Are freelancers unique?

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I’ve been doing the Freelance Forecast for four years now, and in addition to the many thoughtful responses I receive to the survey itself, it’s always interesting when someone takes the time to offer detailed criticism—constructive, nit-picky or otherwise. So, I thought I’d pass along a piece of correspondence I received the other day for your consideration:

“[Freelance Forecast is] quite comprehensive and down to earth, but I walked away afterwards wondering what was its purpose and who is it designed to help? Most of it seemed like information a sociologist might gather rather than something useful to working freelancers. The only really useful questions I found were #10 and #13. [Dr’s note: Those were the questions about your best way of finding new clients, and the advice you’d give to a struggling freelancer.] The freelance fields listed and personal situations are so different that really no two freelancer’s ‘careers’ are the same or easily compared. For this reason, most of these comparisons struck me as irrelevant.”

I have to admit, the question gave me pause. Am I running a fool’s errand? Are freelancers unique — so unique that you can’t generalize anything?

After a hefty gulp of pride, I answered him as follows: “I started doing the survey simply because I was curious about what other freelancers were doing and how they were succeeding, failing, pricing, and handling client relationships. I was also curious about what clients (beyond my own) liked/disliked about using freelancers, and how we solo acts collectively could do a better job.

“I had my own opinions based on more than a decade of hiring freelancers while in various editorial positions, and 13 years as a freelancer myself, but I knew I was just a single datapoint. And while freelancers and clients may be unique in the micro view, there are certainly good and bad business practices that are universal.

“As far as it’s usefulness and who it’s designed to help, I can only say that I’ve received a lot of positive feedback over the years from people who appreciated the perspectives from their peers and client-siders, and the ability to get a feel for where they stand. Surely our businesses are different and endlessly diverse, but I’d like to think some of the answers in aggregate may provoke an ‘aha’ moment or two.

“Maybe it’s the coach in me who believes freelancers owe it to themselves to be more proficient businesspeople/salespeople/entrepreneurs–not simply writers/editors/designers–and I’m doing what I can to push them along the curve. If you think that’s quixotic, I won’t argue!”

I appreciate all of the time and energy people have taken in answering the surveys over the years. Thank you. Selfishly speaking, I have learned a lot from hearing the opinions from my peers and clients out there. Most important, I hope that you’ve gleaned actionable information for yourself and your business.

In the comments: Are freelancers unique? Or are there common threads that join us all?

If you haven’t participated in the 2012 survey yet, please do so before February 15: Take the Freelance Forecast survey. And please pass it along to a client or two!

Photo courtesy of Ulrik De Wachter.

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  1. Mike says

    I’ve taken the survey the past two years, and I’m not sure what this guy is talking about. You can’t compare freelance businesses? Srsly?

    It’s a free survey, if you get good information from it, take it, if you don’t, don’t. Will look forward to seeing this year’s results.

  2. says

    You forgot another benefit of your survey, Jake – it’s another view of your own career as you’re putting it all on paper. I like the survey because I can see where the business is coming from, what I’m doing as opposed to what I’d rather be doing, and where my successes (and not so much) have come from.

    Can’t please everyone, but I for one think it’s useful in many ways.

  3. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks for commenting, Mike. That’s pretty much how I look at it.

    Lori, thanks for chiming in–I hadn’t thought of that angle. Then again, you’re pretty much the queen of taking a cold, hard, objective at your results, so, no surprise there. 😉

    It’s not that I try to please everyone, or that I’m looking for a shoulder to cry on…I just can’t imagine taking the time to write someone about a survey that I thought was dumb. I’d abandon it and move on with my life.

  4. says

    I love your forecasts. I think they’re useful for many reasons but the top two that occur to me are:

    1. It provides a realistic reference for freelancers who don’t know many others. We tend to be isolated, other freelancers we chat with online may not want to reveal too much about their wages and struggles, and a lot of the gurus and experts can present too rosy an outlook. It’s grounding and helpful to read what other freelancers charge, why they fire clients, what they value and how they handle their administration.

    2. I imagine it’s useful for newcomers and people contemplating the field. In the last 3 years, I’ve met so many people setting up shop as freelance copywriters. Most of them have washed out because they did not have a realistic view of the skills needed and the level of success they could expect.

  5. Dr. Freelance says

    I appreciate the enthusiasm, Valerie–thanks! Glad to hear it’s been a helpful perspective for you, and I hope you’re right WRT to point #2…

  6. says

    I’m with Lori – it’s always good to take a look at myself. It’s the sort of thing I wish I’d thought of. Don’t let the naysayers get you down.

  7. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks, Anne. Ultimately, I found it more of a curiosity than something that truly bothered me 🙂