The question of how much you can earn doing portfolio work is one of the most common we hear, it is also one of the most complicated to answer.
For example, the average day rate for a graphic designer in the UK is £338, whilst there are day rates in the thousands for specialised legal or consulting work.
Even within each industry category there can be huge variances in rates based on specialisations, lengths of contracts, experience, and type of work.
A videographer in the lowest 10% can earn £198 per day whilst the top 10% can earn £500 – if both worked a five day week year round, this is the difference between an annual income of a little over £50,000 and £130,000.
Below we have listed 15 common portfolio work career roles and the day rate variances.
|JOBS||LOWEST 10%||MEDIAN||HIGHEST 10%||VARIANCE LOW-HIGH|
|Front end developer||£313||£495||£650||107.7%|
In several of these categories there are some considerable differences between the lowest 10% and the highest 10%, with a videographer at the top of the pay scale earning 152% more than somebody at the bottom of the scale.
There are many reasons for some of these pronounced differences in earning potential. We highlight below three ways that you can take advantage of these to increase your earning potential in your portfolio career.
Three ways to optimise your earnings
1. Specialise to earn more
Through having deep knowledge of one area you can provide a more unique service for potential clients – you will be seen as an expert.
For example, according to IT Jobs Watch the median day rate for a data scientist in the UK is £525. However, a Hadoop consultant’s median day rate is £625, a 19% increase that can be attributed to specialising in a software that most data scientists will already know how to use.
Through having a thorough knowledge of that one particular area you are increasing your chances of earning more than a generalist who may or may not have enough experience to solve the client’s problem.
Typically there are fewer opportunities for specialist projects. For example, according to IT Jobs Watch, for all contract jobs in the UK in the first six months of 2020 there were six times as many opportunities for data scientists than for Hadoop Engineers.
Based on this, many portfolio professionals should occupy as much of their time with specialised work, then fill in the gaps with more generalist work.
2. Constantly update your skills
The demand for different skills is constantly changing as trends, technologies, and outsourcing strategies evolve.
As we can see from the table above, making sure that you stay abreast of such changes and continuously updating your skills can help you to earn 30-150% more than those who allow their skills to be commoditised.
For example, in the early 2000s HTML developers were some of the best paid technical professionals, as building websites was seen as complex. Today website design is seen as a more mainstream skill and HTML experts earn amongst the lowest incomes for techies.
This commoditisation is likely to happen to many of the ‘new’ skills that we see today, so staying updated on the latest developments is key to consistently increasing your income.
3. Balance long term security with short term lucrative projects
For example, the average salary for a full time software engineer according to CW Library is £62,500, whilst a median day rate for a freelancer is £438. Based on having 220 working days in a year, that would give the full time software engineer a day rate of £284 and a freelancer a salary of £96,360.
Clearly, the freelancer may miss out on some other benefits, such as pension or healthcare, but the cash paid into their bank is significantly higher than for those in permanent roles.
Given the much lower pay for longer term roles, you might wonder why anyone with in-demand skills would want such work?
There are many possible reasons:
- for financial stability to pay a mortgage;
- to feel part of a team;
- to try and land a full time job at a certain company;
- because you are passionate about a particular project.
We have interviewed hundreds of experienced portfolio professionals and most – by preference – build a portfolio of long term clients and short term lucrative projects.
To have a successful portfolio career, you need to behave like an investment manager – developing deep domain expertise, regularly scouring the market for better opportunities, and frequently reviewing your current portfolio to think about things to drop or do less of.