What is a Freelancer?

Freelancing during a pandemic: definitions, statistics, and experiences.

Writers are always readers first and foremost.

Something I have noticed recently, is that when you tell people you work as a freelancer, or a freelance [insert job here] you kind of get a bit of a confused, or blank, look. The thing is, that on the whole, people aren’t all too certain about what the word ‘freelancer’ means. If you Google ‘freelance definition’, the dictionary definition of ‘freelance’ is “self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments” and that’s a fairly accurate description. In my case, as you can probably tell if you’ve stumbled across my little corner of the internet, is that I am a freelance writer and editor, specialising in ghostwriting. The meaning of freelance, in my own case, is that I carry out different projects for clients. I am self-employed and work for myself all of the time. In other words, this is my proper job. I know, shock horror, I don’t work for somebody else!

There are currently over 2 million freelancers in the UK.[1] Yes, you read that right. This statistic brings a smile to my face. There are loads of us out there. Loads of people doing their own thing, working on projects for clients (whether individual clients or companies).  The majority of this figure freelance full-time, around 240,000 have another primary occupation. A study by MoneySupermarket.com has found that the top sectors of freelancing in the UK are:

  1. Business Support (22%)
  2. Design (20%) 
  3. Writing and Translation (17%)
  4. Sales and Marketing (13%)
  5. Video, Photo and Audio (9%) 
  6. Website Development (9%)
  7. Software Development and Mobile (6%)
  8. Social Media (4%) 

As you can see, I fit nicely into the third category on the list. Writing and Translation. These statistics are constantly changing as demand for different sectors and specialisms evolve.

Freelancers are part of what is called the ‘gig economy’.  If you’ve ever come across Fiverr (which I highly recommend for freelancers, by the way) you’ll be familiar with the use of the word ‘gig’ to mean ‘job’ or ‘project’.  Under the umbrella of ‘gig economy’, you’ll also find independent contractors, temporary-workers and project-based workers, as well as freelancers. The terms are often used interchangeably and are somewhat muddied.[2] There are so many reasons why someone would choose to work as part of the gig economy, in whatever capacity. For me, the major benefit is that you are in control of your work-life balance. You can choose which projects to take on, the parameters of them, and you are therefore in control of the entirety of your role.

Freelancers are self-employed. People are pretty knowledgeable about what it means to be self-employed, but freelancing is when it becomes confusing. The major difference is that all freelancers are self-employed, but not all self-employed people are freelancers. Self-employed people are people who work for themselves, I know that’s self-explanatory, but bear with me. Self-employed workers are therefore able to decide what work they do, how they work, and how many hours to work, amongst other things. Essentially, self-employed people do not necessarily take direction from clients, but freelancers do. Freelancing is client-based. This is the major deciding factor, that freelancers are bound by the requests of their clients.[3] The client, therefore, has a significant say in the final product. Some other things to consider about what a freelancer is…

  • Freelancers often work alone, whereas self-employed people might also have employees.
  • Self-employed people focus on building a business, whereas freelancers focus on building a service. It is more gig-oriented.

Freelancing has been impacted by the pandemic in a few different ways. A study by the University of Sheffield has suggested that the availability of work for freelancers has decreased dramatically for 75% of respondents, some of whom are concerned about the future viability of their businesses. 63% have had a loss of earnings this year and 61% are actively pursuing work outside of the creative sector, this has had an impact on the mental wellbeing of many of the respondents.[4]  You might be thinking, Sarah why on earth are you sharing this with us? Well, I have been pretty lucky throughout the pandemic thus far. My clients come from all over the world, and I’m so thankful that my business hasn’t suffered, but for many freelancers out there, this isn’t the case. There’s a misconception that freelancing is an easy option and that’s not the case at all. Freelancers work as hard as anybody else to make their income. This is really more of a warning for those of you thinking about freelancing, it is unpredictable, difficult, and you have to learn a whole bunch of other skills to make it viable. If you want to do it, go for it! It’s the best thing I ever did, but by no means is it easy. It’s taken me two years to reach a point where I feel pretty comfortable with my business potential.

