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The Hedgehog’s Guide To Skill Selection

Start Earning Online – Lesson 5

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Watch the video or scroll down to read this lesson instead.

It’s time to figure out what skill you’re going to build so you can make money online with freelancing.

To do this, you’ll need to answer the following three questions:

  • What are you deeply passionate about?
    What is something you enjoy doing (or at least don’t hate)?
  • What can you be the best in the world at?
    What is something you can do (or learn to do) better than most people?
  • What can you get paid to do?
    What is something there’s an established online market for?

Representing the above in a venn diagram, we get this:

Your mission now is to pick a skill that lies at the intersection of those three circles.

That’s your “Hedgehog Concept.” 3

Let’s go find it.

1. Something There’s An Established Online Market For

We’re going to start with this one because it’ll weed out a lot of impractical skills right off the bat.

We want to figure out where the money is online.

What skills are already in high demand, or are on the up-and-up?

We can answer that question by going to Upwork.com, the biggest freelance marketplace on the internet.

Upwork is by no means the only place to find work online 4 but because it’s so big we can poke around and get a solid overview of the digital workspace.

In particular, below are three things I recommend you check out related Upwork.

A) Skills Index

Upwork produces this report every three months listing the fastest-growing skills in the US freelance job market, which is a good indicator for the worldwide market.

From that report you can clearly what there’s an increasing demand for.

B) Best Paying Freelance Jobs

This is a list of the best-paying jobs on Upwork, based on an analysis of 2 million freelancer profiles.

Take some time to browse the list. Click through to see the profiles of different freelancers. Check out the jobs they’ve worked on.

This will give you a feel for the exact kind of work on offer and how much money you could earn doing it.

C) Category List

This is a list of all the top job categories on Upwork.

Click through and view the latest job postings for the categories you like the sound of. 

Take note of how many of the listed jobs are accepting “entry level” freelancers (as opposed to “intermediate” and “expert”).

Assuming you don’t have any experience right now, those jobs will be your bread and butter starting out, so the more the better.

  • Do any of those jobs, skills or categories sound interesting to you?

2. Something You Enjoy Doing (Or At Least Don’t Hate)

Based on your research in the previous step, you now want to come up with a list of 5-10 jobs you think you would enjoy.

  1. ________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________
  3. ________________________________________
  4. ________________________________________
  5. ________________________________________

Again, it’s important to actually dig in and look at the jobs posted in each category to get a feel for the type of work you’d be doing. Don’t write off any category too easily.

3. Something You Can Do (Or Learn To Do) Better Than Most People

Some things to keep in mind here…

A) Time Constraints

I tend to believe you can learn pretty much any skill to a professional level given enough time and practice, but our aim is to get you earning as quickly as possible.

(Of course, if you’re in no major hurry and have more than three months to devote to skill-building, you can set your sights on higher-level skills.)

So we want to select a skill you can learn well enough in three months that clients will be happy to pay you at least $10/hour consistently.

B) Your Strengths And Weaknesses

Your strengths and weaknesses go a long way to determining how quickly you can become proficient at a particular skill.

For example, some people can pick up programming concepts rather quickly and be writing and debugging their own functions in a matter of days, while others will find that kind of work frustrating and unintuitive.

Questions to help figure out your strengths and weaknesses:

  • What kind of work have I been praised for in the past?
  • What kind of work have I been most proud of in the past?
  • What kind of work have I found frustrating in the past?
  • What kind of work have I found easy in the past?

C) Resources

Lastly, you should take into consideration how much help there is available for learning certain skills.

For example, there are tons of resources online — many of them free — for learning skills like web development, programming, and social media marketing.

Not so much for skills like interior design and paralegal services.

For each skill you’re interested in, do a quick google search to see what resources are available.

  • Are there online courses? (Check Udemy and Skillshare.)
  • Free tutorials?
  • Interviews with successful online freelancers you could contact for advice?

Let’s Review

Our mission in this lesson was to figure out a solid skill that you can use to freelance online.

As per the Hedgehog Concept, we’ve been looking for a skill that lies at the intersection of these three circles…

To find that skill, you should have run through the 3-step process laid out above.

After that, it’s time to start narrowing down your options and making a firm choice as to which skill you’re going to focus on.

If you’re really hesitant to commit to anything right now, that’s okay, but it’s good to at least choose something (anything!) to start experimenting with. You can always come back and try something different later. Doing nothing now isn’t going to help you figure it out.

So, with that in mind:

Which skill are you going to focus on?

Let me know in the comments below.

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58 Comments

  1. Very good lessons but all the resources are US based so not very helpful. Is there UK based alternatives that will help us here?

    1. Hi Mave,

      I’m not sure what you mean. The same resources would apply to the UK. I reference Upwork a lot in this lesson and you can use that in the UK. There are lots of UK-based freelancers and clients on there.

