The basic skills for online freelancers | Technology, Business Features, The Philippine Star

During my presentation at the Paypal Community Freelancer Summit recently, I shared some of the most common tools and online services that freelancers can use to make their work more efficient and professional.

While chatting with some of the attendees later that day, one of the more common topics we talked about was about “upskilling” or learning new skills that add value to the services offered to prospective clients.

Upskilling for freelancers is a very broad category and the learning curve can be different from one person to another. When I started out as a freelancer 15 years ago, I had to learn one skill at a time — started with graphics design, then off to web design, then to web programming until I landed my first client, and on to photography where I put up my personal portfolio and eventually getting an inquiry to shoot for a wedding.

Even my attempt at blogging back then was some sort of upskilling. I flunked English in school so, after graduating, I started an online journal and tried using new words I encountered into a blog entry.

Learning new skills can be daunting, so this is really more about commitment. Here are some of the more common and doable skills you can learn while you’re doing client work.


Perhaps the most common skill that any freelancer needs to work on is his writing. Whether you’re a freelance developer or photographer, good communication skills are a great tool. There are a lot of classes you can take (classroom type) and even online courses you can follow in your spare time.

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While you’re at it, you can also make use of tools such as Grammarly to help you write proper English.

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Graphics Design

Freelancers need good graphics when making their proposals, creating mock-ups or building their online portfolio. Learning some basic and intermediate skills in Photoshop can go a long way. Start with a good logo for yourself or your business (aim for a great-looking business card, letterhead and PowerPoint presentation of your services).

I remember my first online freelance gig back in 2002 was creating custom graphics for vBulletin and I was paid $25 via Paypal. If you’re not that good yet, you can get some inspiration and help from sites like Canva.

Search Engine Marketing

SEM has two major categories — SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay pay click). PPC is quicker to understand and practice since most of it revolves around Google AdWords. SEO, on the other hand, is quite complicated but you can start with the fundamentals.

As a web copywriter, you also need to learn how to properly optimize your articles for better search visibility. Even developers need to know a bit of SEO so websites they develop are optimized.


Learn the ins and out of commonly used platforms like WordPress (or Drupal and Joomla). WordPress is my favorite CMS since it can be used as a back-end for different kinds of websites. The level of customizability and expansion (via themes and plugins) is so enormous that you can be a freelancer and work as a WordPress expert.

Your graphics design skills, copywriting and SEO skills will really show how well you customize your WordPress site.


Among the ones I listed above, this is the skill that takes a lot of years of practice and experience. It also needs a little bit of investment in terms of the gear you will use.

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Save up on a new Canon DSLR and a good lens. This way, you can offer original photos/images and add your personality to the services you offer.

Showcase Your Skills

The best way to showcase your skills is by developing your own product. It could be as simple as a website or a blog that you designed and develop yourself. Populate it with lots of guides and tutorials that you personally wrote and SEO-optimize it. 

Also try offering free products — eBooks is a good way to start and if you’re a developer, offering free plugins/extensions and even themes would go a long way to market yourself and your work.

If you’re really good, your own product or website will definitely be a testament to that.

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