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How Calling Yourself A Freelance Writer Helps Your Business

freelance writer, free lance writerSusan Rich and many others sometimes advise we freelance writers quit calling ourselves by that title. 

The gist of the argument is that the word, free, sets the wrong expectation in the eyes of potential clients, that it somehow disrespects either the writer or the work the writer does becasue it implies the writer will do the work for no pay.

Poppycock I say!

Origin of the term

The origin of the term, according to Wikipedia and others, comes from the novel, Ivanhoe, written by  Sir Walter Scott in 1890. The author coined the term, free lance to refer to warriors who were not sworn to any King. In other words, they were free to fight (or not) for whomever they pleased.

And that’s the key – they worked for whomever they pleased and when they pleased.

They weren’t drafted, they didn’t sign up and promise to be loyal. The took the assignments that they wanted and rejected the others.

Which is exactly what we freelance writers do.

We find writing that needs to be done and sell our skills to the person who pays us to get that writing done. Then we do it all over again. Sometimes with for the same client, more often with a new client.

Dictionary.com defines freelance as:

a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer

We are not working for a salary, nor are we required to work particular hours, or in a particular place.  Nor are we beholden to a single employer. Generally speaking, if you’re a freelance writer in the U.S. you are an independent contractor. (Hat tip to Simply Stated Business for the link.) But calling myself an independent contractor, while true, doesn’t really let people know what I do – I write for myself and for others, for pay.

How the term, freelance writer, helps

The term, freelance writer is a recognized term. Most people will know, at least roughly, what it means. They are much more likely to assume you’re self-employed than if you simply say writer, or professional writer. 

Sometimes a freelance writer is exactly what they want – it just never occurred to them to look for one in a coffee shop or down at the beach.

Sure, not everyone knows exactly and some prospective employers don’t get it. They think that they can control how you work and still call you freelance – they’re wrong. And you can quietly send them the link to the IRS definition of independent contractor above if they need that information.

I’ve been a freelance writer for over 30 years now and I have yet to have a client be surprised that I charge money for what I do. Yes, there’s been the occasional ‘you mean you’re not truly a free writer’ or some such, but always in jest. If I said I was a free writer, which is also true in a larger sense, then they might ask me if I mean I write expecting no pay. The term, freelance, however, is the signal that I charge for my writing.

And I’ve never found the term gets me anything but respect. Not everybody is impressed, but most actually are, at least a little, and a little bit envious of my freedom.

Freelance writer is a professional term, one that’s widely recognized and that we can use proudly.

What do you think? Freelance writer or some other term? Tell us in comments.

You can get help with your freelance writing business by signing up for this special freelance writer business solutions series – at no charge to you at all.

Write well and often,


Anne Wayman freelance writer




{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Joni

    Great post Anne! I love the history of “free lance”. I always use the term freelance writer. For personal reasons I also remain “free” in the sense that I do not use my real name, I use either a pen name or I ghostwrite. I do not have a blog or a website and I do not “market my brand”. At this point I need to remain completely “free” and it works for me.

    • Joni, would love to have an article from you on the secrets of not having a website etc. and making it work… good for you.

  • Sorry for the double comments, everyone. Trying to get used to this PC and Windows 8.1. Grrrrr…

  • Anne, three years ago, a fellow writer told me that we should never call ourselves “freelance” writers. She thought the term implied we weren’t serious businesspeople who write for a living. The term for her was almost derogatory. I regularly interchange “freelance” writer with “contract” or “independent” writer. If “freelance writer” was ever perceived negatively, as was the case with the writer I described, leaders in the online freelance-writing community like you, Cathy, Lori Widner, Carol Tice, John Soares, and others – have long since changed that perception.

  • Anne, three years ago, a fellow writer told me that we should never call ourselves “freelance” writers. She thought the term implied we weren’t serious businesspeople who write for a living. The term for her was almost derogatory. I interchange “freelance writer” with “contract” or “independent” writer, not for any particular reason. If “freelance writer” was ever perceived negatively, as was the case with the writer I described, leaders in the online freelance-writing community like yourself, Lori Widner, Carol Tice, John Soares and others have long since changed that perception.

    • Valerie, I hope it’s changed, and I still find folks saying we shouldn’t use the term… hence the rant.

  • I’ve used freelance writer for my entire career writing for magazines, newspapers, and online, but recently clarified it more specifically as freelance journalist to distinguish myself from content mill writers.

    • Good for you, Angie, and I hadn’t thought of that as a way to distinguish from mill writers… probably works.

  • I used “editorial consultant” for a long while after reading a cautionary tale from Bob Bly. Now I use “author and editor” and “freelance writer and editor.” It turns out no one had a clue as to what an editorial consultant did.

    • Ronda, yeah, the job titles work best when people understand them… unless you want to start a conversation about the unusual title. Great story.

  • I understand why some writers prefer not to use the term, especially if they want to go with something more descriptive (like blogger, business writer, journalist, etc.). I do that too. It depends on context. But I’ve never had a problem with the term “freelance writer.” I use that as well, and proudly.

    I think it all comes down to individual experiences. But I suspect those with the biggest issues have those views as a result of mistakes they made early on. If you target the wrong markets and poorly promote your work, of course you’ll come across the sleazy “clients” who equate “freelance” with “free.” The same is true if you spend too much time on job boards and bidding sites instead of doing the work to find better opportunities. A lot of new writers take those routes, and it’s easier to blame semantics for a problem than change a behavior. But whatever. Writers should call themselves whatever they’re comfortable with. But I agree that they shouldn’t make themselves a part of the problem by putting down the “freelance” aspect of what we all do.

    • Jenn, I hadn’t thought that those who hate the term might do so because of poor experiences on the job boards, etc. Interesting insight. And sure, it’s up to the individual… I just got tired of of the folks saying don’t use the term, freelance.

  • Cool story about the word “free lance.” I didn’t know the origin of it. 🙂

    I use either ‘freelance’ or ‘professional’ writer. To me, they are the same. I am a professional who happens to freelance as a writer.

    • Amandah, I must have had it in my head somehow because for years I’ve had a mental picture of someone jousting… but I couldn’t have said why… was glad to find the story too.

  • Thanks for the link love, Anne. I was surprised when I first started freelancing that there were negative interpretations of the term freelancer – e.g., not a “real” writer or “journalist”. I’ve never put much credence in those interpretations – or the notion that it somehow signifies “free” work. I mostly use business writer, primarily so prospective clients know I specialize in business writing.

    • And I use writer, ghostwriter and what-have-you, but I really don’t like the way some writers disparage the term, so I wrote 😉

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