What Does Being A Freelancer Mean? by Matthew Setter

What Does Being A Freelancer Mean?

November 28th, 2016

Are you a freelancer? Do you think like one? If not, it may be costing in more ways than just lost income. Take a walk with me today as we consider two essential changes you need to make when you become a freelancer.

It’s perhaps an odd question to ask. But what does being a freelancer mean? If you are one, I’ll bet you’ve asked yourself this question, perhaps in different ways, more than once, if you were a full-time worker in another life.

See, here’s the thing; before I started out as a freelancer, I was a full-time, or permanent, employee for all of my professional career.

I’d always worked for one employer or another. I’d turn up, do the work which was assigned, or part of the greater project, and then move on to the next project.

Every employer I’d ever worked for expected that I would arrive at their offices by a particular time, and stay there until a certain time.

In many ways, it was a very comfortable and a very simple arrangement. If we were to have spoken it, it would have gone a little something like this:

You have a set of skills which we need. You come and work at our offices for 46 - 48 weeks of every year, and we’ll pay you a set sum, plus holiday and sick pay. In return, we’ll give you work which will (hopefully) make the most of your skills. You won’t have to worry about looking after the books, finding work to do, the rent on the office, or any of that. Just turn up, use your skills as best you can to do the work which we give you.

Sounds simple, right? And it is.

For some people, this is bliss. Just turn up, do the work, and go home. Easy.

Being An Employee Is Not For Everyone

But, if we’re anything alike, at some point that way of working begins to seem rather restrictive. Sure, you don’t have to worry (or think) about a lot. Granted. But you don’t have a lot of say or choice either. You do the work which the company provides you.

That’s why freelancing can seem like such an appealing alternative. You can work where you like when you like on the work that you like — assuming that you can find clients who need that kind of work done.

You don’t have to wait until your holidays are approved to take holidays. You have much more flexibility in making decisions regarding occasions with friends, family, and children.

You want to spend time with you kids in the morning or do the daycare/kindergarten/school run — no sweat. You can work in the evening.

Need to help your children out with homework in the evening? Fine. Work later, or get up earlier in the morning. And on and on it goes.

This might sound like a fairytale to some, but it is how life can be when you’re a freelancer. But, and there’s always a but, there’s a catch.

Do You Think Like A Freelancer?

When you become a freelancer, does your attitude to work change? What I mean is, do you stay working like a full-time employee? I know for at least the first 18 months I did.

While I was out looking for clients and work and had all the flexibility in the world, I still had the mindset of an employee. I worked with the same set of hours, largely, in the same location, my home office.

In effect, I was an employee, yet with all the responsibility of an employer. This was OK at first. But over time it began to take a mental toll. I was stressed from doing so much, each and every day, and never felt that I had the ability to take any time out.

And like anything which takes a toll on your mind, eventually, something had to give.

It was at this moment that I began to take on the perspective of a freelancer. I began to think like a freelancer, not an employee. As a result, work was no longer an enforced routine in a set location.

If I was exhausted from looking after my little girl during the night or just, generally, sick, I might take the day off, or sleep in and then work later.

If something threw the day into a spin after lunch, I would begin to let it go and take time out on the weekend to get the work done.

You Need To Understand The Key Differences

Now these are all semantics. The key difference is my perspective to how I worked. That was the most important thing. More specifically, here are the key things which changed.

The core focus was that there was a piece of work, which had to be completed to a set level of quality, by a given date. In return for that, I’d get a certain amount of money; be that in US dollars or Euros.

It was no longer important that I be somewhere, at some time, basically just turning up and being seen. What actually mattered was the work being one, to the given level of quality. How and when that is achieved almost ceased to be meaningful.

Do You Delegate (Or Outsource)?

Then came the second key change - outsourcing (or delegating). As I said earlier, when you become a freelancer, you take on just about every responsibility of running a business, along with the core task of using your given skills to do work, which will, in turn, earn you the money which you need.

As a result, you need to:

  • Build a brand (including marketing and promoting yourself)
  • Find clients
  • Establish meaningful relationships
  • Negotiate work on a regular basis
  • Invoice for work done
  • Chase up any outstanding invoices
  • Pay the bills
  • Manage expenses
  • ...and on and on and on it goes

If you’re paying attention, you’ll rapidly begin to appreciate that there is nowhere near the amount of time you used to have to ply your trade. That is if you try and do it all yourself.

So, the second and equally necessary mental change that a freelancer needs to make is to accept the need to outsource or delegate.

