in Business, Freelancing

Don’t call yourself a freelancer

December 2015 update: I wrote a book on freelancing/consulting with my mastermind group. Learn more about that here.

The other day, I tweeted some advice to freelancers, including “don’t call yourself a freelancer.” I got a few responses asking why, so here’s an explanation.

In your clients’ minds, freelancers are inherently less valuable than [professional whatever you are]. Their neighbor’s unemployed college dropout kid who has a nice camera calls himself a freelancer. Their stoner second cousin who makes a pittance on Fiverr calls herself a freelancer. Is that who you want to be associated with?

Besides being asked why, I also got replies asking if not freelancer, then what? If you’re a writer, call yourself a writer. If you’re a designer, then say so. If there’s not a succinct term that encompasses what you do, then use “consultant” as your title.

Call yourself a professional, conduct yourself like a professional, deliver professional results, and set professional prices. You’ll enjoy your work a lot more, and earn more in the process.

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  1. Obviously this can go both ways, but for the most part I agree in not calling yourself a freelancer. One of the things that I dealt with while going out on my own, and something I talk to other people about, is deciding to start out as just you or projecting yourself as a business. While a business is more work it can help with a little bit of instant credibility as opposed to just being a freelancer under your name.

    • I agree with that, RJ. Even if you don’t set up a separate legal entity right away (although you shouldn’t delay that too long), you can still file a dba and use a “business name”.

  2. I actually haven’t given it much thought until you asked. I do agree that freelancers often get a bad wrap, especially those in the web industry. I still recall the client who told me, “yeah but my nephew can do that with FrontPage.” Needless to say, he wasn’t my client for very long. Luckily, I do feel that some of the mystique around web design has faded. It’s become a more tangible if not at least a more widely recognized profession (as opposed to 5-10 years ago), which helps with the disbelievers.

    RJ makes an interesting point that obviously has a direct impact on the question – work under your name or create a façade ? I struggled with that for a long time, but ultimately settled on working under my name. That’s worked well for me. And so, yes, I have been in the habit of calling myself a freelancer.

    Does this hurt my business?

    I don’t think so, but there may be some cultural context – and please correct me if I’m wrong, if you think what I say next applies to your countries (presumably US?). In France, the “freelancer”—especially in the web industry—is the common alternative to an agency. And agencies are my main competition in terms of audience focus. It’s the first connection I need to make, and yes it’s a price point but also a process point.

    From there, I leverage both my experience and my process to establish a relatively high price point for a freelancer. This helps set me a part as well as setting a standard for quality and expectation.

    But if I didn’t first call myself a freelancer…well, it’s a good question. My feeling is that it would complicate things. Just like for a long time I complicated things by calling myself a “web producer”. Then it was “web professional”. Nobody knew what I was talking about! 🙂 So I finally gave in and started calling myself a web developer, despite not being fully comfortable with that label. It makes sense to people.

    Today, I believe that calling myself a freelancer makes sense to the people I want to work with, helping to keep that door open. Then it’s up to me to set myself a part, weed out the riffraff and tell Monsieur that his nephew would surely have a ball on his web project so to let me know how that works out for him…

    • Those are great points, Jenny. I suspect you’re right that there may be some cultural differences; I feel like I’ve noticed that in other areas as well. In the circles you operate in, would calling yourself a “consultant” make sense, or do you think that would also confuse people? I realize that’s a very generic term and doesn’t go far in explaining the details of what you offer, of course.

      One reason I like something like “consultant” over a more specific technical title like “web developer” is that I strive to provide more than just technical services; I add lots more value if I provide business advice as it pertains to the web, and adding more value means my prices get to be higher as well :).

      Ultimately, I think anyone can do perfectly well calling themselves a freelancer if they’re intentional about educating clients, as you are. But, I also think that in many cases, using a different title can be a shortcut that saves you time and can create a better first impression, simply because many people do at first judge based on titles.

  3. I have always felt a bit turned off by the words freelance and freelancer. You described it so well. :o)

    But on my personal website I’m launching soon, I need a link at the top to take folks to a page that describes my writing and design services. I tried ‘Hire me!’ (too desperate and abrupt), ‘Available!’ (but I’m married), ‘Writer’ (well, duh, it’s a blog), and some other variations.

    Nothing but Freelance seemed to work.

    It’s just funny, though, because I do kind of feel like some stoner schlep with Freelance at the top of my website.

    • I’d say just use “services”. That’s pretty typical in my experience. Or, you could get more specific and have multiple links (writing, design, etc.).


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