A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer. The term "freelance" was first coined by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in his well-known historical romance Ivanhoe to describe a "medieval mercenary warrior" (or "free-lance"). The phrase later transitioned to a figurative noun around the 1860s and was then officially recognized as a verb in 1903 by various authorities in etymology such as the Oxford English Dictionary. Only in modern times has the term morphed from a noun (a freelance) into an adjective (a freelance journalist), various verb forms (a journalist who freelances) and an adverb (she worked freelance), and then from the verb into the derived noun form "freelancer".
The author and poet Ernest William Hornung (1866–1921) also used the term in "The Gift of the Emperor" to describe something of poor quality: "I warmed to my woes. It was no easy matter to keep your end up as a raw freelance of letters; for my part, I was afraid I wrote neither well enough nor ill enough for success."
Fields where freelancing is especially common include journalism and other forms of writing, copywriting, computer programming and graphic design, consulting, and many other professional and creative services.
Freelance practice varies greatly. Some require clients to sign written contracts, while others may perform work based on verbal agreements, perhaps enforceable through the very nature of the work. Some freelancers may provide written estimates of work and request deposits from clients.
Payment for freelance work also varies greatly. Freelancers may charge by the day or hour, or on a per-project basis. Instead of a flat rate or fee, some consultants have adopted a value-based pricing method based on the perceived value of the results to the client. By custom, payment arrangements may be upfront, percentage upfront, or upon completion. For more complex projects, a contract may set a payment schedule based on milestones or outcomes.
According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Approximately 10.3 million workers in the US are independent contractors<ref name="indie2005"></ref>
- 7.4% of the US workforce is made up of independent contractors<ref name="indie2005" />
- In the past three years, companies have increased their outsourcing by 22% on the internet.
Freelancers generally enjoy a greater variety of assignments than in regular employment, and—subject to the need to earn a regular income—usually have more freedom to choose their work schedule. The experience can also lead to a broad portfolio of work and the establishment of a network of clients ultimately leading to a permanent position.
Sometimes a freelancer will work with one or more other freelancers and/or vendors to form a "virtual agency" to serve a particular client's needs for short-term and permanent project work. This versatile agency model can help a freelancer land jobs which require targeted, specific experience and skills outside the scope of one individual. As the clients change, so too may the players chosen for a virtual agency's talent base.
This can have a positive affect also. On occasion, freelancers and clients can form a relationship based on mutual needs and the professionalism, and competence of both parties.
Impact of the Internet
The Internet has opened up many freelance opportunities, expanded available markets, and has contributed to service sector growth in many economies<ref name="CIA"></ref>. Offshore outsourcing and crowdsourcing are heavily reliant on the Internet to provide economical access to remote workers, and frequently leverage technology to manage workflow to and from the employer. Much of the computer freelance work is being outsourced to poorer countries outside the United States and Europe. This has spurred conflict because American and European workers are not receiving the benefits. The compromise has led to student freelancers that now provide a steady source of cheap labor while keeping jobs American and European.
As a result, freelance employment has been especially common in the areas of software development, website design, advertising, open innovations, information technology, and business process outsourcing.
The major drawback is the uncertainty of work — and thus income — and lack of company benefits such as a pension, health insurance, paid holidays and bonuses. However, many freelancers, especially in journalism, regard themselves as having greater income security through the diversity of outlets—the loss of any one of which leads to the loss of only a proportion of income, rather than its totality as with salaried employees.
Furthermore, many periodicals and newspapers offer the option of ghost signing. Ghost signing occurs when a freelance writer signs with an editor, but their name is not listed on the byline of their article(s). This allows the writer to receive benefits, while still being classified as a freelancer, and independent of any set organization. In some countries, however, this can lead to taxation issues (eg so-called IR35 violations in the UK)
Another drawback is that freelancers often must handle contracts, legal issues, accounting, marketing, and other business functions by themselves. If they do choose to pay for professional services, they can sometimes turn into significant out-of-pocket expenses. Working hours can extend beyond the standard working day and working week.
In Europe, the perceived disadvantages of being freelance have led the European Union to research the area, producing draft papers that would, if enforced, make it illegal for companies or organisations to employ freelances direct, unless the freelancer was entitled to benefits such as pension contributions and holiday pay. In the UK, where the terms of integration in to the EU have and are being hotly debated, this would lead to a significant reshaping of the way freelance work is dealt with and have a major impact on industry; employers would be required either to give freelances the contractual rights of employees, or employ only freelancers already being employed by agencies or other organisations granting them these rights. However, the White Papers that recommend such moves have not yet been adopted in the EU, and the potential impact on UK employment laws is being opposed by key UK organisations lobbying the government to negotiate over the acceptance of EU legislation in such areas.
- This article is based on text from Wikipedia, available under the GFDL.