What I suggest you do, though, is to remain in touch with all of the tasks, so that you’re always abreast of what’s going on in your business. But otherwise, start looking for people and businesses who can do essential work for you.


Well in case I’ve not pressed the point firmly enough so far, for every hour you’re doing the books, doing post-production on your podcast, chasing clients, making graphics for your website, and making changes to your website — you’re not doing work that brings you income.

Sure, some of these things are valid things to do. But most of them are:

  1. Outside of your core area of expertise
  2. Work which there are plenty of people much more adept and efficient at doing than you are.

Not Delegating Can Mean Lost Income

You may feel that you don’t have time to outsource. You may feel that it costs too much. But let’s do some mental mathematics for a moment, and you tell me if it’s still too expensive.

Let’s say, like me, you have a podcast, which both helps people like yourself and promotes you to the wider world. Each episode lasts for about 45 minutes. To produce it, you need to do a range of things, which you can see in the table below.

Task Time Required
Research (perhaps optional) 30 - 60 mins
Record 1 - 1.25 hrs
Edit & Post-Production 1 - 2 hours
Uploading 10 mins (mainly to kick off the process and monitor it)
Website update 30 mins
Promotion 30 mins
Total 355 mins

Now this is a conservative estimate, taking the worst case scenario. But, for a 45-minute podcast episode, we’ve needed 355 minutes to create it.

Setting aside the time to record it, which you can’t delegate to anyone, leaves 315 minutes for post-production and promotion. That’s almost 5 1/4 hours of billable time lost.

Let’s assume that your hourly rate is $50 USD. That’s $262.50 per/episode that you’re losing, each time you produce a podcast episode to promote yourself.

Let’s say that, like me; you create two episodes per/month. That’s $525 per/month you’re missing out on. If you amortise that over a year, that’s $6,300 each year you’re losing.

Perhaps your hourly rate is higher than that. Well, you’re missing out on even more potential earnings. So you definitely want to consider outsourcing your post-production and promotion work.

Perhaps your rate is lower. If so, I’d understand if you feel that you can’t afford it — at least at first. But I’d suggest that if you think creating a podcast is a viable thing to do, then delegating the surrounding work is even more essential for you.

Delegating Is More Essential The Lower Your Income Is

Think about it. How are you going to get the clients, and with them the work and experience you need to justify increasing your rate if you’re spending so much time elsewhere?

What’s more, you likely need all the income that you can get, so that:

  1. You don’t need to take on crappy clients
  2. You can enjoy a decent standard of living
  3. The rate you get stops you having a constant sense of stress that you need to work like a hurricane to finish this job so that you can get on to the next one

Perhaps I’m overstating the case. But what may seem like a costly proposition, may, in fact, be a cost saver.

Do the math, on other areas of your business, as we’ve done here with podcasting, and you well may find that the results repeat.

After a little while you may find that you ask yourself a different question, one which goes like this:

How much money are you losing by NOT delegating?

I do not mean to berate you. But I believe that it’s important to stop and honestly consider this point. But, leaving aside money for a moment, consider these questions:

  • How important are other things to you?
  • How important is time with your family?
  • How important is time with your friends?
  • Do you like to travel?
  • Do you like to read, to sew, to do woodwork?
  • How important are these things?

Give it some thought. I’d guess that even if you only broke even concerning cost, the time you gained would more than make up for it.

In Conclusion

While being a freelancer and living and working that way can be amazingly liberating and beneficial, we have to take care to ensure that we don’t continue to operate mentally as though we were still going to work for an employer.

Now, we have to shake off that mindset, and instead remind ourselves that, in effect, we are a business; even though we may be, technically, a business of one.

And in a successful business, one person doesn’t do it all. In a successful business, work is, wherever possible, delegated to the people who can do it the best.

And so it should be with us. I encourage you to take a moment to stop and consider the opportunity which by becoming a freelance you’ve given yourself (and those around you).

Appreciate it for what it is, what it offers, and what it demands, and make the most of it. Work it as effectively and efficiently as you can, and make it a thriving success.

CC Image Courtesy of Markus Spiske on Flickr

Matthew Setter. Ethical Hacker, Online Privacy Advocate, and a Software Engineer.

Matthew Setter

Software Engineer, Ethical Hacker, & Online Privacy Advocate.

Matthew Setter is a software engineer, ethical hacker, privacy advocate, & technical writer, who loves travelling. He is based in Nuremberg, Germany. When he's not doing all things tech, he's spending time with his family, and friends.