Monday, August 15, 2011

Footloose and free – Freelancers don’t come for free.

That’s the general perception about ‘freelancers’ as they are popularly called by all and sundry; not to miss the accusing tone of voice (TOV) when a client mouths this word. It’s as if the client is talking about a necessary evil he has to deal with, because the client wants a professional but not an agency you see. What he doesn’t tell is that he simply cannot afford the latter’s high costs nor the high handedness and feels it’s best to go with a freelancer who can kowtow to all his demands and still charge him a fraction of the agency’s bill. 

The client approaches this species in all earnest with a truckload of expectations. The client wants the freelancer to be very professional, very experienced (in the client’s industry, preferably), deliver the work ‘day before yesterday’ or even before, work on off days, sick days, weekends, public holidays, ungodly hours, be accessible on phone or better still, a Blackberry 24 x7, respond to the client in half a second, not argue, object, debate or protest, AND NOT CHARGE ANYTHING FOR ALL THIS THAN PEANUTS! 

The freelancer too begins his job in earnest, communicates with the client regularly, works on the job religiously and does all he can to deliver the goods to the best of his ability and to the client’s satisfaction. But just when he thinks that the client is happy and decides to bill him, the client starts exhibiting symptoms of PBS, a hellish state akin to the PMS, which in  freelancer terminology reads ‘Pre – Billing Syndrome’. After PBS hits the client, he withdraws himself, cuts off contacts with the freelancer, does not take his calls, does not answer his mails/text messages and like the proverbial bear goes into long months of hibernation. The poor freelancer has no choice but to sulk and sink into forced hibernation, termed in medical lexicons as depression. 

Months later, after endless follow-ups, the client decides to bless the freelancer and parts with some money as part payment of his efforts. In the hope that the balance will follow soon, the freelancer accepts the part payment and waits; sometimes for months or years or forever. The money, mostly, never comes. The partly paid invoice/bill promptly follows its predecessors to the file marked ‘Bad Debts’. The cycle continues and the freelancer remains where he was, an overworked, underpaid, ignored species that wonders what happened and where things went wrong. The client then shifts to another freelancer, or later as (if) he grows, to an agency and then another. 

In business, they say, all is fair. What is unfair here is the word ‘freelancer’. What is not ok is the perception or the image that the word carries which says “Hey, I am a freelancer because I don’t have a regular job, I am free of attitude and I come for free and you are free to behave as you please with me”. 

And yet, we have freelancers who are richer than agencies, who have clients as big as the Fortune 500, who live life on their terms. They are free spirits, yet committed professionals. And not because no one is giving them a job, but because they choose to be independent. 

Freelancers out there, would you still want to use this term? Clients out there, do you still want to associate yourself with the word freelancers? Wouldn’t you both benefit if you use a word with more respect? How about Consultant? Or Partner? Or Associate?
You are of course free to suggest a better term, but for now, let’s do away with the word freelancer and its meaningless associations.
Freedom deserves respect. And so do the freelancers.