4 Freelancers Share How They Earn An Income Online

4 Freelancers Share How They Earn An Income Online

Oh, the internet. That wondrous land of endless distractions isn’t just useful for broadcasting your thoughts, bingeing on movies or avoiding face-to-face interaction.

For many people looking for extra income or transitioning into self-employment, online freelancing platforms have been a boon.

Curious about what it’s like to earn an income online, or need some inspiration to push through a freelancing rut? We asked four freelancers to share what it’s like to work on a freelancing platform.

1. Jian Han

Jian Han
Software engineer & machine learning/deep learning engineer

Hourly rate: US$50 (RM207)


Jian Han is a research assistant who’s currently pursuing a PhD in Artificial Intelligence (Computer Vision).

He started freelancing for extra income and to gain working experience. “What has been taught in university is completely different from the working environment,” he said. With his freelancing experience, he hopes to be more competitive in the job market when he graduates.

He usually works around 8 hours per week during the weekends, but earns three times the average full-time IT job in Malaysia. He sets his rates based on his expertise and by comparing against other freelancers on Upwork.

“The hourly rates on machine learning/deep learning projects are usually higher than a software development project (web, mobile, etc.),” he said.

However, freelancing in the IT field – like any other field – comes with a set of challenges.

“You need to know everything – from dealing with the client, discussing the cost, gathering the requirements, developing the software, testing, maintenance, and documentation,” he said. “You need to be able to learn faster, work faster, and produce quality work. Most clients want the work to be done in a short time. You need to have very strong communication and technical skills.”

In the meantime, Jian Han is also focusing on his research in computer vision using machine learning for his PhD. He sees two different paths that could play out in the future: doing freelancing work and building a team to work on more projects, or working as an AI researcher in a well-known AI lab.

“If you want to start freelancing in the IT field, you must have strong communication and technical skills. Build your network, which can help you to get projects easily. Create an impressive profile/portfolio to attract potential clients. The most important thing is to focus on the quality of your work and exceed the expectations of your client.” – Jian Han

2. Kenny

Technical writer/SEO copywriter

Hourly rate: US$25 (RM103)


After six years of running a small business in electronics design, Kenny decided to leave the profession and start freelancing online in 2016.

“I realized that I wanted a shift from a revenue model that does not depend on physical locations,” he said. “Besides, I was also spending more time taking care of my child, and generating income online became an attractive option.”

Kenny specialises in technical writing and on-page SEO. He also runs a blog, Outrank Lab, which focuses on freelance writing and affiliate marketing.

Typically, he earns around RM6,000 to RM7,000 a month through freelancing and affiliate marketing. Upwork contracts and direct clients contribute around 70% of his income, while affiliate marketing makes up the rest. On a good month, he makes up to RM8,000 from all these sources combined.

When he first started out, Kenny shared that he set his hourly rate pretty low, as he needed the jobs to build a profile. He scaled his prices up as his portfolio and ratings grew. “I’ll see what the top freelancers are earning and try to work my way up,” he said.

However, Kenny tries not to take too many writing projects. “I just ensure that I’m doing enough as a freelancer to cover my expenses and devote the rest of my time to my [affiliate marketing] websites.”

When he was just starting out with affiliate marketing, he recalls writing endlessly to get his first website to generate income. But he has seen good progress in the past two years, and has even hired a couple of freelance writers to help with his websites’ content. His goal is to build profitable websites that will eventually generate more income than his freelancing projects.

“The key is to specialise in a niche. For example, I leverage my past experience as an electronics engineer and specialise in technical writing. It’s easier to compete with a pool of global freelancers when you’re highly focused in your offerings.” – Kenny

3. Mohammad Mustaneer

Mohammad Mustaneer
Virtual assistant

Hourly rate: US$10 (RM41)


Mustaneer started freelancing in 2011 to support his family.

“I was working as a lecturer in a college after graduation,” he said. “My earnings weren’t adequate for my family to lead a better life. I searched for other income sources and as an IT graduate, I found the online marketplace to be an option for part-time work.”

Besides freelancing online, Mustaneer has been working as a Research Assistant under various grants while completing his Master’s in Computer Science.

As a virtual assistant, Mustaneer has to be an all-rounder in a variety of tasks. He shared that clients expect virtual assistants to work on tasks that include website development/maintenance, internet marketing, business research and day-to-day administrative tasks.

He typically earns around US$1,500 (RM6,197) to US$1,800 (RM7,436) a month from Upwork.

“When I started, my hourly rate was US$0.60 USD (RM2.48). Now for tasks that involve data entry, administrative tasks and internet marketing I charge US$10 (RM41) per hour. If it is regarding website development, I charge around US$15 (RM62) USD per hour,” he said.

He sees himself doing freelance work in the long run. “I would like to start a small business where I will have some permanent clients,” he said. He’d like to have his own team that will be able to provide support for all aspects of business, such as technical, online marketing and administrative support.

“You need to ask yourself, why should a client hire you when there are so many freelancers from around the world? You need to be the best by delivering quality service. You need to be committed, follow deadlines strictly and maintain continuous communication with clients.” – Mustaneer

4. Jonie


Hourly rate: US$12.50 (RM52)


Jonie is a writer who’s been freelancing since 2014.

“Coming from a financially difficult background, I needed some side income to support myself, and a lot of promising but scammy offers like ‘invest $99 to learn some money-making techniques’ just didn’t cut it.”

Other than writing, she also offers transcription, data entry, and admin support services.

She earns around RM500 to RM800 a month freelancing. “I set my rate based on how I feel a particular task should be charged, sometimes based on the effort and time needed to work on it, sometimes from Googling around other freelancers’ rates and opinions.”

Besides freelancing on Upwork, she also works full-time for a small advertising firm. “I enjoy gaining new experiences from the variety of freelance tasks I work on, something which a full-time job is unable to provide,” she said.

Jonie also likes freelancing because of the “flexibility in work time and place, the control you have in accepting projects, the vast possibilities of meeting a wide spectrum of clients, and the opportunities to work on different kinds of projects.”

She sees herself freelancing in more years to come. “I might consider being a full-time freelancer myself in the near future,” she added.

“Remember not to treat freelancing as a solid career immediately, even though the perks of flexibility and ‘being your own boss’ are super tempting – it takes time to build a reputation, a portfolio, and a customer base before you can successfully sustain yourself by just freelancing.” – Jonie

What’s your story?

Interested in freelancing, just started out, or already have years of experience under your belt? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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