I don’t use the word freelancer to describe what I do anymore.
It’s just a word – heck, I write about a million of them a day – but it’s one I don’t want in my vocabulary when I’m describing my business or my career.
Cambridge defines it as: ‘Doing particular pieces of work for different organisations, rather than working all the time for a single organisation.’ And the Oxford definition is pretty much the same: ‘Self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments.’
I like these definitions: ‘particular piece of work’ means that we’re specialists or experts and ‘self-employed’ means that we’re running our own business.
When you think about it like that, this free agent thing sounds pretty sweet. No wonder it’s becoming more and more popular all over the world.
Then why have I been actively avoiding using the word ‘freelancer’ for the last 12 months?
Remember when it used to bring with it an air of living life flying by the seat of your pants, working from a trendy cafe, carrying around a Macbook, notepad and not much else and wearing round-framed glasses? It used to hold connotations of ‘being a creative-type’. (And yes, I’m guilty of being that laptop-wielding cafe lurker, I don’t deny it.)
But somewhere along the way, the term ‘freelancer’ has morphed into something a little less luxurious. Now it’s vague and it sometimes doesn’t hold the value of the person who carries it.
We can blame sites like Upwork or Freelancer.com for this backwards step, or we can look questioningly at ourselves for throwing the word around like it’s nobody’s business.
We could even point the finger at the word itself. ‘Freelancer’ may have started as a carefree French and Italian ode to ‘freedom’ or ‘free’. In English, it was used in conjunction with ‘lances’ as early as 1809 by the mercenary soldiers who sold their skills to the highest bidder.
In other words: it’s literally always been a bloody battle.
There’s a lot of businesses and business people (whether they realise it or not) who take advantage of us now that we’re not technically employed by someone else.
They want a bunch of ‘freelancers’ on hand to tap into whenever they feel like it, like a never-ending resource of words, design or video. And they want the convenience of not having to pay super, personal leave, annual leave or – shock, horror – deal with maternity leave.
But you know who does have to handle all that stuff? Us.
The sole traders who can trace every hour of work to electricity bills, wifi connection, phone plans, laptops… and who have to take time out of our schedules to complete all admin, pay ourselves super, lodge taxes and BAS forms and deal with insurances and accountants.
But we wear it, because that’s the responsibility of a business owner.
There’s a shitty stigma attached to ‘freelancers’.
I’d like to know who gave us this bad name of being lazy work-from-homers who don’t do any actual work, or who will work for peanuts.
I for one have never worked harder in my LIFE.
And I’ve talked to many others in a similar field who feel the same.
We’ve gone to university, paid for courses and up-skilled ourselves constantly.
Personally, I read a shit-tonne, I practice my writing in my spare time, join mastermind groups and with every year that goes by I am more qualified to do the job I’m doing (and then some). I also do my own invoicing, manage a calendar and do all my own marketing.
Unfortunately when you tack on the word ‘freelancer’ when describing what you do, it immediately makes you more expendable. (In my case, just a monkey at a typewriter.)
I don’t take this stuff lightly, you know. I charge for my value and I stick to my guns. What I work on with clients far outweighs the $5 jobs on outsourcing websites and I’m not ashamed of that.
Plus, I think this commitment to learning and handling all the moving parts of a business is something that makes me more valuable in a business partnership sense, or even one day if I decide to join a team as an employee.
But this isn’t a last resort.
It wasn’t an easy decision to give up all the perks of being an employee. I miss the teamwork, the regular pay-cheque, the career progression… But this is all the stuff I now give myself.
I chose this path because I love it, not because I don’t have another (easier) choice. Rest assured, I do have other choices! It’s just that this suits me better at the moment.
As a collective group of ‘freelancers’, we need to be more mindful about the work that goes into running a business like ours. We’re doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t give this career the credit it deserves. We need to value our own work if we want others to value it too.
So instead of using the word ‘freelance’, now I say: I’m a copywriter and I run my own business.
What do you think? Are you a fan of the word ‘freelance’ or nah?
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