Where’s the Free in Freelance?

If you happened upon a free lance in days of yore, you would be hiring a mercenary or running away from him and I don’t suppose either way you’d mess with him and his big pointy stick. These days a freelancer is still self-employed but the pointy stick has been replaced by gentler tools of the trade, and perhaps that big pointy stick should have been held in reserve.

Leighton-God Speed!
Edmund Leighton (1853-1922)
God Speed, 1900
Another Freelancer valiantly setting forth

Freelance is becoming a dirty word, and all because of the “free” bit.

When you are self-employed it’s not all about sitting around waiting for the work to arrive, sometimes you have to go out there to find the commissions. After all, you have the experience, the qualifications and have put in the hours honing your craft, but your potential clients won’t know that unless you let them know you exist. And occasionally this involves having a peek around to see what’s available.

Pootling around the internet it’s amazing how many “job adverts” there are, often on reputable sites. You see a fantastic freelance post, click to the description page and then get all excited by the prospect of something that you know you would love to get your teeth into… you see the requirements…



subject knowledge

… a job description as long as your arm

… then the kicker word…voluntary!

voluntary, dictionary, free, freelance

Now if I came up to you as your manager (yes, I was a manager once) and said you were doing a great job… oh, by the way, there’s a job you’d be brilliant for… but btw you wont get paid. Would you do it? Hell no!

If you went to work tomorrow, completed your job to the best of your ability then didn’t get paid a decent wage would you be hacked off… hell yes.

If you didn’t get paid for three months would you be annoyed? Uh-huh.

Strange isn’t it, but being asked to work for free regularly happens when you’re freelance.

I’m very fortunate; all my clients so far have been wonderful. Occasionally there’s been a slight blip in cash-flow but this has usually been down to interdepartmental lack of communication. But for many freelancers this is not the case.

Most freelancers don’t mind the odd bit of voluntary work (or giving a freebie now and then), in fact I regularly create an e-zine for an Association I’m a member of, and until a few months ago produced their monthly newsletter (after five years I decided that someone else would benefit from the experience) but… and it’s a big BUT… these voluntary posts don’t eat away much of my time. Voluntary work can be a form of professional and personal development if it’s a subject you love, however most voluntary roles are less time intensive than the freelancer’s day job and should probably be seen as recreational. If the voluntary post being advertised has a job description long enough for an Andrex puppy to happily play with (other toilet rolls are available), or hours that mention part-time or full-time, this is not acceptable for the majority of qualified, professional freelancers.

broken, piggy bank, money

By hiring a freelancer you are hiring someone with expertise, qualifications, and knowledge, more often than not gained from numerous self-funded courses and a degree or two. Most importantly you are hiring a professional, who pays their own way.

So a few tips…

When coming into contact with a freelancer…

  • Don’t ask them if they could just look something over for you as a quick freebie, saying something along the lines of “it won’t take long, honest”… ask them if they have a special rate for quick, one off jobs.
  • Don’t keep adding on extras to the work you’ve arranged expecting it to fall within budget… ask them if they’d mind revising the quote / timescale in the light of the extra work.
  • Don’t lead them in with a commission then say you need a special rate or a freebie because [insert excuse here]… an icy-stare often offends.
  • Don’t expect something for nothing… but be happy when you get it.

Above all remember that what you ask the freelancer to do is usually their day job, they need to eat and pay their bills the same as anyone else.

If you are a freelancer…

  • Don’t automatically say “Oh, I can do that for you” whether it’s for a client, an organisation or a friend, unless you are prepared to forego a fee. Remember that your expertise should be given the recognition it deserves, just because it’s second nature to you doesn’t mean that it lacks value. It’s too easy to volunteer yourself before thinking it through.
  • Don’t reply to job adverts that really require a full- or part-time commitment but are voluntary unless you really, really want to work for nothing, and for a long time. And if you do take on such a job remember that this should be a paid post and somewhere another freelancer is missing out.
  • Don’t automatically charge for something. Strange I know, but often a little added extra can make the difference between a happy client and a very happy client. Just once in a while mind you.

So… Freelance or…

Self-employed, pen-for-hire, consultant, independent adviser, temporary colleague, independent professional, professional without portfolio?

I like the medieval picture, it was said the pen was mightier than the sword, but a prod every now and then in the right direction can be good for the soul… and the bank balance.

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