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Tracey Anderson

Freeing Myself from the Freelancer Title

Freelancer and other skill-based titles
Freelancer and other skill-based titles
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“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?

Previous post from Tracey Anderson: Why Do So Many Teachers Become Editors?

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15 Comments on “Freeing Myself from the Freelancer Title”

  • Lise Minovitz

    says:

    I tell people I am self-employed. If I call myself a freelancer, some people seem to focus on the word «free.»

    • That focus on «free» is all too common and on the rise unfortunately.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    I adored the title of freelancer. To me, it was liberation from what I thought of as being a wage slave, and the illusion of being my own boss. Yes, I was self-employed and I did fairly well with my home-based micro business. But the idea of charging out to battle with my lance appealed to me enormously.

    As to how I was perceived, the work was almost all word of mouth, and I was known as «Anita.»

    Note that the above comments are in the past tense. The world has changed. I first noticed it when I was being expected to do not only respond to requests for proposals but also requests for getting on a list of potential «freelancers.» Then I had to work for people who didn’t even want to meet me. Time to retire!

    • Tracey Anderson

      says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective on how the word «freelancer» has changed over time. I think it will continue to do so and unfortunately not in good ways.

      • Anita Jenkins

        says:

        I’m sure that in 1979 the founders of FEAC, Freelancers Editors’ Association of Canada, now Editors Canada, were fiercely proud of their name.

        More seniors’ angst. I also march around coffee shops and restaurants complaining that they don’t have a place to hang up my coat and I have to drink my coffee out of a paper cup.

  • Generally, if I’m telling people about my work as an editor, I either say that I’m a copyeditor or a technical editor. It depends on the specific context. Whether I’m actually working out of an office or at home (I’ve done both) that doesn’t change. I’ve never specified either in-house or freelance when it comes to telling people what I do; those adjectives only apply to where I do it.

    • Good point, Jason. When you are/were working at home, and people asked specifically if you are/were a freelancer, what did you tell them?

      • If I volunteered information I’d say, «I work from home.» When in an office, I’d say, «I work at [company].» In online profiles, I’ve said either (sometimes) that I’m a «freelance editor» or an «editor at [company].» So, it’s interesting that I’d use freelance online (although not in normal conversation) but that I’ve never used in-house at all—outside of these types of discussions among other editors specifically. One thing I’ve never done is use the exact word «freelancer.» In fact, I can’t recall hearing that noun actually used before—although I’m certainly aware of its existence. But that’s more just a matter of style (I’d use the adjective) than anything to do with associations. I don’t have any bad associations with the general word.

        • Tracey Anderson

          says:

          Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m always curious what others in the business are doing.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    The gig economy.

  • Brendan O'Brien

    says:

    The points are all good, but I’ve generally been calling myself a freelancer for 27 years and will probably continue to do so. I’m not sure that it’s so much of a negative in my part of the world (Ireland). Our professional association here is the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI Ireland).

    • Tracey Anderson

      says:

      Yes, we should each do what we find most comfortable.

  • Susan Hunt

    says:

    I call myself an independent professional (editor, writer, translator, teacher, whatever the context calls for). I can’t honestly say that I ever noticed that I was considered ‘less than’ for being freelance. However the gig economy has resulted in large numbers of people being forced to operate as freelancers whether they wish to or not. So I think it is good to be able to define yourself and what you do in a way which sets you apart from the gig workforce struggling for recognition. We have the advantage that we generally provide our services to multiple clients and therefore can retain a measure of control over our time and how we are perceived.

    • Tracey Anderson

      says:

      The idea of «forced freelancing» is an important consideration, especially as it refers to a situation that continues to grow. How we deal with working «out of house» as it were, individually and as an industry, will affect our success as independent professionals, whether we are in that position by choice or by force.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    Editors’ Weekly needs an article on the gig economy and its relationship to editing, which has traditionally been heavily freelance. Anybody volunteering to write it?

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