Different clients will value your skills differently. If you can fix a website and that creates 10% more sales revenue, somebody making $2,000 can only afford to compensate you $200 or else they're losing money. But the same skills and labour to a client making $2,000,000 represents $200,000 of value. If you want to make money, you have to work for the people who value your time, skills, and labour _more_.
So with that in mind, here's my secret: the profile of a profitable freelance client. This has been from my experience, and I've made money from clients that don't fit this profile too, but in general this is what making money in freelance looks like now:
- US-based small to medium sized business
- that is already profitable and making money via their website
- that is an organization still small enough you can speak directly to the owner or a key decision-maker
This is the kind of client who:
- has money to pay you
- values your skills
I think too many freelance clients think that because they are a small business, they must work for like-sized businesses, but tiny businesses simply don't have the money to value what you do enough to compensate you. A profitable company that's already making money from their website is precisely who will value what you have to offer more!
The client doesn't even need to be a business that's larger than your own, as long as they have lots of money. There are websites out there that are run by literally one person and get tens of millions of page views per day. Be the engineer who can solve his scalability problems, and he'll throw at you whatever money you ask for.
I've also found professional associations to be well-paying clients. They're too busy making money in their own professions, if they encounter an IT problem, they'll pay anything to make it go away.
If you go down this path, though, be prepared to read and endless stream of legacy code, write compatibility layers, do live data migrations, and spend a lot of time in general trying to untangle other people's spaghetti PHP/HTML/JS/whatever. It's an established website, after all. You're not there to rewrite it in your favorite framework. Come to think of it, maybe that's why I face so little competition ;)