Myths, Half-Truths, and Other Freelance Lies

Freelance LiesWith the economy on a downward spiral, more people than ever before are examining freelancing as a viable source of income. The Internet is a tremendous resource for people who may be starting their freelancing career. Unfortunately, there is also a tremendous amount of bad information and misperceptions floating around the Internet about freelancing — lies and myths are everywhere!

That’s where this post comes in handy. We’ll look at ten common, and very popular, ideas about freelancing. After examining each idea, I will identify it as one of the following: truth, half-truth, or lie (myth).

Finally, I’ll ask each of you for your feedback on these, and other, freelancing misconceptions.

Ten Popular Perceptions About Freelancing:

1. Freelancing is an Excuse For Not Working At All

According to this myth, none of us are working . . . not really. We are either spending our days playing computer games or in front of the television with a box of chocolates.

I remember overhearing an elderly relative describe what I did for a living a few years ago: “She thinks she’s a writer, poor thing, but she hasn’t published any novels so I don’t think that she has any real talent.” Never mind that I’ve written dozens of technical manuals and help systems and have published hundreds of online articles.

The real culprit here is the difference between the experiences of a significant portion of the population and that of most freelancers. For many people, work is synonymous with a place that you go each day. If you don’t go anywhere, then you must not be working. Technology is changing this perception, but it will take some time before it is completely gone.

Classification: Lie, Myth

2. If You’re Smart Enough, You Can Get Money For Nothing

The lure of free money –- this idea has been around, in one form or another, as long as there have been people. The truth about it is still the same: there is no such thing as a truly free lunch.

You may have seen the ads or e-mails. Summarized, the content is something like this: “I live an elegant, wealthy lifestyle spending all my days in total leisure while my ‘system’ brings in thousands of dollars each day.” While I’m not targeting any particular ad or e-mail, you should research so-called “opportunities” of this type carefully since some of these may be scams.

This misperception about freelancing probably has its origins in the fact that it is possible to generate income streams for yourself. However, most of revenue streams require one or more of the following before you can get started: hard work up front, advertising/promotion efforts, or a monetary investment. (If you’ve ever tried to generate money from a website, then you what I’m talking about.)

Classification: Half-truth

3. It is Really Hard To Find Good Freelance Work

You’ve heard others voice this perception about freelancing before. You may have even said these words yourself.

”I’ve been scammed,” the poster wrote on the popular freelancing forum. “I spent all day on client X’s project, and now they refuse to pay me. Now I’m out $X.00 and I won’t be able to pay my rent this month.”

Sadly, there are scammers out there who will take advantage of unsuspecting freelancers. It is likely that those scammers are the very origin of this perception about freelancing. However, not every client is out to scam you. Fortunately, there are ways for freelancers to investigate potential clients BEFORE they get scammed.

Classification: Half-truth

4. It Takes a Lot of Money To Start Freelancing

People often think that it takes tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, to start a freelancing business. “If I had enough money, I’d freelance too,” is a common statement.

The truth is that most freelancers start small and add equipment and tools as they grow. Often a phone line, a computer, and an Internet connection are enough to get your first freelancing gig. One thing to remember as you start to make money, though, is that you should invest some of what you make back into your business.

I think that this misperception exists because people have starting a freelance business confused with purchasing a franchise. When you purchase a franchise business, you are paying another company for the use of their name and methodology. Usually, the purchase price isn’t cheap.

Classification: Lie, Myth

5. You Have to Be a Programmer to Earn Money

People who aren’t computer literate or who have a limited knowledge of the Internet often believe that only technical types such as programmers and web developers can freelance.

If you haven’t looked into it, you may be amazed at the wide variety of projects available to freelancers. Not only do freelancers program and develop websites, freelancing can include any and all of the following types of work (and more): accounting, administrative, advertising, data entry, design, financial planning, legal advice, photography, sales, tutoring, virtual assistant, and writing. (I’m sure that you could make your own additions to this list.)

Classification: Lie, Myth

6. Freelance Work Is Easier than Other Work

There is a perception out there that freelance work is not truly “challenging” and that those who do it are not “professional.”

While some freelance work may be less than challenging, I’ve found that often work is sent to a freelancer because the client doesn’t really know how to do it or because it is too hard and the client would rather do other things. Be sure to get the details about your projects so that you can estimate the difficulty before you accept the gig.

Professional jealousy may be at the bottom of this misperception. There’s no doubt that smaller businesses are losing projects to freelancers and they can’t like that fact.

Classification: Lie, Myth

7. You Need a Computer to Start Your Own Business

My bet is that you may even believe this one yourself, but is it really correct?

