Is the Title “Freelancer” a Turn-Off?

I have read a number of articles, blog posts and even comments here at Freelance Folder that suggest anyone who works under the title “freelancer” may be short-changing themselves. The idea is that the title has negative or substandard connotations that go along with it, and opponents recommend using some other type of terminology to define oneself in an effort to avoid any negative stereotypes that might be associated with the moniker. In this post I will offer an alternative point of view that may encourage you to not only claim the title of freelancer, but to wear it with pride.

What IS a Freelancer?

Let’s start off with the definitions.  Merriam Webster defines a freelancer as “a person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization” and “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.” Wikipedia‘s definition reads, “A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is somebody who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long term.”

In my opinion, none of these explanations of the term denote anything negative or subpar. In fact, they point out the reasons many professionals choose to go the way of starting a freelance business. Working for yourself is the ultimate dream for many, and the freedom that can come with it is incomparable. Still, many fail to make the leap from being employed to self-employment due to the countless risks and uncertainty involved. For others, the thrill of this adventure is enough to push us over the edge into taking the chance and metaphorically draping a sign around our necks that reads “Freelance or Bust!”

What’s in a Name?

The argument against defining oneself as a “freelancer” usually includes recounting the experience that many, including myself, have had in which a potential client assumes a self-employed person has less overhead than his corporate competitors and therefore must charge significantly less for the same quality service. While there is a grain of truth to this reasoning, it usually gets distorted in the client’s mind and they will try to lowball the freelancer, expecting ridiculous rates that no self-respecting worker would charge or be able to survive on. Is this enough reason to avoid the term and form a LLC or something of that nature instead?

In my experience, I have come to learn some basic truths. One of these is that a title is really only defined by the actions and beliefs of the one who wears it. In other words, if you define your freelancing business as ridiculously cheap rates for high quality work that is produced at all hours of the day, without boundaries, contracts or any of the other necessities of a successful business, your clients will define it the same way and bring those expectations into every project. Very few freelancing businesses, if any, will survive this way.

On the other hand, if you define your freelancing business as a fairly priced, highly skilled and experienced alternative to the competition, with all the benefits that an individual can give and a corporation cannot, your clients will come to you with the confidence and trust that you deserve.

Don’t get me wrong. You will still run into those who will claim their own definition and try to force you and your business to fit into their mold. I believe that if you hold firm to your understanding of your own definition then you will know how to identify these abusers of the title and brush them aside to make room for those who see you as you really are.

A title is quite simply just a word. Words have power, but they are powerless without our uttering them and defining their usage with our understanding, actions and beliefs. If you think your freelance business will earn more respect if it is called by another name, then it most likely will. By the same token, if you believe the title has little effect on the quality of work you do or the rates you will get paid, then it most likely will.

I am not trying to convince you of the power of positive thinking or anything like that. I am simply saying your business will be as successful as you make it, regardless of what you decide to call it.

In the past, I have toyed with the idea of beginning to present my business as a “one-man web and graphic design studio” instead of calling myself a “freelance designer.” In the end, I decided it really didn’t matter what I called myself. If a potential client is shallow enough to overlook my business due to its title, I most likely am better off not dealing with them in the end anyway. I can’t definitively tell you that my approach has helped or hindered my freelance business, but I am working enough to support my family, which is what I define as success.

A Final Thought

For me personally, there is something liberating about the term “freelancer.” The word includes one of the most important nouns I know: “free.” I am free to decide when I work, where I work, who I work for and how I do business. I celebrate this freedom every time I call myself a freelancer. Freedom is a beautiful and priceless thing that I have learned to not take lightly. Why not enjoy it with a constant reminder in the title that I choose to assume for my business? More than anything, the title is for me, and what others choose to believe about it is their choice, which I cannot be responsible for.

Share Your Thoughts

What do you think? What are your experiences in this area? Please share your thoughts and input in the comments below.