Are We Doing Ourselves a Dis-service By Calling Ourselves "Freelancers"?

Are We Doing Ourselves a Dis-service By Calling Ourselves "Freelancers"?
Wendy Thomas - Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 03:02AM
Comments: 18

In Don’t Call Yourself a Freelancer, James Chartrand suggests that giving yourself the title of “freelancer” might be doing more harm to your career than good. He writes: Photo Credit: Laineys Repertoire

“Consumer perception can influence how successful you are. Perception is basically the way we form concepts and organize information. We associate qualities and shape a definition in our mind, then we form views, beliefs and opinions. For example, many people perceive lawyers to be sharks and computer specialists to be nerds.

Unfortunately, the perception of “freelancer” isn’t always flattering.

Many people (usually freelancers themselves) perceive freelancers as hardworking, passionate, determined, liberated, creative and self-respecting people. That’s a true perception - freelancers can be just that type of person.

Many others perceive freelancers to be rebels, risky, lazy, overly proud and a touch snotty. That’s a true perception as well, in some cases. It takes all kinds to make a world, after all.”

Being a “freelance” writer myself this essay caused me to think. As writers, we often pride ourselves on being called freelancers. To us it means that we are professionals who do our jobs because we are sought out and not because we fill a chair. We understand deadlines and more importantly we understand the business of writing. We promote ourselves, we get the job done. We’ve managed to make a living out of writing.

I even know of a writer who routinely guested for a Television Station as a cook but she had her introduction rewritten to read “freelance writer” so that people would see her as more than just a culinary performer.

But, again as a writer, I also know of some freelancers who will willingly sell their souls for a writing contract. They claim to be unbiased but sometimes their copy drips with so much snake oil, it is difficult to hold. I tend to stay away from those writers by self-justifying that my title of freelance holds more integrity than theirs.

But does it? Especially to others? Is a rose really still a rose?

I suspect we are indeed doing ourselves a great dis-service by insisting on the title of freelancer. Perhaps, as Chartrand suggests, we are unnecessarily cheapening ourselves in the eyes of our potential audiences. Much like when even the most integrity-filled used car salesman may be doing by introducing himself as such.  There are connotations with a title that persist despite our best intentions.

Instead of using the term freelancer, perhaps we should be calling ourselves something more direct, more authoritative. When I call myself a journalist or a columnist I get nothing but respect. No one flinches. When I say I am a writer, people are impressed and ready to do business.

Not always the case when I call myself a freelancer.

It might be time to follow the lead of “Sanitation Engineers” (ex-garbage men) and retire a term that causes us more harm than good in our businesses. 

Comments: 18


1. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 03:39AM

I'm up for calling ourselves, "expensivelancers." Who's with me?

2. Wendy Thomas  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 03:47AM


3. Kate Headen  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 03:58AM

Wendy - I am reminded of a scene in "Father of the Bride" when Steve Martin says of his future son-in-law (paraphrasing) "He's a consultant? Isn't that just a code word for unemployed?" I have the same hesitation when I introduce myself as "freelance." I want potential clients to understand they can hire me for project work - not a j-o-b. But I still suspect that a lot of people think I am putting a fancy spin on being unemployed or am living off my husband while writing a (rejected) article or two for Cosmopolitan every 6 months. Haven't figured this one out yet. Let me know when you do!

4. Jonathan Kantor  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 05:05AM

I think the other 'Jonathan' in this case has a different interpretation of "free" than I do.

As someone who used to work in the corporate environment, I see the use of 'free' as in freelancer as being free from the burdens of corporate politics, bureaucracy, and red tape.

One is free to create their own path rather than someone above you telling you what to do, and more importantly, what you will earn!


Jonathan Kantor, the other 'Jonathan"

5. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 05:25AM

I like the comments from "both" Jonathans. ;)

It's definitely a quandry - and, since it's based on personal perceptions, one that probably can't be solved.

Personally, I hope I never have to go back to the 9 to 5 world. I enjoy the many freedoms that Jonathan Kantor references too much to give them up. If some people make incorrect assumptions about my situation or motivation, that's their problem, not mine.

As far as clients go, I try to position myself as a knowledgeable and cost-effective member of the team - someone who can solve problems on demand.

Three cheers for the freelance nation!

6. Dianna Huff  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 10:10AM

Interesting discussion.

I like Jonathan Kranz' term "expensivelancer." "Freelance" is just a three letters away from "elance" which is a few zeros away from making a very good living as a professional copywriter.

7. Rosemarie Rung  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 04:13PM

Here are some alternatives to ponder: independent writer, contract writer..I like just plain writer that Wendy suggested.

8. Bob Scheier  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 16, 2009 @ 03:26AM

Great post, great blog and great Web site. I too am thinking "freelancer" increasingly means "cheap" and "commodity" to the customer, through no fault of our own. "Consultant" sounds both suspect and a bit overblown. I've been taking to saying "independent marketing writer and consultant." Hopefully accurate, understandable and respectable sounding. Good to meet you all on this forum. Perhaps we should unionize??????

9. Jerry Donohue  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 18, 2009 @ 01:29AM

How about "Writer for Hire". It works best with some western theme music playing in the background.
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