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Exactly What is Freelancing? All Your Questions Answered.

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Everyone has heard the word freelance.

The word has been around for centuries. Yet so many people still don’t really know what it means. When you ask the question What is freelancing? or What does freelance mean? a lot of people will have a hard time giving you an accurate answer. 

Well, your search for an answer to this question is over. In this post you’re going to find a comprehensive answer to the question What is freelancing? 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 find here. You’re also going to get the answers to some frequently asked questions about freelancing and freelancers. Additionally, it’s worth bringing to light the little-known yet rather fascinating etymology of the word freelance, so you’re going to discover that in this post too. 

What is freelancing?

Freelancing means to work for yourself as your own boss, getting hired by clients to perform services or create products.

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. 

What is freelance work?

Freelance work is work that freelancers do for their clients. 

Freelancers do their work for their freelance clients pretty much the exact same way they would do the same type of work if they were an employee working for a boss.

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 

How is being a freelancer different from being an employee?

Freelancers differ from employees is this way: Employees are people who work for someone else, usually a company. Freelancers are people who work for themselves.

What is online freelancing?

Online freelancing is freelance work that is done on the internet.

Virtually all freelancers 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 online in order to freelance, though. There are also freelancers work don’t work online such as bartenders, actors, drivers and DJ’s. 

Hands holding iPhone with people's photos in background asking what is freelancing

Who can do freelancing?

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. 

What are some freelance jobs?

There is almost no end to the types of freelance jobs you can have.

You can take pretty much any type of job or career and start freelancing in that job or career. 

You’ll get lots of ideas for different types of freelance careers by taking a look around the World of Freelancers site. Want even more ideas? Discover 101 ways you can freelance with this free pdf download.

What are the pros and cons of freelancing?

There are lots of pros and cons of 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.  

What is freelance etymology?

Freelance etymology is quite ancient and interesting.

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.


Black and white drawing of a freelancing soldier raising his lance.
Free lancer

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 is Freelancing?

Now you can give an accurate and very thorough explanation when you hear someone ask “What does freelance mean?”

Want to learn even more? Listen to my podcast on Inspire to Thrive where I answer all kinds of questions about 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.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Hi Sabina,

    This awareness is much needed. See, I’ve been there, and I realized that many full-time employees and even business owners devalue freelancers. They rarely trust them and underpay for their skills.

    But there are outliers who define the true meaning of freelancing. For example, Ryan Darani, a freelance SEO consultant, makes nearly $40K per month. There are many, in fact. They should feel proud of what and how they enjoy this freelancing life and career.

    1. Absolutely, Shyam, there are lots of very successful freelancers, and freelancers in general have the same level of skill as people who are employees. Freelancers should definitely be valued just as full-time employees.

  2. I like your breakdown here. There is so much confusion about freelancing in some newbie circles. This lack of clarity sometimes keep people from diving in as a freelancer, no matter the niche. Before I went with passive income channels solely, wow I loved my freelance writing days. What a fun time.

  3. I must say, Sabrina, you have done an incredible job here. It’s so helpful for those like me who are planning to start their freelancing career. keep sharing great and helpful content. 🙂

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