Is “Freelancing” Killing Your Success

Have you ever stopped to think of the term “Freelancer” and what it means to you, your friends, family… your potential clients? More importantly, how it makes you feel about what you do and the value you deliver? Does it accurately describe the way you see your business, the true value of your expertise and your full potential as a business owner?

Is it just me?
About four years after starting my freelance illustration career in 1983,  I grew my business into a successful full-service art studio working with major advertising agencies in the South Florida area.

Reflecting back, I never felt the term “freelancer” fully described how I saw what I wanted to build. I always thought of myself as running a business. More accurately, I was a business man. An entrepreneur. Now I’m not suggesting that being a “freelancer”  isn’t a real business, it most certainly CAN be. And that is precisely my point. It’s just that to ME, the term “freelancer” never fully expressed the bigger vision I had for my business, nor the value, commitment and experience I was prepared to deliver to my clients.

To be honest, back in the day, I don’t think I would have been able to start on the path of growing my own full service art studio had I thought of myself simply as a freelancer.

Also, the term “freelancer” doesn’t always conjure up the most flattering images to some folks, especially some potential clients. Especially in today’s economic environment where far more people are moonlighting as freelancers and many displaced workers have turned to freelancing, not by choice, but by necessity.

You may or may not share my opinion, however, I think it’s well worth giving it some thought. Does the term “freelancer” truly reflect all that you are, all that you aspire to be in your business? Does it empower you? Or is it holding you back from being more.

Case in point
I recently saw this video someone shared with me, The Life of a Freelancer, part of a series from Adobe:

Now, I think this video is pretty damn funny and very accurate on many levels, it also speaks to the point I just made above. Is this the perception most clients hold of a typical freelancer? If so, what kind of bargaining position could you possibly have if clients share just a fraction of what’s depicted here?

So here’s the question: If you believe most potential clients hold just a fraction of these preconceptions, how does your subconscious perceptions directly affect your confidence when approaching new projects? Does it affect your ability to market and position your services, your ability to see and take advantage of new opportunities, your confidence in setting prices and fear of pricing what your worth?

Is that perception holding you back from achieving more, charging more, being more? How are you combating, or playing into these perceptions in your marketing materials, phone and email conversations, work habits?

Bottom line
If you’re comfortable with the label that’s fine because ultimately, how YOU feel about it is all that really matters. As long as it doesn’t get in your way of achieving what you want out of your career, all is cool.

Agree, disagree? Let me know. This is all about you and I’d really like to hear what you think.

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15 Responses to Is “Freelancing” Killing Your Success

  1. Hello,

    I have actually been thinking about this quiet a bit lately. I am a full time “freelance” designer and that is how I position myself online… however, it is my objective to build a business out of it, and I have been considering changing my website to reflect more of a bigger picture and not just as a one man (in this case woman) freelancing gig. After reading this article, and seeing I am not the only one thinking about it – I will go ahead and start re-working my site! This is a great point. Thank you!

  2. Hi Lana, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, I’m glad it was helpful.

    Though, at the risk of being misunderstood, I’d like to clarify one point. I don’t think that the distinction between seeing yourself as freelancer vs a “business person” has much to do with whether your a one person shop, or have a staff. I believe you can still operate your business primarily as a solopreneur (one person operation) and still not think of yourself as just a “freelancer”. Nor do I believe you need to pretend to be more than just one person to be perceived as a “real business”.

    The plumber that I hire to fix my pipes doesn’t say he’s a freelance plumber, although he’s a one man operation running a plumbing business. Same with most other solo-service providers. Their business people running business’s, period.

    I believe it’s more of a mindset difference than anything else.

    Thanks again Lana. : )

  3. I added “freelance” to my job title after discovering that it was frequently used by Google searches for the work I do. Be sure your pride isn’t getting in the way of your making money. If “freelance” will land you more jobs, don’t be too proud to adopt the title.

    Pride and getting a paying job are too often at odds with each other.

    FREELANCE illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Solomon Press, American Media, Fort Ross, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and many other publishers. See my illustrations at:

  4. This is an interesting conversation – though I have a full-time job I do “freelance” on the side. Eventually I would love to do enough “freelancing” that I won’t have to work for someone else that is making a lot more money than me! And unlike “plumbers” we don’t need a license to provide service. Sadly, there are a lot of programs available (i.e. Publisher) that can make any amatuer think they are a Graphic Artist, and possibly get away with it too.

