Thinking of going freelance? There’s a lot to be said for the lifestyle (working from home, in your sweatpants, for one). Flexible hours, plenty of opportunities to travel, and zero time commuting in the infamous Los Angeles traffic are all up there, too. But the life of a freelancer comes with its own set of risks, e.g. unpredictable pay cycles, variable income, and paying for your own health insurance. That said, if you’re ready to take the plunge (or are already doing it) we’ve done some sleuthing to bring you a list of some of the top jobs for women freelancers in Los Angeles — and stats on how much money freelancers in many of these fields are actually taking home each year.
As an entertainment epicenter, Los Angeles offers a vast variety of freelance jobs that go well beyond work for aspiring actors. A report by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, “Is California’s Gig Economy Growing? Exploring Trends in Independent Contracting,” studied freelance work and the “gig economy” in Los Angeles, measuring the shifts in self-employment pre-recession and post-recession. It found that construction jobs are shifting toward self-employment and that jobs in professional, science and technological services and health care and social assistance account for “large numbers of independent contractors and support relatively high-paying jobs,” though, the report noted, those jobs are starting to move away from freelancers. One of the biggest areas of growth? Personal care and service occupations (covering everything from childcare to fitness workers to stylists).
Without further ado, here are some of the top freelance jobs for women in Los Angeles.
Video editing and production can be lucrative and with the Internet, the thirst for video content has grown exponentially, offering more opportunities for freelance jobs for women looking to break into the industry. The downside (or upside, depending on your vantage point) of freelance jobs tied to a TV show or film is that the job lasts for a short amount of time (with very intense hours, often 12 hours a day or more) and then the project is finished. There might not be another project until the next pilot season. According to this Deloitte report, motion picture and video industries experienced significant growth (5,121), but noted that self-employed workers in the “information” category, under which video and audio production fall, earned less than their FT counterparts ($60K to the FT $95K). Take into account though, that freelancers may not have logged as many hours as full-timers, and that data includes more-junior workers as well. Don’t be scared off by the $60K figure, as many senior freelance editors easily make close to six figures.
This being the center of the movie biz, there is a huge need for producers of all levels, from executive producer down to associate producer. The Slate article “What Does a Hollywood Producer Do, Exactly?” explains that “a co-producer works under the producer and often helps with casting, financing or post-production. The line producer is on the set at all times to supervise the budget but has little or no creative input.” Other levels of producers deal with even more granular tasks, such as scheduling and hiring. Like freelance jobs in videography or editing, production jobs can last a few months to a few years and end when the project has finished shooting.
As with many industries in Hollywood, there is a disparity between women and men in roles. The 2018 Women and Hollywood Report found that there were 4 male producers for every female producer, with women comprising about 21 percent. The good news is that this job number is growing. “Female producers have increased 5 percentage points (20% between 2014-2018 compared to 15% between 2009-2013),” says the report. Glassdoor reports that the average base salary for freelance producers is approximately $80,000 a year, covering a range of experience levels.
Like video and audio jobs, there’s a pay cut if you are freelance, but, notes the Deloitte report, “growth among self-employed, unincorporated workers” outpaced the full-time employees in the motion picture sector. So, freelance producers can rejoice at an abundance of opportunities.
According to the UCLA report, media jobs comprise a large slice of Los Angeles’s freelance economy. In Los Angeles, there’s a need for all types of copywriting. In addition to the usual copywriting jobs for marketing and advertising, there are listings for comic book copywriters, publicity copywriters and freelance writing jobs offered through creative staffing agencies. Social media is considered a valuable form of copywriting (yes, you might get paid by a brand to write tweets and Facebook posts). Rentberry.com ranks Los Angeles seventh in its list of cities that are especially good for writers, taking into account the average rent, the average salary and the number of opportunities. Writing is often a gig that can be done from home and can offer flexible hours. You can work at night when the family is asleep, or when the children are in daycare. Of course, this depends on the type of copywriting you do, but working remotely at least some of the time is often on the table. Glassdoor reports that junior-level copywriters may make as little as $51K a year, but some more-senior freelancers report earning in the low six figures.
Hollywood — the land of celebrities, artists, designers, and tech entrepreneurs. You know that saying, “Have your people call my people?” Well, publicists are definitely high on the list of the “people” celebrities need. Whether the freelance job is writing up press releases and bios for one of the major record labels in town, or running a full-fledged independent PR firm, helping set up interviews, managing press tours, and controlling the message, there’s a huge demand for publicists in Los Angeles. According to the Deloitte report, independent workers in the Arts, Entertainments, and Recreation sector, which is the umbrella for writers and public relations contractors, is among the largest, and is growing, experiencing a 7 percent increase. There are about 100,000 self-employed workers, to 285,000 full-time employees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Los Angeles has the fifth-highest concentration of public relations specialists in the country in a metro area and has an average mean wage of $67,200 (FT median pay is $114K). Note that this figure also includes junior-level publicists. And women comprise 63.5 percent of the industry’s workers.