Thanks to the pandemic shutting down the world, a lot of people have turned to freelancing as a way to make extra income. I think this is amazing! Not the pandemic, or the losses of jobs, of course, but the fact that freelancing opens doors for people to make extra income, who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Those who know me, know that I am a huge advocate of self-employment (where possible, I know for some it wouldn’t work) and I do think the world is evolving in this way, to a more gig-based economy. With a tendency to encourage working from home being the norm now, it seems that companies are realising just how viable remote working is. This is a step towards the future. According to UpWork/Freelancers Union, the majority of the US workforce will be freelancers by 2027.[5] Of course, this statistic is to be taken with a pinch of salt, but with more statistics like this coming to the surface, who knows what will happen.

Freelancers usually specialise in one or two different areas. For me, I specialise in writing and editing. However, I tend to focus more on the ghostwriting side of things, this is where my passion lies. As a UK freelance writer, I’ve come across a few learning curves. My background is in teaching. I graduated from The University of Huddersfield with my BA in Teaching (with QTS) back in 2015, and then did my MA in Education while working in schools. I graduated with my MA in 2018, for both degrees I received first-class/distinctions. My lecturers always commented on my style of writing and when I decided to leave teaching, in 2018, I didn’t know what to do. I fell into freelancing after I signed up for Fiverr and Guru. I’ve since given up on Guru, but still work primarily through Fiverr. I knew I wanted to be my own boss and be self-employed, and this opened my eyes to the possibility. I think many people stumble into freelancing without meaning to. Hopefully, it will become more widely acknowledged as a valid career choice, I think it will pretty soon. Couple my education with my obsession with reading and voila… I have a career as a freelance ghostwriter. Two years later, I’ve never been happier in my professional life. So, yeah, I’m one of those people who gave up a relatively stable job as a teacher, for freelancing. Am I mad? Possibly!

In my own experience, I have found that people turn to freelancing for personal reasons. Whether they need a job to work around their family, or they don’t get on with management at their current job, or they need a change of careers for the sake of their mental health, or anything else, people usually turn to freelancing as a result of something personal, rather than it having been something they’ve strived for. People fall into it, and I think it makes freelancers truly appreciate their careers. For me, I didn’t have the best start to my teaching career. Without going into too much detail, I worked in some not very nice places for some not very nice people (I also worked in some awesome places too, don’t get me wrong) but it turned me off from working in this kind of environment. And my degree was specialised, so I was at a loose end. My mental health hadn’t been particularly good, and I was in desperate need of a new career. As an avoidance strategy, I wasn’t ready to go back to the workplace, I made a profile on Fiverr (and a few other, not as good freelancing websites) to make some extra money. My avoidance strategy turned into the best thing I’ve ever done. I found my calling. There are times when I miss working in a traditional workplace, I’ve had some amazing colleagues, but freelancing works for me. I was meant to be my own boss. I was meant to help people tell their stories, sell their products, and present their writing in the best way possible. I am living proof that everything happens for a reason.

For me, the meaning of ‘freelancer’ is synonymous with ‘freedom’. I have the freedom to do the best work I can, while also taking care of the other things in my life that matter to me too. This blog has been a bit of a serious one, I know, but I hope that it opened some of your eyes to what freelancing is. There are a few misconceptions about what a freelancer is, and I’d like to think I’ve cleared that up for you. If you have any questions about freelancing, please do feel free to send a message and I’ll do my best to help out. If you’d like to discuss projects, editing or writing, please do the same. You can message me via the website or via my email sarahjules.writing@gmail.com. If you’re interested in taking a look at my Fiverr, or ordering through the platform, the link is www.fiverr.com/sarahjules.

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules xx

[1] https://www.microbizmag.co.uk/freelancing-statistics-uk-2020/

[2] https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/gig-economy#:~:text=A%20gig%20economy%20is%20a,is%20typically%20used%20by%20musicians.

[3] https://freelancernomads.com/blog/freelance-vs-self-employed/

[4] https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/city-region/enhancing-cultural-vibrancy/covid-research/freelancers

[5] https://freelancinghacks.com/20-mind-blowing-freelancing-statistics-remote-work-future/

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