“Are you a freelancer?”
My answer to that question has changed over the course of my career. When I first started editing, I edited learning modules for apprenticeship trades in house at a polytechnic institution. I also wrote freelance projects for newspapers and magazines during evenings and weekends. I loved writing, but it was not my full-time work. The fact that it made me a few extra dollars was a bonus, but the dollars were not my purpose; my purpose was pleasure — and portfolio building. Back then, when people asked if I was a freelancer, I answered yes because I felt like a freelancer.
These days, I don’t feel like a freelancer anymore. I chose to go out on my own and work directly for clients in editing, writing, and instructional design. And I don’t do only the work my clients request — I do the marketing, accounting and administration for my business. I do this work in this way because I enjoy it, but I also need a steady, livable income.
These days, I feel like a business owner, a professional, in a way I didn’t when I was writing on the side, so the freelancer title no longer seems to fit.
Perception with purpose
When my perception of myself changed, I changed what I called myself. I wanted a title that was a better match, and I also wanted to influence how others perceive me.
Some people have the mistaken idea that freelancers are somehow less: less dedicated, less professional, less motivated. Because they see freelancing as a side hustle, they sometimes attribute lack of skill or drive to this form of work. They assume you’re a hobbyist who lacks the talent to get a “real” job. In assigning freelance work lower status, they may also assign it lesser monetary value.
Running my own business is not a hobby — it’s a lifestyle I’ve chosen, and it’s how I pay the bills. I’m an experienced professional. I want to be treated and paid as such, so I apply strategically chosen titles when I describe my work. My purpose is to create a perception that will bring more respect — and better compensation — than what freelancers often receive, to match my increasing knowledge, experience, and professional growth.
The choice is in the context
You may be wondering what title I use in place of “freelancer.” I have a repertoire of general terms (consultant, independent, contractor, entrepreneur) and skill-based names specific to my fields of expertise: editor, writer, instructional designer. I choose based on the context: where I am, who’s asking, what image I want to project. For example, at a writing event, I’m more likely to say “writer” instead of “entrepreneur”; at a communications event, I’m more likely to say “consultant.” I choose what feels right in the moment, and this flexible approach works well for me.
When discussing your work, do you call yourself a freelancer or do you use a different title? Why did you choose that term?
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