Why the Freelancer is the F-Buddy of the Business World

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 8.22.37 AMI just gave a talk to a roomful of people who work for themselves. I said, “How many of you define yourselves as freelancers?” and a whole slew of hands went up.

And then I said, “Never, ever call yourself that again.”

Why? Because freelance is low-rent, low-budge, low-stakes. Freelancing means you’re a pinch hitter, a cheap way for a company to meet its needs when it has them.

In other words, if we’re being honest, the freelancer is the F-buddy of the business world. Which, let’s face it, isn’t in and of itself a bad thing—if you’re getting what you want out of it. But it’s not always the path to a steady gig or mutually beneficial relationship (especially if you were hoping for more). Maybe you get excited when you get that work booty call (“You free?”)—but maybe after a while you get bored (or go broke waiting).

Check out this episode of #PowerLunch, the free, weekly, bite-sized business and branding webinar that I do every Thursday at 12ET, where I tackled this whole issue!

Now. I have worked as a freelancer, and for a while thought it was a sexy thing to be, noncommittal and freewheeling and all that. And, by the way, I hire freelancers too on occasion! I’m not saying NONE should exist, but the question I’m asking YOU is, is that all you want?

Because what I realized as a freelancer was that while I wasn’t beholden to anyone, no one was beholden to me, either. Sure, your clients may love you and cherish you and not want to use anyone else. But when someone says, “Hey, who was that you’re were just on the phone with?” Their response: “A freelancer.”

As in, one of many. Another person on the list.

And yes, I am well aware there are plenty of people who make a healthy living as a freelancer, and they love it, and it works for them—great. Many of them enjoy using a blank invoice template to save them time and effort when sorting out payments. Good. I’m telling you that you can be more than that. Why? Because a freelancer never quite knows where her next meal is coming from; she’s hoping for that call. Maybe you like that kind of adventure. But I like to know I’m going to eat.

(Read more about why calling yourself a freelancer works against you.)

Think Like a Chef

Let’s stick with the restaurant theme for a moment (yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors in this post). I truly believe that to devote yourself entirely to freelancing is to to decide you’ll live by whatever falls from someone else’s table. You’re literally waiting on tables. Sure, a little freelancing is great if it gets you into a relationship with a new client, and gives you the chance to try each other on for size—by all means. Maybe it helps you add to your skill set, learn something different or explore a new industry. But freelancing is side hustle. It’s what you do to finance the thing you really want to do and grow.

I want you to think like a chef. Servers, after all, are utterly replaceable. A chef, however, is the one creating the food, the experience, everything. She’s the mastermind. It’s her expertise that determines what’s on offer to begin with. The waitress says, “What can I get you?” while the chef says, “You’re going to love this.” A chef has a sense of what her client needs, and creates something valuable, unique, and utterly her own.

I can find a waitress anywhere. But a chef—that’s worth seeking out and sticking with—and, by the way, paying for.

I told that group of people what I’m telling you now: You’re more than “just” a freelancer; you are a business owner. You have something unique and valuable to offer, the result of years of experience, honed skills, and powerful intuition—and a flair for knowing what your customers are craving. And you they come seeking you out—because they can’t get what you have anywhere else.