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.
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.
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.