Freelancers can sometimes seem like a mythical beast to those work in full-time employment. From afar, they look great; they get to wear what they want, work from home and pick their own hours.
On closer inspection, though, life isn’t always quite so leisurely, and – as our jargon-free video explains, it’s certainly not the carefree walk in the park many assume it to be.
So, what is a freelancer?
Essentially, it’s someone who works for themselves. This means they don’t have your usual, run-of-the-mill employment contract with a company (although there are plenty of people who do freelance work in their spare time outside their normal job). This means a freelancer must go out and find work themselves.
This can be done in a number of ways and, usually, an array of methods have to be employed. It can include networking events, word-of-mouth, job posting sites (see our article 11 freelance job sites that actually pay well) and the tried-and-true CV-spraying. Often, freelancers won’t know when their next job will be coming in – half the battle is constantly searching for new work.
Where does the term freelancer come from?
It was first coined in 1819 by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe. In Ivanhoe, Scott describes Italian and French mercenaries as “freelances”, meaning they were free men who offered their services (in this case, their skill with a lance) to wealthy landowners. They basically amounted to a private army and would fight on their Lord’s behalf against groups loyal to other noblemen. Thankfully this element of freelancing has largely been abolished today.
The term “freelance” was recognised as a verb (he/she freelances) by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1903, and since then has passed into the everyday lexicon as a noun, adjective, and adverb.
Is a freelancer a businessperson? What do they do?
All jobs vary in size as well, so it’s pretty common for a freelancer to be working on a number of projects at once. This also means they can have several different clients at the same time. A freelancer, therefore, has to be well-organised. This means keeping tabs on various conversations, deadlines and work in tandem. Without organisational skills, freelancers can really suffer.
How many freelancers are there in the UK?
It’s a question that’s asked regularly, and one with no concrete answer. That’s largely due to the fact that calling yourself a “freelancer” is a matter of self-identification, rather than a formal legal status. A freelancer can be:
- A sole trader
- The director of their own limited company
- An umbrella company worker
- A permanent employee who does freelance work on the side.
Likewise, a person who identifies as a freelancer might also choose to call themselves:
- A contractor
- A consultant
- Any number of sector-specific titles.
There are currently 4.37 million self-employed workers in the UK - around 15% of the workforce.
Webinar - Getting started as a freelancer
Want to get paid to do what you love? Our recent jargon-free webinar and Q&A – ‘Getting Started as a Freelancer’ will help you ensure you stay legal, and as tax-efficient as possible.
Our presenters Ben and Luke let you know what you need to register for (and when), and give practical tips on running your fledgeling business alongside your day-job.
Content is for general information only. Always take advice.
What other responsibilities do they have?
In essence, the freelancer runs their own business, which brings a lot of extra work with it: administration, accounts, marketing, contracts, invoices and all the other stuff that your average worker doesn’t have to juggle alongside their actual job.
This is why the idea of the relaxing life of a freelancer is a myth. Not only do they have to do the job they’re trained in, but they also have to learn how to do all the other essentials – and find the time to do them all, of course.
In the end, a freelancer is someone who’s willing to take risks. Risks that involve putting the responsibility for their working life and career progression on themselves and doing all they can to make their rent at the end of the month.
It can be a tough life, but it can be incredibly rewarding as well. Either way, it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted.
If you’re thinking of taking the leap our freelancing for beginners guide has practical advice and tips on how to succeed as a freelancer.