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There’s Nothing Free About Freelancing

I may be a freelancer by definition, but as someone wise once said, my services aren’t “free”, my name isn’t “lance”, nor am I in any way familiar with this medieval weapon.

The term ‘freelancer’ actually originated in the Middle Ages when mercenary knights, with no allegiance to anyone in particular, would take their lances into battle for various kings, princes, lords and wealthy land owners – for whomever paid them the most.  Our modern day knights however constitute a multitude of business professionals ranging from designers, developers, writers and actors to photographers, journalists, consultants and many other solo professionals.

21st Century Knights

By definition a freelancer can be described as “a person who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long term” while a self-employed person can be defined as “a person who works for himself/herself instead of an employer, but draws income from a trade or business that they operate personally”.  Honestly I find it difficult to distinguish the two, however I have come to learn from personal experience that the term freelancer often stirs up negative connotations and I’ve had many a pity look thrown my way by those who don’t fully understand exactly what it is I do.  The term itself is frequently associated with those who don’t have a ‘real job’, who are currently in-between jobs or desperately waiting for something better to come along.  This may in fact be true for a small minority of freelancers, but it by no means represents the industry as a whole. A self-employed, freelancer, business owner all often one in the same.

Why freelancing aint’t free…

One commonly held misconception is that starting and running a freelance business is somehow free. Unfortunately, that’s not the case!

Freelancers are relatively free to decide when I work, where I work, how I work and whom I work with.  This freedom is a privilege. Regrettably however, they are neither free nor exempt from all the regular costs associated with running a business.  While it is true to say that some freelancers may experience lower start up/operating costs than other types of businesses, the term “free” certainly does not apply.

Like all other businesses and professions, freelance designers also incur annual expenses and costs ranging from:

  • Equipment & Tools (computer, laptop, monitor, printer, scanner, copier, fax, phone, internet connection, web hosting, stock resources, design & other software packages, office supplies – desks/workspaces etc)
  • Advertising & Promotion (stationery, printing, online advertising, networking fees)
  • Legal & Accounting
  • Training & Self Improvement (books, magazines, tutorials, seminars, conferences)
  • Rent & Travel Expenses
  • Maintenance Costs
  • Self Employment (taxes, insurance, retirement funds etc)

As a self-employed professional I am also expected to wear many hats on a daily basis.  Not only am I a creative designer first and foremost, I’m also a project manager, an accountant, a collections agent, a customer service representative, a sales agent, a marketer, a secretary and even an entrepreneur – a jack of all trades with a multidisciplinary skill set if you will.  Many freelancers also pursue years of education, obtain various degrees and qualifications and also train professionally, prior to embarking on the journey to becoming self-employed.

It’s true that there is a global recession taking place, but should we therefore be expected to work for pittens or significantly cut-rate prices and provide the same quality service? Are we any less deserving than our corporate competitors? The truth of the matter is, if you expect high quality work and service, you must be willing to pay a fair price – no matter who you choose to employ! As the saying goes “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.

I find myself wondering which part of the word “free-lance” makes sense these days?

Consider this…

When you’re sick and need to visit a doctor or specialist do you question their hourly rate? Do you try to haggle them down to the minimum wage or try to obtain the lowest possible price by offering to visit more regularly in future? Why not? Because they are experienced professionals who are highly skilled, most likely experts at what they do. You visit them because you need their help, their expertise and their advice. If you could self-medicate or solve the problem yourself you would probably would be doing it already, would you not?

So why then would you consider treating a professional freelancer any different?

  1. Tomasz Prokop / February 28, 2011

    It is very good article. In my opinion the freelancer can offer better price as he is not paying for office space and so on. However it is really hard to imagine to leave only from freelance job. It also put some pressure on the freelance as he needs to get minimum salaries every month. And with pressure the fun which is most important in this job gets down. The best is to get regular job and salaries and freelance something from time to time just for fun an please. What do you think?

  2. sheena / February 28, 2011

    Thanks Tomasz for your comments. Yes I agree with you, freelancers can sometimes offer a more competitive price, however I think a ‘fair price’ is something which should be expected by all. You’re right, there is a lot of pressure involved with being a freelancer/self employed and not having a guaranteed stream of work or paycheck each week, but freelancers make the decision to become freelancers knowing this in advance. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to succeed and become successful at anything. I myself do not have another full time job – freelancing is my full time job, so I would have to disagree with you on that point though :)

  3. Rob Bowen / March 02, 2011

    Hey Sheena,

    Nice write up. So many great points raised. I would say the difference between a freelancer and someone who is self-employed would be location. Freelancers I would say work from home, and work alone for the most part. Self-employed people I would consider those who have a retail location outside of the home with the potential for having employees. That’s how I have always viewed them. I would also have to disagree with Tomasz as I to freelance full time for a living, not just from time to time.

  4. sheena / March 02, 2011

    Hey Rob, thanks for reading and for you comment! Like you, I always assumed self-employed people had an office/business premises somewhere other than their home. I suppose it depends really on the type of service you provide or what your business involves. According to the government here in Ireland I would be classed as a self-employed professional, however I do work from home also. Perhaps I should start referring to myself as a “self-employed freelancer” ? :)

  5. Sana Khan / October 08, 2012

    This is a very insightful article. Some people actually do think that freelancing means you’d do free work for them. I like the way you describe it.

  6. sheenaoosten / October 08, 2012

    Some do Sana, but I think a lot more just assume that it should cost significantly less because of the title “freelancer”. It can often have negative connotations in the industry unfortunately.

  7. Brian Terry / December 01, 2013

    As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence both hiring freelancers and working as one I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with what you’ve said.

    In my experiences as a freelancer I’ve been very lucky and have always been treated with respect, which I’m very grateful for.

    Whenever I hired freelancers I always paid it forward and did the same. The result was people gave me their best work and were more likely to be available at a movements notice when we needed help the most.

  8. sheenaoosten / December 02, 2013

    Thanks Brian. Appreciate the comments. Nice portfolio of work you have there yourself!


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