Freelancing is a Real Job


Freelancers will relate to this, whether you freelance as a techie, graphic artist or writer, most of you have experienced the outside world’s skepticism of your chosen profession. Whether it’s that friend who constantly emails you job listings, or a father-in-law who seems unsure that you actually work for a living, freelancing is highly misunderstood.

Personally, I’ve always had a problem with the word. The word free within the word freelance is misleading. The word itself seems to indicate that what we do for a living doesn’t actually result in any money.

According to my Google searches on the matter, the word originated in the Middle Ages from the knights whose lances were free for hire and who were not pledged to one master. It makes me think of the sellswords in Game of Thrones. As if we freelancers have no loyalty and go about selling our work to the highest bidder. Wait… okay, I guess there’s some truth in that.

Ultimately, freelancers might be better off if they simply referred to themselves as small business owners. It’s a business of one, but still, a business. We have to do everything a big business does just on a smaller scale.

In addition to our friends and family not completely understanding how we make a living, the outside world is often confused as well. Freelancers are often asked to do work for free or their work is undervalued.

First, this is because many freelancers are in creative industries fraught with a “work for a byline” mentality.

“If you do this, we’ll put your name on it and won’t that stroke your ego enough to make you forget that you are hungry and will need to buy groceries with real money sometime soon?”

Second, people undervalue the work of freelancers because they don’t understand what it is they do and how long things actually take.

For instance, if someone wants a logo and they hire a big firm, they expect to pay good money to have a logo created. However, if they go to a freelancer, for some reason the expectation is that the freelancer’s work isn’t worth the same as the big firm.

And sometimes people just don’t understand what they are asking someone to do. For instance some people have no idea that a logo is part of their larger overall branding, and can be an extensive process for a graphic designer.  It’s our job, as freelancers to educate people on what it is we do, and why a job will take X amount of hours.

The fact is, freelancing is a real job. And most of us who sell our knowledge and our creativity in exchange for real paper money wouldn’t want to do anything else, even if our own extended families think we are unemployed. 

Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is a freelance writer and founder of, the entertaining source of information on Colorado festivals and travel. She has been coworking since 2010.


Freelancers have two problems: while they can set an hourly rate, they often don't work all the hours they need to (or necessarily charge enough) to make ends meet. Freelancers are also encumbered by the fact that they only have so many hours to work; by definition they cannot leverage their time to become more efficient or add more hours into their day (or they become a "Small Business Owner"). Setting rates is difficult because most freelancers feel like they can't adequately place a value on their hour without causing problems with their clients. Because it becomes such a personal tie, it feels like the client (who often is negotiating just to negotiate) devalues YOU. Going into a freelancing gig *as* a Small Business Owner sets the bar. Going in as a Freelancer... unless you're well known for what you do and your reputation is spotless, you're going to have a lot of problems landing the kinds of rates you want. Many freelancers also do not get their ducks in a row regarding an LLC. Say you completely damage someone's brand (inadvertently) because you missed a hidden reference or accidentally created a hidden symbol in their work which kills their business. Not only is your reputation blasted, you're fully liable PERSONALLY if you're not set up as an S-Corp or LLC. It takes very little prepping to get it ready; $50 to the CO SOS and a bit of accounting, a little wording in your contracts, and you're set. Ultimately, this is a branding problem; your skills as a freelancer might be just as good as whatever a "big name" firm could whip up, but because you're a "freelancer" - you're just some kid in a basement with a computer and (photoshop, word, a CSS editor, etc).
I totally agree. Making yourself an LLC or incorporating in some other way goes a long way in protecting yourself and seeing one's self as a real business person.
Ditto what Nick said about making the commitment and getting the LLC or S-Corp. It helps you take yourself more seriously, as well as others who come in contact with you. Also, just wanted to say that recently, I've started to refer to freelancers as "independent professionals" and myself as "independent writer/editor." Fill in the blanks with your specialty. It gets rid of that misleading word free, and makes it sound like you're the master of your universe. Which you are :)
Independent Professional... I like it. I used to say Working Writer all the time, but I've gone back to freelancer. Maybe I will go with IP.

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