Trading stocks and managing hedge funds as a freelancer can be very lucrative and offers a fair amount of schedule flexibility, making it a great job for women freelancers. (You’ll just have to get up early to be in alignment with the opening of the markets on the East Coast). The good news is that self-employed workers in finance make better money compared to self-employed workers in other industries; the bad news is that there are fewer self-employed/unincorporated individuals in this industry than before the 2008 recession. Per Glassdoor, the average salary for freelance financial analysts of combined seniority levels is a little over $70K per year in Los Angeles, which is 5 percent above the national average.
Makeup artist or stylist
Most of the creative professionals working in Hollywood are freelance (though they may belong to a professional union). There are many opportunities in Hollywood for freelance makeup artists and stylists. These are short-term, fleeting gigs that can come and go. In some cases, work will be for a longer duration during a film or television shoot, but in other cases, stylists and makeup artists are hired by magazines, fashion designers, or by celebrities themselves to help them look their best throughout awards season. Experienced stylists can get signed to a creative agency that places them in jobs.
For freelance creative women in Los Angeles, makeup artist and stylist are great career paths. As with other creative industries in Los Angeles, if you work enough, you can get into one of its unions. The Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Guild (which is part of IATSE) offers many benefits and protections to freelance stylists.
Real estate broker
Los Angeles is one of the richest cities in the world, which means there’s a lot of people with money to spend on beautiful houses. Real estate broker is one of the best freelance jobs for women freelancers in Los Angeles. It offers a flexible schedule and the opportunity to build your own business and develop a clientele. And if you can crack the top tier of the real estate market, you can be sitting in one of those beautiful homes yourself. Real estate has experienced a slight drop in self-employment pre- and post-recession, but according to Indeed.com, the average annual salary of a real estate agent in Los Angeles is $93,699, which includes those that are pursuing real estate as a “side hustle.”
Architect or interior designer
Those houses that freelance realtors are selling? They need someone to design them, and someone to decorate them. Los Angeles is known for its architectural marvels, so freelance architects and interior designers are two occupations that are in demand in a city like Los Angeles. Architecture design isn’t limited to a building — there are also “experiential designers” and 3D designers, who use computer technology to create models of buildings or houses. An experiential designer can make an average of $79K in L.A., according to data from ZipRecruiter.
According to data from Coroflot.com, a design recruiting website, the median salary for all design jobs in Los Angeles is $73,600. The data is compiled used self-reported salaries from its users and is a combo of both freelance and salaried workers. For a user experience designer, the median is $90,500, and the median for 3D modelers is $58K.
As with writing, designers who work independently can often do many of these jobs remotely, though in some cases, the hours would likely adhere to business hours to meet client needs, which means if you are a working parent, this can be a good option.
Patternmaker or on-set tailor
As this is the home of Hollywood, there’s a huge costume design market, which means freelance tailoring work is bountiful. In addition to the movie and TV studios that need pants hemmed and new skirts sewn, LA has a thriving industry of independent fashion designers, and plenty of clothing companies manufacture their wares out of Los Angeles. According to BuiltinLa.com, there are 178 fashion companies in Los Angeles. Getting into any part of the fashion biz may be a wise move for a freelancer in LA. (Coroflot lists the median fashion designer salary at $61K, with the average freelance rate at $33 an hour).
If you are working in Hollywood regularly, chances are you would be a member of the Costume Designers Guild, technically, “the Local 892 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE).” The Guild represents costume designers, assistant costume designers, and costume illustrators,” and has 875 members, most of whom are in Los Angeles.
As a member of the union, you can get union rates: $43.56 an hour to $48.69 an hour, and depending on the title and gig, up to $3,000 in a week.
Software developer or computer programmer
One of the best jobs for a freelancer is coding. It can be done anywhere, anytime, so long as you have an internet connection and a laptop. With the rise of Silicon Beach, located on the west side of the city near Venice Beach, computer programming jobs are becoming more commonplace in Los Angeles. In fact, they are becoming so commonplace, thanks to large tech companies like Google, Apple and Hulu setting up headquarters in LA in the last few years, that there is a shortage of tech workers in Los Angeles. That’s great news for a woman freelancer looking to get into tech in the city. According to a 2018 Deloitte report, “Bridging the Los Angeles Tech Talent Gap,” there are a projected 133,870 IT jobs needed in 2024. Its authors write, “As of August 2018, LinkedIn data shows that Los Angeles has approximately 38,000 companies employing tech talent and that 74% of employees with tech jobs work outside of the software and IT industry.” That’s a lot of coders. It must be noted that tech is not seen as a friendly workforce for women, with only 20 percent of tech jobs being held by women, but there has been greater awareness of pay inequity and gender imbalance in recent years and attempts to correct it, and LA has a small army of female founders in tech.
For women freelancers, Los Angeles offers a bounty of contract-based, flexible work in a range of industries. And as they say in La La Land, the opportunity is what you make it.
Writer and editor Tricia Romano is the former editor-in-chief of the Stranger. She has been a staff writer at the Seattle Times and columnist for the Village Voice. She is currently working an oral history about the Village Voice for Public Affairs. You can also find her at Patreon.