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What is Freelancing, Exactly? Find Out Here

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Everyone has heard the term freelance. Exactly what is freelancing, though?

Keep reading and you’ll discover what freelancing means plus the rather fascinating origin of the word.

What is freelancing?

What is freelancing


To freelance means to work for yourself. A freelancer is their own boss.

Freelancers differ from entrepreneurs and small business owners in this way: 

Freelancers earn income by performing services for entrepreneurs and businesses.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners create businesses, then hire others (usually freelancers) to help them run those businesses. 

Freelancers work for themselves, so they own their freelance business, but that freelance business is usually of a smaller scale than the business owned by an entrepreneur or small business owner. 

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 online at home. These freelancers need the internet in order to do work such as receiving and sending files, communicating with clients and using social media to network and promote their 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

There are probably hundreds of different online freelance careers such as writing, tutoring, programming, virtual assisting, graphic design, proofreading and lots more.

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 and live anywhere in the world. You can have any level of education. Some freelancers have advanced degrees and some freelancers have no degree or diploma

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.


Black and white drawing of a 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.

Now you know the answer to what is freelancing. Learn how you can start freelancing by enrolling in 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.

This Post Has 2 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.

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