What is a FREELANCER?

Origins

I love learning about history, especially ancient civilizations. So let's start off with a little history lesson. Where did the term 'Freelancer' come from? The origin of the word is actually two words combined. The word 'Free', an old English word 'frēo', can be traced to a Germanic origin meaning 'to love'. The word 'Lance' is a middle English word that came from Old French with its origins from the Latin word 'lancea', a short, light javelin or spear used by roman soldiers. Essentially you could say that a freelancer is someone who loves to throw things.

In the middle ages, knights swore allegiance and committed themselves to a feudal lord who ruled over the land. The knights, or soldiers who didn't have this allegiance and used the lance as their primary weapon were called 'free companions' and were free to fight for whoever was willing to pay them.   

The first known written references to the term 'freelancer' were at the beginning of the 1800's. The most famous, although not the first, was in the book Ivanhoe written by Sir Walter Scott in 1819.

He states, “I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.”

This passage makes reference to a mercenary soldier who is offering his services along with his weapons of war for hire. Throughout the 1800's 'Free' and 'Lance' were used more often as separate words. Then around the 1920's a hyphenated version, 'Free-lance', began to emerge. And finally around the 1970's, writers dropped the hyphen and it's been 'Freelance' ever since.

Modern Times

It amazes me that there's still people in this world that don't understand what a freelancer is. There's people that ignorantly believe that because this title contains the word 'free' in it, then their services are free. Thankfully I personally have not had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with someone like this. But there's no shortage of stories out there of freelancers from all professions that have come across individuals who are shocked they have to pay them for the work they did. 

"What do you mean I have to pay you? I thought a freelancer was someone who worked for free"

Sadly, phrases like this have actually come out of the mouths of people who fall under the category of business owners, executives, managers, etc... Let's take a moment to clarify something.

Freelancers don't work for free!

A freelancer is someone who is not tied to any specific company, individual or organization. A freelancer is a self-employed individual who is free to offer their skills, talents and experience for hire to whomever they wish to collaborate with. A more modern term that can be used instead of a freelancer would be contract employee or independent contractor. This is someone who is hired for a specific project, term of employment or assignment. They are not full time employees of a company and generally do not have benefits. But in many cases can be paid a higher salary to help cover expenses out of pocket that full time employees would probably have covered by the company. 

An example of this could be a situation where a full time employee would be given a company vehicle to travel around to various work sites as part of their job. The work vehicle would be maintained at the expense of the company. A contract employee however might have to provide their own vehicle to perform the same tasks as the full time employee. Gas, vehicle maintenance, insurance, registration, general wear and tear would have to come out of the contract employees own pocket. So as such, they would negotiate for a higher salary as part of their contract with the company to help cover these costs.

One of the downsides to being a contract employee is that when times get tough for a company and their looking for a few ways to trim expenses, the contractors will most likely be the first to go. A huge example of this is happening right now in my wonderful city of Calgary. The Oil and Gas industry is the life blood of this town and with oil prices taking a huge hit over the past 6 months of so, many companies have let go thousands of employees across the city and the rest of Alberta. One of the things I noticed early on when this all began, was that many companies, in order to save money, got rid of the contract employees first. With no work for them to do, there's no need or obligation to keep them around. It's rare to come across someone who doesn't know at least one person who has lost their job recently.

Hiring A Freelancer

So if you're looking to hire a freelancer, were do you go to find one? There's many options online where you can find freelancers for hire. You could post a job, project or a specific task you need done on a website were freelancers can submit a quote or a proposal for your review and you can pick the one that best meets your criteria. Some website resources for this include:

Elance.com

Freelancer.ca

Guru.com

Freelance.com

Personally I'm not a huge fan of these sites. As a freelancer myself, these sites have users from around the globe which means competition for work is fierce. When someone posts a job online, I have to compete with people from third world markets where the cost of living is much lower than in Canada. For example, if I were to have an hourly rate for...let's say $50 an hour. Then someone from China or India might post a rate of $10 an hour. A client might look at this and think, why would I hire you when I can get someone from the other side of the planet to do the job for 1/5 the price. There's no way I can work in Canada and support my family for that little. That's actually below the minimum wage rate here in Alberta and I could make more working at McDonald's.

But if you're looking to hire someone and you don't have much of a budget to work with, than freelance websites is a great way to get cheap labor. The issue to be cautions in using this method to hire a freelancer is the value rule of "you get what you pay for". Just because it's a cheap price, doesn't always mean you're going to get good quality out of the deal. But I'll go more in depth with this idea in my next blog post: Quality Cheap Fast - Pick two.

The main reason I'm not a fan of these sites is because they're filled with job postings of people who are trying to purposefully take advantage of cheap labor, or they ignorantly don't know how to properly come up with a budget for a project or task they really don't understand. For example, I do 3D graphics and animation as a profession. This could be anything from animating a dinosaur walking through a jungle to a virtual walk through of a home or business. I've seen postings where someone wants PIXAR quality character animation for a 5 minute video with 3 characters, 8 different environments...and they only have a $250.00 budget and 2 weeks to get it done. I admit this is an extreme example, but examples like this do exist. I realize they clearly don't understand how 3D animation works, but I still fell like reaching through the computer to slap this person in the back of the head. Let's use a PIXAR movie budget as a means to explain why this doesn't work. A typical PIXAR movie budget is around the $200 million dollar mark with somewhere between 3-4 years' worth of work. The movie length is usually around 90 minutes long, so let's break this down. The example mentioned before had said they wanted a PIXAR quality 5 minute production. So if we were to divide $200 million by 90 minutes, we get an average cost of $2.2 million per minute of animation. So for 5 minutes, it should cost over $11 million and the person only has a budget of $250 dollars. Now do you see why I want to slap them in the back of the head?

Word of Mouth

So what would be a better way of finding a good freelancer, or how would a freelancer go about finding new clients? In my humble opinion, and there's studies and research to back this up, one of the best ways for clients and freelancers to find each other is by word of mouth. A recommendation from a good friend or a trusted colleague holds much more influence than any advertisement; cold calling or random search could possible hope to achieve. This holds true especially for small operations like individual entrepreneurs, small organizations and companies. A large corporation will most likely hire a firm or an agency to handle any projects that can't be easily done internally. Most of the freelance work I've done over the years has come from word of mouth.

Another method that can be effective is to simply ask. As the freelancer, you could ask past clients to recommend you and your work to others. Client testimonials on your website have proving to be an effective deciding factor when others are considering you for work needed.

If you're the one looking for a freelancer, ask others who have used a freelancers service and how they came in contact with them. You could do a quick search online or other places for work similar to what you're looking for and try to trace back to the source of who did it.

Types of Freelancers

So what types of freelancers are there? Or better yet, what could you use a freelancer for? You could probably hire one for pretty much any task your project or company needs. But the most common jobs a freelancer could be found would include:

  • Graphic Design
  • Web development
  • Programming
  • Content Writing
  • Online Marketing
  • Photography / Video
  • Consulting
  • Research

There's so much more that could be added to the list and maybe I'll go into more detail in a future post, but I think I've said enough for now. Thank you for taking the time to read my little rant and I hope you've found this to be useful and informative.

If there are any other topics you would like to hear from me in future posts, fell free to leave a comment below or I would appreciate any comments you might have.

And as always, sign up or drop me a line if you would like to contact me directly. Thank you.

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