I say “no.” I know a small business owner who makes a nice living from creating custom quilts. She attends regional craft shows and has a huge word of mouth business. Other small businesses that could be started without a computer include: catering, child care, lawn service, and pet sitter.

It is true that most small business will benefit greatly from the use of a computer, even if they only use it for record keeping and correspondence purposes. The considerable benefits of owning a computer have led to this misperception.

Classification: Half-truth

8. Freelancers Engage in Unethical or Illegal Practices

“There’s something shady about Suzy. She never leaves her house, but last month she bought a new car. She must be doing something wrong to be making all that money.”

If you’ve ever heard a comment like this, then you’ve faced a common myth that freelance work is filled with criminal types who make their money illicitly. In actuality, most freelancers are law-abiding citizens who work very hard at their legitimate home-based businesses.

There are a few bad apples in every barrel. It is most likely that this myth started with a news report of someone running a scam or illegal business from their home. However, just because one freelancer was dishonest doesn’t mean that all freelancers are dishonest.

Classification: Lie, Myth

9. Freelancers Work For Next-To-Nothing

”Get rich quick! Have others do your work for you at little or no cost to you!” Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s been floating around the Internet for some time now. The idea is the freelancers charge so little that you can easily find a freelancer to do nearly all of your work for just a few dollars a day.

The reality is that freelancers work for a wide variety of rates depending on their skill, experience, and the living standard in their region of the world. However, it is important to remember that you may get what you pay for, so check out anyone you hire very carefully. If someone has considerable experience and skill, they will want to be compensated for that.

The current popularity of outsourcing has fueled this popular perception of freelancers.

Classification: Half-truth

10. Freelancing is For Everyone

Anyone and everyone can freelance, and in fact, everyone should freelance. Or, so goes this perception about freelancing.

Actually, freelancing is really hard work. It requires a lot self-discipline. It requires dedication and commitment. Some people are much happier working for someone else and getting a regular paycheck. You know what? That is just fine.

Several popular and prominent individuals have made a fortune freelancing and written about it. Their success has led to the idea that freelancing is the only valid career path for everyone.

Classification: Lie, Myth

Sound Off!

Let’s discuss freelancing misperceptions in the comments.

  • How would you classify some of these perceptions about freelancing?
  • Have you ever faced any of them?
  • What misperceptions about freelancing would you add?


  1. says

    Thankfully when I was in school we had several freelancers come in and tell us about the hard knocks. The message boiled down to this:

    It takes a long, hard uphill fight to get to the point of having regular work, but it’s worth every battle.

    I still couldn’t agree more.

  2. David Frey says

    I struggle with #1 in my family quite a bit. My wife is jealous and thinks I have it easy because I don’t drive 40 miles every day to get to and from work. It’s a blessing that I don’t have a commute, but it’s really hard to break the perception that I sit around all day doing whatever I feel like.

  3. says

    “After examining each idea, I will identify it as one of the following: truth, half-truth, or lie (myth).”

    Not a single truth?

    Great article! Your arguments and classifications are spot on.

  4. says

    #1 is the toughest for me. Because I’ve only been exclusively freelancing for about 6 months, I am the freeloader that doesn’t have a job. Doesn’t matter that I spend 3 hours a day on the phone, or 3 hours emailing potential clients, and then another 4+ (depending how many gigs I’m juggling) doing paid work – I am unemployed. Grrr.

    Looking forward to the point where the neighbors start to talk about my unearned wealth!


  5. says

    Wow Michael! You had freelancers talk to you in school? That’s so awesome. I wish that were happening everywhere.

    LOL, it sounds like #1 is the most common myth so far.

    Jamie, I actually did intend to present a few truths – but after further examination I felt that most were really half-truths. Maybe I should do a follow up – Things That You’ve Heard About Freelancing That Are True. What do you think?

  6. says

    Good points, Laura!

    There are so many misconceptions about this business. And, there is no way to easily define what any given freelancer does. We all manage our own businesses and take different approaches to the way we work.

    I agree that it will take some time before people really grasp what we do. This technological revolution is progressing, but some people’s viewpoints are taking a long time to catch up!

  7. says

    I’ve heard both ends of the spectrum: “You’re really unemployed!” and “Why aren’t you rich yet?” None of my friends understand the work it takes to succeed as a freelance writer.

    Yes, you can make money online, with minimal start up costs. Yet you won’t be rolling in dough immediately. It takes determination, patience, and a whole lot of sweat to get the ball rolling.

    Thanks for these myths! Let’s hope people learn from them.


