in improved rankings for past projects.

    Hot niches:
    SEO is already a niche in itself. And the hot niches within it usually refer to the SEO niches less saturated than, say, the weight loss niche. If you have experience and a track record of success on how to “niche down” highly saturated SEO niches and bring in much-needed traffic, you’ll be very valuable to clients.

    8. Social media management

    Facebook page displayed on iPhone beside Macbook

    Hourly rates
    Entry: $6-$9
    Intermediate: $10-$14
    Advanced: $15-$20
    Expert: $25 and up

    Social media domination is here to stay, and every business needs visibility on social at the minimum, and ideally, active participation and engagement in the community. When done right, social media establishes a brand and is a good source of highly qualified leads. Businesses pay good money for good social media managers.

    You handle followbacks, comments, likes, RTs, and so on. May also include contests and promos to engage the community, with prizes for random draws or the most deserving followers.

    Skills required: excellent communication skills, intuitive understanding of brand and audience, social media savvy, a flair for language, wit, and humor, image editing skills a plus
    Experience preferred? Not necessary. You can do a free trial of social media captions for your client, if you’re starting out. Depending on the job, a client might ask for a track record of follower increase.

    Hot niches:

    • LinkedIn management: This takes some finesse. You connect and engage with professionals, peers in your client’s niche, and produce/curate content worthy of C-suite people.
    • FB Chat: Many businesses covet the “Replies instantly” or “Replies within an hour” status on their pages. Not having either of those can mean qualified leads hesitate from making contact. This niche usually involves weekend and night shift work. Don’t mind that? This is for you.

    9. English Tutoring

    Hourly rate: fixed/standardized on your chosen platform: $10 to $15

    Teaching English to ESL learners is profitable, enjoyable freelancing. Barring sites that require residency in the US or Canada, you can do it anywhere. You just need a noise-cancelling headset and a reliable, high-speed internet connection.

    Some platforms require a bachelor’s degree. Otherwise, anyone with an affinity for English idioms, slang, and turns of phrase can do this.

    You teach business English and conversational English in informal settings, one on one or with a group.

    The flexibility and time of work depends on your students’ requirements and location. E.g., if you taught Japanese or Korean students, you’d be working in their timezone.

    Skills required: C1/C2 English proficiency level, excellent communication skills
    Experience preferred? No. Platforms usually have tests to determine your skill level.

    10. Advertising/Marketing

    7 List of Upwork's freelance Social Media advertisers

    Hourly rates
    Entry: $7-$9
    Intermediate: $10-$14
    Advanced: $15-$20
    Expert: $25 and up

    Advertising and digital marketing need no introduction. In the age of entrepreneurship, you can help a lot of startups get a leg up to get funding or their first batch of customers.

    This job involves sales and lead generation via Facebook Ads or Google Ads (or both), setting up campaigns using marketing automation tools like GetResponse, InfusionSoft (now Keap), Zapier, ActiveCampaign or Klaviyo, marketing strategy and business plans for funding and growth, organic and paid social media marketing, among others.

    Again, the more you can do, the higher the price you command.

    Skills required: niche industry research, marketing platforms, Facebook advertising, Google Ads, email and social media marketing, implementation expertise

    Experience preferred? Yes. At the very least, you need know-how of setting up ads and implementing audience retargeting for campaigns.

    Hot niches:
    Specialize on a platform and get certifications (Hubspot Certifications and ActiveCampaign Certified Consultants), or specialize in a specific business industry (nonprofits, cannabis industry, healthcare, contractors, etc).

    • Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter Ads
    • Amazon Marketing
    • Search engine marketing: Google Ads, display ads
    • Email marketing: Drips and funnels

    Experience pays

    Payoneer has released their Global Gig-Economy Index: Q2 2019. India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh are in the Top 10 for freelancing revenue growth. Not really news, since these Asian countries have been outsourcing capitals for years.

    The most interesting finding in the report is that Gen X (ages 35-44) leads the pack in earning more, despite 23% representation in the age demographics of freelancers.

    8 Global freelancer breakdown by age
    From Global Gig-Economy Index: Q2 2019

    Interesting, but not surprising. These freelancers usually have impressive portfolios and feedback history from a variety of jobs. Companies and businesses are willing to pay well for experienced freelancers who can show samples and client testimonies of past work.

    Build up your portfolio with happy clients and completed jobs in a variety of niches in your field.

    Don’t drive down rates

    When you start out, there will be clients who’ll headline their jobs with “5 stars for your profile.” This usually comes with a low rate of $1 to $2 per hour. That’s pretty much what you get with Upwork’s minimum rate of $3. Subtract their 20% commission and you’re getting $2.40 per hour.

    I can think of admin tasks where that might be reasonable, but in all cases, lowering your rates drives down rates for everyone else, regardless of experience and skills.

    Price yourself competitively to learn and get experience and online work history. Asians are famously competitive, especially with prices. Some freelancers are so aggressive that they impact everyone. After all, if a client can say they’ve seen this price or that price for a certain task, everyone else may need to lower their own rates to get that job.

    This is awful, because low rates correspond with lower level skills. And higher level skills deserve higher rates. Clients outsource to Southeast Asia for our lower price points compared to our contemporaries in the U.S and Europe, but they still expect to get what they pay for.

    Get good, get job invites

    The more jobs you complete, the easier freelancing becomes because you attract clients who are looking for good freelancers like you. You get job invites. You get great clients without the usual hours spent on job search.

    Be a little picky with your clients even when you’re starting out. Every client is a future testimonial, and every testimonial are building bricks that turn your profile into a nice shop that attracts only the best clients. Read more of our tips on becoming a top freelancer here.

    Charge for your expertise

    You want to maximize your day without tying up your day. If you can finish a job in 1 hour, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth 8 hours of work! Raise your hourly rate or charge a fixed rate.

    Once you’ve paid your dues and climbed the ranks,your clients pay for your expertise, not your time.

    Don’t do it for the money

    To wrap it up, here’s a seemingly contradictory tip: don’t do it for the money.

    I mean, we freelance to support our milk tea habits families and our lifestyle, but pursuing high-paying jobs can backfire. You get disillusioned if you expect to be a high-roller at once, or you get burnout (or bad feedback!) from working too hard (instead of smart) at something that may not be the best fit for your skills.

    And sometimes, jobs with shiny, expert-level budgets are actually not worth it.

    Clients also look to Southeast Asia for lower rates without sacrificing job quality. Make sure you don’t let greed take you away from the competitive rates of your fellow SEA freelancers.

    Focus on improving your skills and experience, level up your rates with savvy, and you’ll see the job invites pouring in.

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