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There’s Nothing Free About Freelancing

Yes I am a freelancer by definition, but as someone wise once said, my services aren’t “free”, my name isn’t “lance”, nor am I in any way familiar with this medieval weapon.

The term ‘freelancer’ itself actually originated in the Middle Ages when mercenary knights, with no allegiance to anyone in particular, would take their lances into battle for various kings, princes, lords and even wealthy land owners – essentially for whoever paid them the most.  Our modern day knights constitute a multitude of business professionals ranging from designers, programmers, writers and actors to photographers, journalists, consultants and many other solo professions.

21st Century Knights

By definition a freelancer can be described as “a person who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long term” while a self-employed person can be defined as “a person who works for himself/herself instead of an employer, but draws income from a trade or business that they operate personally”.  Honestly I find it difficult to distinguish the two, however I have come to learn from personal experience that the term freelancer often stirs up negative connotations and I’ve had many a pity look thrown my way by those who don’t truly understand exactly what it is we do.  The term itself is frequently associated with those who don’t have a ‘real job’, who are currently in-between jobs or desperately waiting for something better to come along.  This may in fact be true for a minority of freelancers, but it by no means represents the industry as a whole.

Why freelancing isn’t free…

One commonly held misconception is that starting and running a freelance business is somehow free. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth!

Being a freelance designer myself I are relatively free to decide when I work, where I work, how I work and whom I work with.  This freedom is a privilege. Regrettably however, I am neither free nor exempt from all the regular costs associated with running a business.  While it is true to say that some freelancers may experience lower start up/operating costs than other types of businesses, the term “free” certainly does not apply. Just like all other businesses and professions, freelance designers also incur annual expenses and costs ranging from:

  1. Equipment & Tools (computer, laptop, monitor, printer, scanner, copier, fax, phone, internet connection, web hosting, stock resources, design & other software packages, office supplies – desks/workspaces etc)
  2. Advertising & Promotion (stationery, printing, online advertising, networking fees)
  3. Legal & Accounting
  4. Training & Self Improvement (books, magazines, tutorials, seminars, conferences)
  5. Rent & Travel Expenses
  6. Maintenance Costs
  7. Self Employment (taxes, insurance, retirement funds etc)

As a self employed professional I am also expected to wear many hats on a daily basis.  Not only am I a creative designer first and foremost, I’m also a project manager, an accountant, a collections agent, a customer service representative, a sales agent, a marketer, a secretary and even an entrepreneur – a jack of all trades with a multidisciplinary skill set and work load if you will.  Many freelancers also pursue years of education, obtain various degrees and qualifications and also train professionally, prior to embarking on the journey to becoming self-employed.

There is a global recession taking place and we are all feeling the effects in our own personal way, but must we therefore be expected to work for pittens or significantly cut-rate prices for the same quality service? Are we any less deserving than our corporate competitors? The truth of the matter is, if you expect high quality work and service, you must be willing to pay a fair price – no matter who you choose to employ! As the saying goes “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.

I find myself wondering which part of the word “free-lance” makes sense now?


Consider this

When you’re sick and need to visit a doctor or specialist do you question their hourly rate? Do you try to haggle them down to the minimum wage or try to obtain the lowest possible price by offering to visit more regularly in future? Why not? Because they are experienced professionals who are highly skilled, maybe even experts at what they do. You visit them because you need their help, their expertise and their advice. If you could self-medicate or solve the issue yourself you probably would be doing it already, would you not?

So why then would you consider treating a professional freelancer any different?

More from Sheena and some of her great work here