  8. says

    My favorite is number 2.

    I have a lot of clients who approach me with an idea or a project that they say is going to make them millions of dollars with no work… They are either heartbroken or don’t believe me when I tell them no matter what it’s going to take hard work.

    Great list :-)

  9. Amy says

    Aah so true. :) There’s also that ‘fun’ bit where family or friends call you up to do stuff during the day ‘cos they think you can take time off whenever you want. Right!

    Don’t know about others, but I also find that freelancers don’t really get holidays like other folks. If you do want time off, it has be planned well in advance and even then you sometimes keep in touch with clients and updates about work. Which in itself can be hard to explain to friends/family/neighbors.

  10. says

    You’re so right Amy!

    I worked all but three days through this last holiday season (and I was lucky to get those days off).

    When we go on family “vacation,” we have to have an Internet connection in case a client tries to contact me. The last two times we went I wound up taking a project with me to work on in the evenings while everyone else slept or watched TV. So, vacation=reduced workload rather than no workload.

    Still, I do have flexibility in that I’m not bound into set hours or a set location. When my father was in hospice a few years ago I refused all projects for about six weeks so that I could spend time with him. (Of course, I had no income during that time either.) A conventional employer probably would not have liked that.

  11. says

    Laura: “I actually did intend to present a few truths – but after further examination I felt that most were really half-truths. Maybe I should do a follow up – Things That You’ve Heard About Freelancing That Are True. What do you think?”

    You’re absolutely right, and I do think all your classifications are spot on. None of these are truths. That being said, “Things That You’ve Heard About Freelancing That Are True” sure sounds like an article I’d love to read!

  12. says

    I think the ‘sitting around in front of the TV all day’ is the most common myth. I have people all the time who think I have time to walk their dogs or help them with errands because I work from home.

  13. says

    Excellent post and apparently one that most people can identify with, myself included. I feel like I have been a part of most of your points and yes number one rings especially true in my ears however the underlying point that you are making, the one that basically says freelance work is real work.

    I love the example you give about people thinking that if you do not travel to a specific place of work then you are not really working and I think you are right, a lot of it can stem from jealousy. I don’t know a lot of cubicle jockeys that are 100% happy with their current vocational choice.

    Back to your underlying point, the fact is that in order to make a living people didn’t always rely on huge corporations with great benefits to supply their monetary need. You developed a trade, something that benefited your community around you. Really, freelancery is all about self-discipline and taking responsibility for your life.

    Great post and I could not agree more!


  14. says

    Jamie – I’ve got that title on my list. I’ve got a few other posts in the works first.

    Jacen – Well, I see my career choice as a non-traditional one now. With a traditional path, all your eggs are in one basket. If the company fails, so do you.

    Case in point – a major tech firm near me just announced bankrupty the day before yesterday. For a traditional employee of that company – pretty bad news. For a freelancer working for the company – it’s just one of several clients.

    Keep the comments coming!

  15. says

    Great post!! I can’t wait till people start accusing me of doing something illegal!! That will mean that I have regular work!! Haha! Anyway, thanks for the post.

  16. says

    You are right about these half truths and lies about freelancing. It’s indeed true that many people think freelancing is not as hard work as normal work, but isn’t work the same everywhere, whether done by a freelancer or not? Anyway, thanks for sharing these. I found them helpful, :)

  17. says

    OK, I admit- #7 got me. I thought there was no way you could demonstrate that you don’t need a computer to start freelancing, but you’re right – you don’t. I guess #7 (and the whole post, really) just shows that we all make assumptions that aren’t necessarily true.

    #8- I have a relative that is convinced my wife and I are drug dealers because we don’t leave the house to go to work. This has become a bit of a running joke (the relative doesn’t know we know they think this). Our recent move from Canada to the UK has just added fuel to the fire because apparently (according to them) we are on the run from the law.

    I didn’t know I led such an exciting life, good thing I have relatives to keep me up to speed ;)

  18. says

    Hey guys, I found to be SUPER useful for getting freelance work quickly and easily. You can make a portfolio, interact with other members and put in availability so employers in your area or anywhere in the country can hire you directly for jobs!! It’s really perfect for freelance and short-term work.. check it out!!!

  19. says

    Great post! I’m with David, too. My wife drives halfway across the city and tells me ‘you dont have to get up in the morning’. Uh huh….
    As long as potential freelancers treat their job as a business, they will succeed. The biggest trap is thinking that the work will come to you, or that people will treat you like you treat them.

    My best advice would be always always always use a contract and ALWAYS (even with people you know) get a deposit. No deposit, no work.


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