  2. I haave 3 I believe are similar but different, I could be wrong.
    1) E Commerce Development
    2) Web Research
    3) Email Marketing and Research

  3. Digital Image editing. What do you think Niall? I figure there would be hundreds of thousands of digital images needed per month for blog posts, social media ads and posts etc. …

    1. Hey Arron,

      There’s definitely a need for that kind of service. Probably the most you could earn doing it though is $20/hour. It’s a fairly low barrier to entry so there’s lots of competition. Don’t let that deter you though. I could be a good “bridge business,” giving you a nice baseline of income while you build other skills that you can use to earn even more money.

      Or another way to look at it: what could you combine with image editing to provide a more valuable service? Perhaps copywriting or Facebook ads, that kind of thing. There are lots of digital image editors out there, but most of them can only do digital image editing.

      1. Thanks, Nail!

        I’m pretty much starting from scratch in the skills department. I do have some WordPress experience from previous years, but I would NOT consider myself professional with WordPress. Although I know these skills can be learned, and I’m willing to do the work.
        I’m also seriously Considering learning WordPress or Sketch/adobe XD. What are your thoughts on this?

        Also, just so you know this freelancing gig is meant to be a an intermediate/stable income generator while I spend the rest of my time working on starting and growing an affiliate marketing blog or vlog
        Thanks brother

        1. Hey Arron,

          Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.

          As for learning WordPress and/or Sketch… it’d be worth researching both to see where the best opportunities are. WordPress will have more competition, but there’s a big market for that kind of work. Not sure about Sketch. You might be able to charge more for that since it’s a rarer skill.

      2. Thanks Niall!

        I do have a little bit of previous WordPress experience from years ago but I definitely don’t consider myself a WordPress expert.

        So I kind of consider myself as starting from scratch for any skills. Which is fine by me since I know that I can learn almost any skills.

        Just so you know, This freelancing gig is meant to be an intermediate steppingstone /stable income generator For me. In my spare time I plan to work on my long-term goal which is building a successful affiliate marketing blog or vlog.

        So my shortlist will be to start with one of these skills, what do you think?

        -WordPress Website designer

        -Digital image editing/graphics creator using photoshop? Canva?/gimp?

        – Mobile app Flow creator
        Using SKETCH And/or adobe XD

        Thanks brother

  4. Hi Niall!
    I have found that my biggest waste of time, money, and effort has been because I have been following fake gurus and their fake courses that contain well-marketed , but crappy non-Income producing advice. Whether it be free or paid how do I know that I’m listening to sound advice from the publisher of the information. My biggest concern now is to waste more time, money and effort following someone who will get me no results, yet again.
    I follow these guys down the rabbit hole far too many times and wasted so much of my resources and time. It’s very discouraging. Nowadays I don’t know who to believe.

    1. Hey Arron,

      Most of the over-hyped courses are about affiliate marketing, dropshipping, or some other type of online business that I don’t recommend for beginners. If you stick with freelancing to start you probably won’t even need a course. Or at least, if you want to take a course on that topic, you’ll likely find them a lot more reasonable, much less hype and big promises.

        1. I’m mostly self-taught, started back in the early 2000’s. I don’t recall taking any web design courses. The main way I learned was by trying to build my own website and googling for answers when I got stuck. W3schools was a website I referenced a lot back then.

  5. I definitely think Software Development and Social Media Marketing can produce a great combination to start with. According to demand, I could definitely learn video editing, copywriting, and basically any skill, provided it can be learned online.

  6. I am thinking about Office administration, Microsoft Office, Virtual assistant or Data entry since I am super organized, like to take a mess and put everything in order, lots of experience in administration, but it is not very specialized… also thinking about Social media management it could take me a little more time tough to learn and gain experience.

  7. We actually enjoy what we are doing now (Body,Mind and Spirit health), there is definitely a market for it and more and more people are gravitating to natural healing (it has been paying the bills for years), and we are always learning and innovating.
    Now we want to explore: writing a book, blog or vlog, teach at weekend retreats, public speaking at seminars, write articles for publication, develop a video library of “how to handle this”.

  8. I’m going to sit this one out… I’m wide open and want to really spend some time working this part out. I’ll try to come back to update this after I’ve given it some time.

  9. I would like to focus on writing, I don’t know what type of writing I would like to do though, there is copywriting, content writing, and such, so all I know is I would like to start with writing.