  5. Duncan, excellent point. You’re right, within the creative community “freelance” is a commonly used and accepted term.

    However, I don’t see it as a matter of pride, but a matter of perception in the minds of some potential clients and some freelancers themselves (greatly dependent on which industry you work in).

    I agree, there’s nothing wrong with the “freelancer” title, but in some circles there is a cheapened perception that does exist, whether it be on the client side or in some cases with the freelancer themselves. So there are extra measures to be taken to deal with the negative impressions one might have.

    Thanks for the dialog. Great illustration work btw. : )

  6. Hi Linda, thank you for sharing you thoughts.

    While I agree that there are many graphics programs available today that allow almost anyone the ability to create and call themselves a designer, illustrator, etc… The end result is a creative work which is in it of itself, very subjective. As long as you can deliver what the client needs and keep them happy and achieving their goals you will succeed, no matter what your level of proficiency.

    I don’t believe the availability of graphics programs used by “amatuer’s” to be the real hurdle. Artistic talent and creativity is very subjective with software technical proficiency being much easier to determine.

    The very specific marketing message we create around our business, and a deep understanding of our ideal clients needs are where our true strength lies. Being able to communicate the right message to the right audience in your marketing is key, delivering on your promise, will keep them coming back again.

    I wish you success in achieving you full-time freelance goals. There’s nothing quite like working for your self.

    You can also follow a separate branch of this thread here:

  7. Great article. I’ve been freelancing successfully for 13 years but I know to some people the word “freelancer” has negative connotations.

    The folks at prefer the term “solopreneur” instead of “freelancer”. Sounds a bit like a bit of a business-gobbeldy-gook name but I can certainly see why they use it.

  8. Hi Cedric, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    From my perspective, it goes beyond using another label simply to appear more legit or professional. The core issue as I see it is one personal perception.

    A “freelancer” is creating a job for themselves, while a “solopreneur” or entrepreneur is more than likely working towards a more leverageable business model for themselves.

    It’s a difference in mindset, beyond the the use of a label.

    Now, while it’s a very personal decision and I wouldn’t push my perspective on anyone. I would challenge every “freelancer” to think bigger, think of themselves as entrepreneurial, as that is where I believe creatives will tap into their most valuable assets.

    In the words of my twitter friend @maritzaparra “It’s not what they call you, but what you answer to” that matters.

  9. I thought about this a lot when I first started 10 years ago Carlos. After a few years I came to realize that very few client perceived me as anything but a Designer or Illustrator. That’s who I am in the end. When I am asked what I do, I don’t say “I’m a freelancer”. That’s masking my identity.

    In the last five years though, I’ve noticed very few clients care about the structure of my business and more about quality and if I can deliver on time and within budget. A lot has changed in this decade!! Remember the days when if you worked from home you had a recording of office noise to play when a client called? Lol

  10. Does anybody really use the term “freelancer”?
    Never had any one call me and ask, “Are you a freelancer? ‘Cause I am lookin’ for a freelancer”.

  11. This is a topic I’ve discussed on some of the podcasts I’ve been on. When I first started about 11 years ago, I used the “freelance” term just because I thought that’s what you had to say for full transparency. Through the years however, I have seen or felt a twinge of disdain from potential clients when that term was applied to me. I think it is because of the stereotype. I work the way I do by choice but understand that it is less a “freelance” career but it is more like I have started a small business and need to act accordingly. Therefore it has been my conclusion to drop the “freelance” word entirely. Instead, I have replaced it with the word “professional”. For example, when a client calls and asks me if I work freelance, my reply is something like, “I have been working as a professional illustrator for 11 years.” I’ve noticed a marked difference in the confidence my clients have in me since just changing that descriptor terminology.

  12. This video is hilarious! I most definitely don’t answer the phone from bed – often I’m in a real office/studio. But, I have to admit, there are times I have a bunch of kids in the house and I try to pretend that I’m in my office when on the phone with a client!

  13. The freelance title is a mixed feeling. You’re definitely not unemployed, but you can sometimes have that fear that that’s how people perceive you (which can be countered by acting like a professional…that’s what you are, right?).

    The video was HILARIOUS. Nuff said!

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