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Everyone has heard the word freelance.
The word has been around for centuries. Its meaning is quite simple and easy to understand. Yet so many people still don’t really know what it means. When you ask the question “What does freelance mean?” or “What is freelancing?” a lot of people will have a hard time giving you an accurate answer.
In this post you’re going to discover exactly what freelance means. After you finish reading this, you won’t have to ask the question any more. In fact, you can be the one to answer it.
But that’s not all you’re going to learn here. Freelance has a little-known yet rather fascinating etymology which is worth bringing to light, and in this post you’re going to learn all about that too.
What is Freelancing?
To freelance means to work for yourself as your own boss, getting hired by clients to perform services or create products.
Confusing? It is, a little. Thus, the reason so many people don’t really understand it. So let’s break it down.
Freelancers work for themselves. They not only work for themselves; they are their own bosses.
Now, not everyone who is their own boss is a freelancer. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are their own bosses too, yet they are not freelancers.
Here’s how freelancers differ from entrepreneurs and small business owners:
Freelancers do work for clients who hire them.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners hire people (frequently freelancers) to help them run their businesses.
So you can see that while freelancers differ from entrepreneurs and small business owners, they are connected.
Most freelancers do one type of work. Others do more than one type of work. There is no shortage of the kinds of work you can do as a freelancer. There are hundreds of different freelance careers in the world. In fact, pretty much any type of job you do on a computer you can turn into a freelance career. This means that if you work at an office job, chances are you can turn that job into a freelance career.
Freelancing allows you to work in a way that fits you and your personality, your work style and your financial goals. When you’re a freelancer, you can:
- have one full-time freelance job
- have one full-time freelance job and one or more part-time freelance jobs
- have multiple part-time freelance jobs
- have a “regular” 9-5 job with a freelance side gig
Virtually all freelancers work at home and work online. Freelancers who work online need the internet in order to do things such as send and receive files, communicate with clients and use social media to network and promote their freelance business. Since they work online, it’s very easy to work outside the home too, such as at coffee shops and libraries. Some freelancers even work while traveling the world.
You don’t have to work on a computer to freelance, though. There are also freelancers work don’t work online such as bartenders, actors, drivers and DJ’s.
Anyone can freelance. You can be any age. You can live anywhere in the world. You can have any level of education. Some freelancers have advanced degrees. Some have high school diplomas. Some freelancers have no degree or diploma at all.
There are lots of pros and cons to freelancing.
When you freelance, you get to work when you want and where you want. You can turn down clients you don’t want to work for. You can turn down work you don’t want to do.
You really have to know what you’re doing when you freelance, though. You have to be able to find clients. You have to do good work so you can keep those clients and get even more clients. You have to be self motivated. You have to be willing and able to do tasks in addition to your freelance work such as invoicing and keeping track of your income and expenses. You must be prepared to handle it financially if work slows down.
Freelancing is not a good fit for everyone. Some people think the pros outweigh the cons and other people think the opposite. It’s up to the individual to decide if freelancing is right for them.
Origin of the Word Freelance
The word freelance originates from the term “free lance.” But where did free lance originate? Let’s dig deep to find out.
Ancient books reveal the earliest usages of the term free lance. Not everything that was written down centuries ago is still around, though, unfortunately. Many books have been preserved, but many have been lost.
According to my research, the earliest known literary usage of the term free lance was in 1716. The exact book in which the term was written cannot be located, however.
The earliest usage of the term free lance which is still around is in a book about a mercenary soldier, published in 1809. In The Life and Times of Hugh Miller, American author Thomas N. Brown writes: “But when the battle was hottest, Hugh Miller was a loyal combatant, not a free lance.”
The word free here refers to the freedom enjoyed by mercenary soldiers, who would fight for one side in battle while keeping themselves free from political affiliation. The word lance refers to the soldier’s sword-like weapon.
So the original meaning of freelance basically is an impartial warrior who fights with a sword.
This term evolved into free-lance in the 1920’s and then finally into the modern usage and spelling freelance in the 1970’s.
Freelancing has taken root all around the world and could become the primary way that people earn income in the future. Time will let us know if freelancing sticks around and continues to evolve.
Conclusion to “What Does Freelance Mean?”:
Now you can give an accurate and very thorough explanation when you hear someone ask “What does freelance mean?” If you’re interested, you can also learn how to start freelancing yourself by taking my free 7-lesson minicourse Get on the Right Path to Freelancing here.
(This post was first published in August 2019.)
Cover image by: Gerd Altmann
Sabina Lohr is a lifelong freelancer turned entrepreneur who created World of Freelancers to help others discover how to work for themselves online and live the freelance lifestyle. She’s always really enjoyed the freedom that freelancing brings, including several years on and off of working online while traveling and living abroad.