Semantics at Work

freelance, freelancer, blackboard

 

One word that tends to divide the sole trader, lone wolf, or independent worker is the term freelance.

I don’t mind calling myself a freelance, but it appeared in snippets of conversation at the recent SfEP conference, and got me thinking again.

Does the term really diminish the individual, and should we actually be calling ourselves business owners?

Let’s think about this in more detail. What springs to mind when you hear the term freelancer?

Perhaps it’s an independent soul, someone hired to work for different companies, someone who likes the freedom of being their own boss. Or is it ‘jack of all trades’, someone who can’t (or won’t) hold down a regular job, a substitute for a staff member, someone who is floating until the right job comes along for them, a youngster willing to jump at the chance of a job (any job) or a cheap option?

What about business owner, what springs to mind there?

Perhaps it’s someone who owns a business, a high flyer, an entrepreneur, someone following a profession or trade. Can you think of a derogatory term for business owner? I can’t.

How about independent consultant, independent specialist, independent contractor? The last one doesn’t really do it for me, but the first two are better if you baulk at calling yourself a business owner.

Then there’s ‘self-employed’, which for some reason I would never use as, to me, it sounds like you are paying yourself.

success, ability, skill, intelligence, competence, experience, expertise, capability

In the editing world, most freelances are highly skilled, trained individuals with degrees and many years of specialist skills behind them. Even the youngsters often have higher degrees in publishing or an associated trade.

So is the term freelance sending out the wrong message?

For a start, any word that starts with the word ‘free’ has certain connotations – they’re a freelance, therefore they’re cheap, they will work for very little, they have no ties and therefore no guarantee of regular income.

As freelances we add value to our client’s work. As consultants we add value to our own work.

Consultants are not drawn into office politics, and say it like it is rather than worry about offending Kevin in finance.  We can put forward alternative ways of thinking, give impartial advice and allow the client to grow. Consultants are respected and seen for what they are – specialists in their field.

Freelances can struggle to be seen as specialists, and are often seen more as a commodity to be picked up when the budget is tight.

credit squeeze, wallet, money

Looking at my own career, rather than being a straightforward copy-editor I have many other strings to my bow – I edit (developmental editing, line-editing, copy-editing), proofread, critique, index, format and design. I have project managed, written copy, ghost-written, researched and I write blurbs. I may be a freelance, but looking at my skills from a non-personal viewpoint, I can mostly do everything that’s needed.

So, am I actually a publishing consultant?

Oxford Dictionaries defines a consultant as:

‘A person who provides expert advice professionally’

while a freelance is:

‘Self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments’

I know which I prefer!

 

So does the term freelance really diminish the individual, and should we actually be calling ourselves business owners?

Yes. The more I look around, the more I now realise that independent publishing professionals need to ditch the freelance, and think of themselves as consultants and business owners.

I’ll leave you with Forbes quote of the day, it seems quite timely:

Even if you’re small, think big. Get others to believe that and you will become it.

Shelby Gogulski

 

18 thoughts on “Semantics at Work

  1. Hi Sara! Great post! And I think you’ve convinced me. I started thinking about this after watching Katherine Trail’s video. Consultant does sound so much more professional than Freelance, when you put it like this!

    • Hi Natalie. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but the conference really made me think about it again. From now on I’m a publishing consultant, not a publishing freelancer 🙂

  2. I’d never before considered that “freelance” may have negative connotations. Thank you for opening my eyes to that perspective! I’ve also wrestled in the past with what to call myself (“consultant” sounded too vague, and carries it own negative connotations of being expensive and not always effective, while “independent” could imply that one doesn’t collaborate well). So lately I’ve been dispensing with the qualifiers and simply calling myself a writer and editor.

  3. Excellent analysis, Sara. Got me thinking. Yes, publishing consultant not only sounds better, but consultants always charge more because they are associated with expertise offered to other businesses rather than to individuals. I actually just changed my biz name from Editoiral Services to Publishing Services, because, like you, I am doing much more than just editing.

  4. I’m proud to call myself a freelance and will continue to do so. ‘Consultant’ is far too nebulous a term for my liking. ‘Freelance’ is just an adjective. The important thing is the noun that it describes.

  5. I think it’s important for each editor to consider their client demographics and their primary marketing avenues for attracting clients. I mostly work with indie authors, and the term “freelance editor” is a website SEO and marketing term that is absolutely key in driving authors to discover me, so I would never dream of ceasing to use it. Doesn’t bother me in the least.

  6. I think it’s important for each editor to consider their client demographics and their primary marketing avenues for attracting clients. I mostly work with indie authors, and the term “freelance editor” is a website SEO and marketing term that is absolutely key in driving authors to discover me, so I would never dream of ceasing to use it. Doesn’t bother me in the least.

    • Totally Rachel, you have to consider your demographics. I would never dream of ditching the words editor etc., but there are definite negative associations with the word freelance. The most important thing is that clients can find us, and know what we do, but I think we have to find new ways of describing ourselves in a more positive way.

  7. In all the time I have worked as a freelance editor, I have always done so under the banner of my (sole-trader) business, Carr Consultancy. I find this helps me to command much higher rates than average. Most of us in this field are highly qualified professionals, and yet so many seem to charge so little. I agree that what we call ourselves affects people’s perceptions of us, perhaps not least because it reflects our confidence and pride in what we have to offer.

  8. Solid content, freelance should only be free for charities and friends. I have done a few ‘free’lance jobs for experience or out of kindness. I blog about experiences, I’ve had a few embarrassing stories of approaching potential clients. It’s tough, but keep on carry on is what I say.

  9. Pingback: Semantics at Work – Priyanka Naik

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