  10. Hi Niall,
    Thanks for your great content! I’m lucky I was able to discover you through a review for a product I had considered to purchase, and luckily didn’t thanks to your detailed review. Now on your beginner course for online work. For this section, I think I’ve narrowed it down to starting off with content writing as there’s more entry level positions, then gradually gaining experience for copywriting and SEO work. I have some prior experience with social media and content writing, but I’m a bit rusty since I haven’t looked for work in that field. Do you have suggestions on how I should improve my plan to find work, like to find a particular niche or change the way I approach this plan? Or should I continue with the rest of the course? 🙂 Thank you again for your content!

    1. Hey Katie,

      Thanks for the comment. Go through the rest of the lessons in this series and you’ll get some tips for finding work. Let me know if you’re still stuck after that.

  11. I have decided that I will do WordPress development and E-Commerce websites. After doing a bit of research I think will be able to learn these skills quick.
    What do you think of the above mentioned skills with regards to learning quickly and established market ?
    Thanks Niall , your courses are very helpful

    1. Those are good choices, Bheki. You might want to look at going even deeper and picking a more specific niche. Maybe you could focus on helping people using WooCommerce for WordPress, for example. You could take a look on sites like Upwork and see if there’s much demand for something like that.

      As for learning the skills quickly, it will help if you have some experience with coding or website design already. If you don’t have that kind of experience, what do you have? If you have some writing experience you could look to help people in that niche with their website copy or product descriptions. If you have some marketing experience you could help them with that side of things. Try and leverage your existing skills and experience as much as possible.

      That said, you can and should also be learning new skills and developing those you already have. There are lots of courses online to help you do that quickly. More skills will pay the bills 😉

  12. kathleen Edwards

    writing and proof reading. Had a look at Upwork but you have to create a profile to get on it? Is there anyway to just look at the jobs? I might be able to learn something else if I knew what was being looked for

      1. kathleen Edwards

        Thanks Niall, nice to know someone actually reads and gives advise for a change instead of being left to work it all out by ourselves. Love the way this course has been done by the way 🙂
        I will look at the links, now that I have organised my time 🙂

  13. Gabriel Beloved

    I am really benefiting from your lessons and I wish I have found this article before now but I still believe it’s not late and it’s not over until I achieve my dream.
    Right now I want to focus on web development and I’m broke is there any free online tutorial for this?

  14. Proofreader.
    Legal secretary as I was one for 25 years.
    Copywriting: would need to learn how to do the best way and then get experience.

  15. i like to do 3d Rendering and i do not know how to go on with it,also no idea about online marketing, i hope you will be teaching me how to do it.
    thank you .

  16. I would like to get into online travel work as I’ve been in hospitality/ travel industry for (eesh) almost 20 years but might also look at Virtual Assistant/ data capture type work.

    Thanks for all the great & honest advice! It is really easy to follow your videos and keep super motivated.

  17. I am going to explore the field of all that’s included under the graphics field (including graphic design, photo/video editing…) and then see what suits me the best. I will try doing a few courses to see what I could learn faster and be good at. Do you reckon that’s a good idea ?

    And thanks for all the free advice !

    1. Hey Fabio,

      From your other comments it sound like you already have some solid graphic design skills, so if I was you I’d take a look at sites like Upwork first and see what kind of graphic design jobs are listed there and how much they pay.

      Then ask yourself:

      – Is this the kind of work I want to be doing?
      – Can I make enough money doing this kind of work?

  18. I want to focus on writing – copy, articles, editing and proof reading as I was a journalist intern for a year before I decided to go travel…

  19. I love you man! i never knew I could do project management remotely at the abundance of offers i see. well at least theyre some there which i could start applying once i am ready and see the acceptance. And best part i am already a seasoned project manager

  20. One of the best articles I’ve ever read and the first time I come across this perspective. I’m so glad that I don’t have to choose the passion of my life in order to earn some money. I feel relieved. It felt like such a responsibility to find that one true thing I have to do in life in order to be happy 🙂

  21. Thanks Niall, great article. Really helpful! You have really got me thinking with this! I really need to sit down and go through these lists now. Will fill you in when I get closer to deciding – Your article has given me a lens by which to go about finding it. Thank you

    1. During colege i was a journalist for schools newspapers…and i think i might use modest writting skills to create rules for (example) payed ads to pop up ..i do not know if i m on the right track over here..
      Journalism was side thing but i m marine electrical engineer so to go back to the thing i did pressure free and no strings attached ..yes
      Correct me if i m wrong

    1. Bongani Sibanda

      Thanks Niall i couldn’t believe all live resources you are taking us through. I thought it was kind of college education but this is practical its like internship at its best.Before i went through your email i was clueless like a headless chicken. Now everything is clear no chances to guess just plain simple. I also like the way you advise straight to the point for someone to be prepared or wait until such time when they are ready. Thanks for the journey begins. Atleast we have you as our GPS i cannot wait to take your paid 3months course in near future.
      Knowledge is Wealth Information is Power.

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