In recent years, a growing number of companies have begun the move toward a distributed workforce composed of part-timers, contract workers and telecommuters. At the same time, many workers have ditched the 9-to-5 and now make up a growing demographic called the freelance economy.
It’s a bold new world, and it carries with it some serious challenges, including unstable income and uncertain access to health care. For those who are up to the task, however, the benefits are clear: At-home workers are happier, healthier and more productive than their cubicle-shackled counterparts. That’s probably why most estimates predict that by 2020, one-fifth of the American workforce will be composed of freelance workers – and some estimates are twice as aggressive.
All of which is well and good if you’re a successful freelancer already. However, if you’re caught in the cycle of unemployment and underemployment, trapped outside your field with a mountain of debt, news of some faraway freelancers’ utopia can feel a little dispiriting. Does it really exist, or is it just some talking point dreamed up by writers on the Internet? If it does exist, how the heck do you get there? What do all these so-called freelancers actually do – and what kind of demon sacrifice does a guy need to make to land a gig that doesn’t require pants?
The answer might be simpler than you think. In this article, we’ll check out 10 of the best work-at-home careers, what you need to land them and how much they pay.
10 Web Developer - Average Yearly Salary: $62,500
Web developers are the invisible architects of the Internet, and create the kind of sites you interact with every day. Their work entails carefully crafting every step of a user’s experience from the moment they enter a website, to ensure that information is easy to find and navigate.
What you’ll need: The great thing about working as a freelancer in a field like Web design is you don’t need a degree to get a foot in the door. What you do need are concrete skills like programming and a good portfolio of finished sites to show off to prospective clients.
A simple Google search will yield you a metric ton of free resources to start learning coding and design today. The best path is probably the one most take to start: Buy a WordPress domain, and start tinkering. You’ll also want to stock up on mood-altering substances, for dealing with those unexpected 2 a.m. server crashes.
9 Virtual Assistant - Average Yearly Salary: $40,022
Virtual assistants are like secretaries from the future – a really dull, dystopian future where everyone is extremely well-organized. While the paper-based clerical skills of yesteryear have largely fallen out of demand, they’ve been replaced by things like managing emails, writing tweets and organizing spreadsheets. When coupled with the rise of telecommuting, you get the virtual assistant.
What you’ll need: a clerical background will help here, but you’ll also need solid business acumen, as a virtual assistant is essentially a digital secretary who works as an independent contractor.
8 Graphic Designer - Average Yearly Salary: $44,150
From notebooks to phones to the packaging on food, just about every object you own has, at some point, passed beneath the bloodshot eye of a graphic designer. Graphic designers are highly skilled and specially trained to make sure that all the visual elements of a box, website or flier sync up to communicate as effectively as possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one-quarter are freelancers.
What you’ll need: Most designers have a bachelor’s degree, but equally important is a strong portfolio of student and professional work that showcases your skills. It also helps if you’re slightly obsessive and have a hate-on for bad kerning.
7 Travel Agent - Average Yearly Salary: $34,600
Think of a travel agent, and you probably picture something out of a movie: an office full of mahogany furniture with globes and maps everywhere. The reality of today is a lot more mundane. With an overwhelming number of hotel and airfare websites available to the average consumer, a travel agent is someone who helps to navigate the waters and secure the best rate – and you don’t need to be based out of an office to do that. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 percent of travel agents are self-employed.
What you’ll need: While a degree typically isn’t required, there are a number of certificate courses designed to get you up to speed with the industry as it stands today, and business or travel experience will come in handy.
No, that Mexico trip you took in college doesn’t count.
6 Copywriter - Average Yearly Salary: $55,940
Copywriters are bold, sexy, debonair wordsmiths that wage battle on the fast and furious front lines of a digital war for clicks and attention. The majority of what you read online – including articles like this one – is written by copywriters, about one-third of whom work freelance.
What you’ll need: While a degree is required if you’re seeking a staff job, when it comes to freelancing, all you need is a good portfolio, a solid understanding of networking and the skills with which to pay bills.
5 Technical Writer - Average Yearly Salary: $65,500
Technical writers are like normal writers, but more boring: They create things like employee manuals, technical documentation and help-guides for software – you know, all the stuff you skip past and ignore. It’s a snooze-inducing job for most people, but if you’ve got the right mind for it, the demand and the pay are both high.
What you’ll need: Almost all technical writing work requires a bachelor’s degree in the field, to blend the fast-paced thrills of English grammar with the high-octane excitement of engineering and copyright law.
4 Medical Transcriptionist - Average Yearly Salary: $34,020
Despite what angry old guys on AM radio might have you believe, the health care industry is booming more than it has in decades – thanks, Obama! As a result, medical transcription positions are rapidly becoming the “it” job of this generation.
Medical transcriptionists are sort of a hybrid of office receptionist and court stenographer. They convert audio records to written documents and edit patient files, and a growing number of them do so from home.
What you’ll need: Most work-from-home transcription firms require a two-year degree from a highly specialized academic program.
3 Inside Sales Representative - Average Yearly Salary: $46,290
Inside sales is a recently emerged field that’s rapidly growing. Put simply, it consists of selling people things via email and over the phone – work uniquely suited to telecommuting – but it’s distinctly different from telemarketing. A telemarketer follows a simple script and may not have any real sales experience of their own. A sales rep is the kind of person who writes those scripts: a highly skilled professional who is an expert in the craft of research, networking and gradual persuasion.
What you’ll need: Most companies requires sales reps to have a bachelor’s degree in a field like media or communication, though you can also enter the field from a right angle, if your degree or experience grant you unique expertise about a particular product.
2 Customer Service Representative - Average Yearly Salary: $30,580
You know when you’re having a problem logging into your bank’s website, so you call the help number and a nice guy named Dave answers to walk you through it? Well, Dave doesn’t work at the bank. There’s not some back room with a phone that all the tellers take turns manning. No, Dave most likely works for a virtual call center: a company which connects organizations like banks with independently contracted reps who work from home.
What you’ll need: Degrees aren’t usually required in this field. However, you will need a strong retail or customer service background, as well as a professional home office and a high-quality headset.
1 Tech Support - Average Yearly Salary: $48,900
Like customer service, tech support has largely gone remote. However, while this was an industry hit hard by outsourcing, those jobs are beginning to return to the U.S., thanks largely to customer dissatisfaction with trying to derive computer help from people who don’t speak their language.
What you’ll need: Most companies require at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like customer service, though it is possible to climb the ladder into telephone IT from a career in customer service.
Though degree requirements may differ according to job or field, there are a few things you’ll probably need for just about any work-from-home position:
- A good website
- A strong presence on major social media, especially LinkedIn
- A professional home office, including a reliable Internet connection, ready access to email and a way to organize mass quantities of it
- Good people skills
- A solid time-management strategy
- Approximately one pound of spunk and/or moxie
If you are interested in any of the above fields and are qualified, working from home in your pajamas is worth looking into. Just be sure to get up and out every so often, but remember to get dressed first. You don’t want to scare the neighbors.