How much does portfolio work pay?

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.

Much like a regular full time job, there are huge variances in earnings depending on the type of portfolio work you do.

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 career roles and the day rate variances.

JOBSLOWEST 10%MEDIANHIGHEST 10%VARIANCE LOW-HIGH
Videographer£198£300£500152.0%
Photographer£230£310£38868.0%
Graphic Designer£275£338£47572.7%
Copywriter£215£363£41593.0%
Report Writer£315£375£43538.0%
Accountant£211£388£473124.1%
Branding Consultant£215£400£465116.3%
Web Designer£237£413£540127.8%
Security analyst£263£425£588123.6%
UX Designer£285£436£53888.8%
Software developer£311£438£61096.1%
Lawyer£313£450£650107.7%
Front end developer£313£495£650107.7%
Product Manager£333£500£64994.9%
HR consultant£438£500£57030.1%
Figures from IT Jobs Watch

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

One of the quickest ways to increase your income as a portfolio worker is to specialise within a certain area rather than being a generalist.

Through having deep knowledge of one area you can provide a more unique service for potential clients – you will be seen as an expert.

how much portfolio work pays
© Jane O'Sullivan / The Portfolio Collective 2020

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.

portfolio career payment
© Jane O'Sullivan / The Portfolio Collective 2020

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 a much 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

A general rule of thumb for portfolio careers is that the longer a job’s duration, the less it will pay per day.

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 rent or 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.

This seems to bring the best combination of security, satisfaction, earnings and flexibility.
Conclusion
manage your portfolio career
Manage your work portfolio like an investment portfolio

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.

Want to learn how to get the most out of The Portfolio Collective to support your portfolio career? Come along to our free weekly Welcome Call with our CEO Ben Legg.

4 responses to “How much does portfolio work pay?

  1. Can’t agree more Ben and Paul. Building a niche makes the life of a freelancer easier. You significantly limit your competition and don’t need to compromise on pricing to win over projects.

    Regarding updating skill sets, I feel that it is always better to go for related diversification than unrelated. If you are into startup research, learning financial modeling and valuation will make more sense than learning digital marketing.

  2. Great insight Ben. It’s clear specialisation is the most sensible route for us freelancers. I’m also thinking increasingly about how to future-proof my skills so I don’t share the unfortunate fate of those HTML devs.


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