Freelancing is a Real Job: Tips for Responding to Critics and Skeptics

Critics of freelance writing
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Freelance writers, have you had this conversation before?

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a freelance writer.”

“Oh.” Oh, you’re between jobs. Oh, you can’t find another one. Oh, you work from home.

Oh is a subtle judgment, isn’t it? This response usually comes from people with “real” careers who make assumptions about freelancing careers. It’s not because these people don’t support you — they’re likely close friends, partners or parents — they just don’t understand freelancing.

Technically, all of these beliefs could be true; freelancers are often in-between jobs, looking for more work, and more frequently than not, working from home. But it’s still frustrating to have to explain to people that freelancing is not the latest hipster, Boomerang generation development. It’s the future.

About one in three American workers — 42 million people — are freelancers, and their numbers will swell to make up half of the American workforce by 2020, according to Forbes. Freelancing is real, full-time meaningful employment.

Freelancing is real, full-time meaningful employment. Click To Tweet

Here’s how to explain to the skeptics what you do for a living.

Freelancing is a legitimate business model

Convincing people that freelancing is a viable career option is all about how you frame it.

While “freelancing” can have negative connotations, “running your own small business” has positive ones. Compare freelancing to running a small business, with you as the CEO, CFO, account manager, marketing department, office manager and intern — in addition to being the writer. You pay taxes, you negotiate with clients, you sign contracts: you run a real business.

Establish your professionalism

Once you’ve explained that you run your own business, you’ll want to erase the lingering negative feelings (or jealousy?) about you working from home in your pajamas.

Stress how you much you work — whether you’re a full-time freelancer or building a part-time writing business around other commitments, you’re likely working more than 40 hours a week.

Explain where you work, whether it’s in a home office, at your kitchen table, at a cafe or a public library. (Maybe don’t mention those times you do a little work from your couch.) You want to convey that while freelance writing lets you work from anywhere, you’re still working.

Stress your expertise and your understanding of your field

Be prepared for people to ask you about what’s next. “Where’s your promotion? Where do you go from here?” are common questions, especially from concerned friends or relatives unfamiliar with freelancing.

If you have an answer that works for you, give it (and please share it in the comments!). If not, prove your expertise in your field. You know your market’s demands and pay attention to new trends. Move the conversation to a place where you can show off your knowledge and skills — perhaps talking about a recent acceptance or publication, or a developing opportunity.

If you’re comfortable, share your hourly or per-word rate to demonstrate that your business is viable. You could also point to pay information such as the Editorial Freelancers Association’s rate guide, Who Pays Writers or The Freelancer’s upcoming rate guide.

If all else fails, use your sense of humor

If these strategies don’t satisfy the skeptics — you know the ones who are least likely to understand your career — you might try responding with some good, old-fashioned sass. For example:

Q: But what do you do all day?

A: Run a business. My business.

Q: When will you get an office job?

A: I have one. It’s just working from my house — a home office.

Q: How do you take time off?

A: (What time off?) The flexibility of freelancing allows great travel opportunities; I can work from anywhere. Also, many people who get to take time off don’t.

Q: Is it lonely?

A: No, I get to work with my dog all day!

How To Explain Freelancing Is A Real Job

By Emily E. Steck

Freelancing is the future for the work economy, but the work force today is stuck in the past. Here are some tips to explain your job as a full time freelancer.

  • Compare It to Owning a Small Business

    By Emily E. Steck

    Freelancing full time makes you a Renaissance Worker, effectively running your own business. You have just as many responsibilities (if not more) as a company-employed worker, but you are in charge.

  • Emphasize Professionalism

    By Emily E. Steck

    The image of the pajama-clad freelancer secretly spurs jealousy. Reinforce how professional you are by emphasizing your 40-hour work week, even if you do wear your pajamas to work.

  • You Are an Authority on Your Field

    By Emily E. Steck

    You are an authority on the field you work in. Talk about the challenges and successes you have had in your industry and comment on topical events. Explain exactly what you do all day.

  • Offer Statistics

    By Emily E. Steck

    One in three working Americans are currently freelancers. That’s 42 million people. By 2020, half of the workforce will be freelancers.

  • If This Doesn’t Work, Respond with Some Sass

    By Emily E. Steck

    For some people, logic and statistics might not be enough. You know these people. Respond with some sass and make them jealous of of you working in your pajamas with your dog.

Freelancers, how do you explain your career choice to people who don’t understand?

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Emily E. Steck works for Quietly, a tech startup that provides publishers and bloggers with amazing digital publishing tools that include highly customizable list carousels and content sourcing and strategy.... .

Quietly | @emilyesteck

Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing: Review

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Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing

While it’s easy to start a freelance writing business, it’s much harder to actually run one. This guide will help your business thrive — not just survive.


  1. Great Post Emily!

    Your post speaks for most of us.

    Personally, I got rid of these “Oh!” reactions as soon as I started making more money than my corporate job (they didn’t stop coming, I just stopped caring because I knew where I stood)

    I think it has more to do with your own mindset. New freelancers care too much about what people say. But the more opportunities you see in your freelance career, the more you realize that it offers SO MUCH more than a 9 to 5 job.

    Cheers – sharing!

  2. I personally have never experienced this. In fact, I have friends envy the idea of me being able to sleep in and create my own hours. That’s a powerful thing in today’s world. Enough people do it so it’s known to be possible yet there still isn’t enough where it’s a norm. I love being able to call myself a freelancer/entrepreneur.

    Anyway, great post and keep them coming 🙂

  3. “Q: How do you take time off?

    A: (What time off?) The flexibility of freelancing allows great travel opportunities; I can work from anywhere. Also, many people who get to take time off don’t.”

    A better answer would be “I take time off like anyone else, and have more freedom to take time off when I need or want to. I account for paid vacation time like any business owner would — by factoring it into my rates and total earnings.”

    Far too many freelancers mistakenly believe that freelancing doesn’t come with paid vacation and sick time. If you do your job correctly up front, it does. Your freelance rates should account for everything you would expect from any other job — benefits, sick time, vacation time, retirement savings, etc. If they don’t, now is the time to fix that. Sadly it’s a common mistake newer freelancers make, and then they wonder why they burn out and call it quits. Ignoring some of the big things your rates should cover simply isn’t sustainable.

  4. Nick Nixon says:

    After running my graphic design firm for 35 years, with a staff of eight, I am now having the time of my life…writing, illustrating, cartooning, doing caricatures and even voiceovers for commercials and audio books…for profit. I usually work when I want to work. Most people would envy the size, furniture and equipment in my home office. It is the upstairs bonus room. I have a nice view out of the neighborhood and the only noise I have to contend with is my dog snoring on my sofa or my cat playing with a piece of wadded up paper that missed the waste basket. I have been getting up at 6:00 am since I was in college. Now I get up around 8 am. I am a published writer, illustrator and cartoonist. I wish I had closed my business and “retired” much sooner than I did. When people ask me what am doing since I retired, I ask them how much time they have to listen to my answer.

  5. The last time I told someone what I did, here response was, “So you’re free every day?”

    Responses like that used to drive me absolutely bonkers. But lately, I can deal with it much better. Some people just aren’t ever going to get it. And I’ve started to be okay with that, because I know the value in my work. Confidence makes a big difference!

  6. I was buying a car last month, and the girl at the office was filling up a form for me. She asked, ‘Occupation?’ and I replied ‘Freelance Writer’. She looked confused and asked, ‘Umm…is that a real job?’ Finally, she thought about it a bit and scribbled something on the form. I find it’s easier saying I’m unemployed than describing my job!


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