Commentary | Aug 20, 2010 | 4 Comments

[what’s free about freelancing?]

[choosing independence over freedom]

This is my third stint as a freelance writer. But I still talk to a lot of people—including family and friends—who are confused by the “free” in “freelancing.” Here’s a brief look at what it doesn’t mean. Read to the end for some good humor, too.

“Lots of free time.”

The freelancers I know routinely work early mornings, late evenings, and weekends. Our schedules may be more flexible—we might be able to take a two-hour lunch or go to the gym at 10 AM—but the work has to get done sometime. Even on vacation. Of course, the hours we work are not just for pay.

All of us are also our own administrative assistants, bookkeepers, facilities managers, IT directors (my least favorite job), purchasing agents, and office cleaners. And don’t forget that sales and marketing: consultants should spend at least 25% of their time on marketing their business in order to keep it going. I hope blogging counts…

Every aspect of running a business is our responsibility. However, when I had a dog, at least I didn’t have to provide my own security.

“Free choice in clients and jobs.”

I’ve read a lot of blogs recently about the important of choosing your customers. Seth Godin wrote a good one (it’s short). But we always have to balance our desires with our need to make a living. Stable client relationships are definitely critical to staying afloat. Sometimes it means that we have to put up with difficult people or take projects we don’t really like. But it’s more important to earn a steady income and to be there when we’re needed.

Also, I’ve also noticed that working under even the most difficult conditions often produces results I am proud of.

It doesn’t happen as much in the current economy, but when we have more work than we can handle, rather than turn it down, we often subcontract to others. It does take time to supervise the projects, but saying “yes” whenever possible is an important way to keep clients happy.


“Working for free.”

Clients occasionally ask us to work for free. Sometimes they don’t understand how hard creative work is—they think it’s a quick favor to crank out a few web pages or a flyer. Sometimes they’re just desperate because of budget concerns. It’s hard to say “no,” but this usually makes good business sense.

Many of us will do pro bono work occasionally for a favorite charity, but even that gets tricky for those who also work in the nonprofit sector. I have one colleague who doesn’t do any pro bono work for nonprofits because that’s the focus of her business. Instead, she’ll volunteer in other capacities that are not her “bread and butter.”

Bottom line: It’s about independence, not freedom.

According to the Simple English wiktionary, freedom is “the state of being without restraints or constraints,” which sounds like not working to me. However, independence is “being alone or relying on yourself.”  The freelancers I know chose freelancing not because it’s easy or “freeing,” but because they are very independent people.

They’ll tell you that freelancing is not about quitting your boring day job to hang out in coffee shops (or pubs) being creative when you feel like it. That’s the recipe for poverty. But just for fun, check out this humorous blog about the freelancing lifestyle.

FYI, I do get to work in coffee shops (especially the one in the photo) but  it’s usually because I’m on deadline and have gotten too distracted in my home office.

If you freelance, why did you choose that career path? Do you encounter misconceptions about your work/work style?

Photo Credit: Me. This is my favorite satellite office, Roy’s Station, in San Jose’s Japantown.

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Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


Good observations!


Carolyn Boggs


Claire, I’ve found that most people may have an intellectual grasp of what a freelance writer does, but they don’t understand the practical aspects of actually having to do the work. They typically think I have time to do whatever I want — or whatever they want.


Claire Wagner Reply:

Too right, John! Thanks for the perspective.


John Soares


Thanks for bravely making the case for why freelancing isn’t free!! 😀 I absolutely adore it, but it’s not for everyone.


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