Have you ever thought about what a potential client thinks when you describe yourself as a “freelance” writer? The dictionary software on my Mac defines freelance as follows:
“working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company”
A person who can’t hold onto a job for a time is generally looked down upon, since we value people who can commit to an employer for a time. Companies recognize long-term workers and may even provide them with gifts or bonuses in return for their years of service.
If you tell someone you are a freelance writer, what does that say about you? It certainly is an accurate term if you work for clients, as opposed to being an employee who provides writing services, but is it the best way to describe what we do?
I am not suggesting that “freelance” be considered one of the words that we no longer say out loud. It’s not the new “F” word, nor is it a put down like the “R” word or the “N” word. Since writers are all about words and we are usually very precise about the ones we choose to use, let’s consider for a minute other kinds of work that are performed independently that aren’t referred to as “freelance.”
Anyone who operates a business independently is technically a freelancer, but we don’t refer to our doctor, dentist or plumber in that way. We work for ourselves because we choose to do so, not because we can’t commit to a job or (horrors!) no one would want to hire us full time.
So instead of calling yourself a “freelance writer,” why not just say “I’m a writer.” Or an independent writer. Or a professional writer. Or a communications consultant. Heck, you can even call yourself a wizard of words, since there are times when a writer needs to work some magic to pull off some of the assignments he or she takes on. Let’s face it, any job title that implies you get to wear flowing robes and use a wand can’t be all bad….
How do you define yourself as a writer? Are you a freelancer and proud of it, or are there other terms you feel more comfortable with?
Rick Guffey says
I’m not “just a writer.” I’m a salesman whose tools just happen to be words. I make ideas clear, persuade people, and motivate them to take action. I sell my expertise, not my time. As writers we work “with” clients, not for them. We are a necessity, not a commodity. I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write.
liliana cueto says
Dear Rick: You are not a writter you are a building contractor, you told me that. If you are a freelance writter you can be brilliant and you write brillantly, but it is not true, because you need first to be a honesty man and a man with values.
You cannot promise nothing because for that you need the universe in your heart and your heart is empty. Lily,
Steve Amoia says
Jodee, thank you for the thought-provoking article. One comment stood out to me:
“A person who can’t hold onto a job for a time is generally looked down upon, since we value people who can commit to an employer for a time.”
North American society doesn’t look down on employers or clients who can’t seem to hold onto employees or commit to them on a long-term basis. Top athletes change teams every year and nobody questions their loyalty or commitment. They are rewarded when they change teams and are not called mercenaries. It’s business.
In today’s global economy, everyone is a freelancer. Most salaried employees don’t understand this concept. They commit to an employer who will lay them off when it suits them instead of committing to the work. Whether that work is for a day, a week, a month or a year.
Rick Guffy said it perfectly above: “I sell my expertise, not my time.” That is the difference between a freelance professional and the salaried worker. The freelance writer thinks about the work and not the clock. Seth Godin used the term “attendance-based compensation” in his recent book, “Linchpin.” Meaning the concept where someone is paid just to show up regardless of their actual productivity, creativity or value to the bottom line.
I’m not afraid to put the word “freelance” on my business card or website. Judge my work and not the title. 🙂
Steve Amoia, Freelance Writer, Editor and Translator
Lucy Smith says
I just tell people I have a copywriting business. I don’t especially like the term ‘freelance’ – to me it sounds like something people do when they can’t find a ‘real’ job (whatever that is). It also makes me picture someone on a laptop in pajamas and fluffy slippers. That might not be true, or justified, but it’s how it feels for me. Calling what I do a business, however, puts me in a much more focused frame of mind, and gives me that little bit of extra confidence when I tell people what I do.
I enjoyed reading this. True story I’m about to tell. A few months ago, an acquaintance bought a newspaper business. I asked if she’ll need freelance writers for the columns. “Oh yes, I’ll definitely need writers!” “Great, I’ll get my rates to you.”
The conversation continued with: “Uh, rates?” “Yes, and they’re comparable with what other writers charge.” “Oh. I thought FREElances wrote for FREE. I won’t be needing any writers for the paper.”
I swear that’s the way it went down. And my mouth continues to hang wide open.
I just say I own a business writing for x y, z.
Christina Crowe @ Cash Campfire says
I just tell people that I’m a copywriter. That word, to me, sounds more interesting than merely “freelance writer.” Most of the time, people are also interested in hearing more about what I do, and I can eagerly give it to them with pride.
People don’t usually react well with “freelance writing.” Copywriting, on the other hand, gets a lot more attention.
Great thought-provoking article!
@ Rick: Well put. We are indeed selling our expertise.
@ Steve: You also make an excellent point. I have worked in places where a certain boss can’t keep anyone working for him. (I’ve seen a new person not come back after lunch on the first day.) The powers that be don’t seem to get that the issue is with the supervisor, not the people being hired to work under him. As freelancers, we have to produce or else we don’t get paid. That’s a good incentive to show up and do the work.
@Lucy: I have had a few people ask when I’m going to get a “real” job or ask about my “hobby.” I don’t bother to explain anything to them; they will think what they want to anyway.
@ Kat: You just came up with the best reason to avoid the word “freelance,” LOL! I’m going to remember that one. 😀
@ Allena: Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. 🙂
@ Christina: Your approach is a good one; you are creating interest in what you do and it’s a great marketing strategy besides.
Steve Amoia says
@Lucy and Christina:
Don’t you think that the term “copywriter” is more in vogue now due to the success of “Madmen?” (For those outside of the U.S., this is popular television program about a 1960s era ad agency in Manhattan.) The term might conjure up images of Don Draper, the copyrighter extraordinaire. You both made good points and I respect your perspectives. No doubt that the term “copyrighter” has more name recognition and a different interpretation than other writing labels.
I believe the important element is to educate clients and others that regardless of the name we choose, independent freelance-based writing is hard work that requires a business mindset. Sites such as this one, and Anne Wayman’s, “About Freelance Writing,” provide a much-needed service to share ideas, educate and inform.
But does this mean that “Freelance Writing Jobs” will have to change its iconic name? 😉
Yes, freelance sound like part timer to me. I used copywriter.