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“Free” as in “Freelancer”

I had a relatively spirited discussion (ok, argument) with one of my closest friends about the role of freelancers in the world. She thinks that companies don’t give the same level of loyalty and commitment to freelancers as employees. She may be right.


Most of the freelancers I know are loyal to people and committed to results. They expect the same from the companies they support. They’ve free of the idea that loyalty to an organization will result in any “promise of lifetime employment.” Those promises were broken long ago and we’re better off without them. The truth of being a freelancer is much more exciting.


I’ve been a freelancer for nine years out of the past 25. And even when I’ve had “normal jobs,” I still think like a freelancer. For me, that means looking at every engagement as a gig — a temporary project with specific goals to accomplish. And as with almost every project, figuring out the goals is critical to the success of the gig.


Once the goals are in agreed upon, one of two things happen: we either accomplish the goals or we don’t.


Not accomplishing goals can be a good thing. Sometimes the goals are just wrong. Sometimes the environment, key people, and priorities change, and the goals are no longer relevant. And sometimes, if you’re lucky (and at maybe a little smart), even just a little visible progress towards those goals opens up the possibility of other things that might have seemed impossible before.


Freelancers don’t have it easy. We have to hustle. Prove ourselves over and over again. Update our skills on our own time and with our own money. We have to manage our finances from pricing to invoicing (and following up on invoicing) to investing in our future.


Sometimes we work for free. Sometimes we do initial discovery sessions that end in a decision to not move forward (hopefully for good reasons). We invest time in relationships and manage a pipeline of potential opportunities (and prepare for them even if most of them never materialize) all while delivering on our current commitments.


Those commitments are best measured in terms of progress towards relevant goals not in hours or effort. And certainly not in terms of “loyalty.”


And being a successful freelancer doesn’t mean you’ll be a successful entrepreneur. The mindset is different. The entrepreneur wants to build and grow a business that can stand alone without them. The freelancer often wants to do the work itself.


The work itself can be incredibly rewarding. Especially if you’re delivering results. Even more so if you’re more of a partner than an adviser or contractor. Showing up for a temp job and doing what you’re told isn’t being a freelancer. It’s just another job.


A freelancer can do something that an employee almost never can. We can focus. We are free of the “job creep” that means we can be interrupted at any time to shift to the latest “urgent” distraction. And in my experience, if you’ve been a freelancer with multiple clients for at least a couple years, I’ll bet you’re pretty good at focusing on delivering results.


So, if you know that every gig is a temporary opportunity to deliver results and then be free to move on to a new challenge that you’ve been preparing for well in advance, you’re a freelancer in the true sense of the word. And even though I’ve been an employee, contractor, and business owner at different points in my career, I’ve always been a freelancer at heart.


And I hope to always earn the right to be.

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