Building a business is personal work, especially if it’s your face going on the billboard.
So how do we know what to do when starting out?
We find people who look like they know what they’re doing and we mimic them until we figure out whether it works or not.
This is how I started calling myself a “freelance copywriter” when I started out. It’s a title I had seen other people use. I saw job postings for it. I saw it in the personal profiles of people I admired.
But it didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t like it.
The Problem with “Freelancing”
Calling myself a freelancer created a couple of problems for me right away.
It made people think I was an amateur.
It didn’t command much respect.
People assumed I was cheap.
“Freelancing” is supposed to imply that you’re beholden to no one but yourself. That you’re independent. That you make your own choices. You work when you feel like it, damn it!
What I think it really means to most people, though, is that you’re not serious about what you do.
Whether they say it or not, they probably think you wake up late and work in your pajamas while watching Adult Swim, eating Cap’n Crunch. They’re thinking this is your side gig. That you do this for “fun money” so you can buy premium beer on the weekends (you know, Coors instead of PBR).
I know what you might be thinking: “Who cares what other people think of me? I don’t have to work with them.”
But you’re wrong. You should care what others think. Because their perception might be costing you money.
Change Your Language
Have you ever noticed that when you’re home for Christmas, everyone in the family seems to slip into old roles, no matter how old everyone gets? That’s because everyone in that room is accustomed to treating each other a certain way.
The only way to change this is to re-train them. Sometimes you can do it subtly by changing your behavior. Other times, you can explicitly direct them how you expect to be treated. That off-color joke grandpa told? Instead of laughing, leave the room. Or better yet, tell him that shit’s not cool.
So many times, when I started out, I’d use the word “just.”
I’m just a teacher. I’m just a guy working from home. I’m just a…whatever. By using that one small word, I made myself small. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t quit my job to feel small.
Calling myself a “freelancer,” downplayed what I was striving to accomplish.
Using the word “freelance” felt like the same thing to me. It implied I was unskilled, or undisciplined, or un-serious (yes, I made that last word up).
So I stopped using it.
Blatantly or subtly, you teach others how to treat you through the language you use. It’s a cliche at this point, but your words have power. If people don’t take your title seriously, others won’t take you, your work, or your prices seriously.
If you want clients and customers to take you more seriously, change the way you talk about yourself. Pay attention to the words you use to describe your work.
When I started out, I thought being “a freelancer” would be cool. Initially, it was a badge of honor that told the world I was no longer a part of the system. I was free!
No one flat-out said anything about me being “a freelancer,” but I felt it when I talked to them. I sensed it in our interactions. I felt like I was negotiated down too often.
So I started referring to myself as a writer. Or a copywriter. Or, better yet, a business owner. Instead of saying, “I’m a freelance [fill in your industry here],” say “I own a [your industry here] business.”
It feels completely different. Powerful. Better.
Changing the way I talked about my work felt strange at first, but the more I used these words, the more serious I felt about what I was doing.
And the funny thing is… when I felt more serious about my new career, people started to treat me that way too.