Freelancing words that need to die

I don’t know whose idea it was to call dog cages “crates,” but I’ll bet that person is very rich right now.

Ditto for whoever replaced the term “genetically engineered foods” with “genetically modified foods”.

Then there’s the story of two bricklayers, laying brick for a new cathedral. A kid walks by and asks each one of them, “What are you doing?”

The first one says, “Laying brick.”

The second one says, “I’m helping build a cathedral that’s going to transform this neighborhood and give thousands of families a sacred place to pray together each week.”

Let’s talk about some freelancing phrases that need to die...

If you think this is just a trite story, I urge you to think again. Which of those two people do you think is happier at the end of the day? Which is more likely to own their own construction company 2 years later?

No question, the words we use can deeply affect our thoughts, which in turn affect our behavior, which ultimately determines the kind of results we get in life.

Let’s talk about some freelancing phrases that need to go the way of the dog cage…

#1: “Gig”

Time to differentiate ourselves from a one person band playing little Davey’s bar mitzvah this Saturday night. The word gig implies insecurity and/or uncertainty.

Well, I’m a freelancer and I’ve never been uncertain about where to find my next client (they’re everywhere, all around you, all the time — almost as easy to access as running water). And my repeat client base makes freelancing more secure than a traditional job, not less (if you have 10 clients and lose one, you still have 90% of your income intact).

The word gig doesn’t accurately describe what we do. Worse, it can make you feel insecure, which leads to selfish and defensive behaviors that make you repellant to the exact clients you want to attract. Out with this stupid word already.

#2: “Bid”

Are you a construction company trying to snag a deal to build a patch of road for your local county? If not, then chances are you don’t need to reduce your price to a “bid.”

The word bid implies that clients chose to hire you based on your price, and that the less you charge the happier the client is with your price.

The trouble is that everywhere I look I see this theory disproved over and over again.

For example, one of my students recently told me about a client who only wanted freelancers charging $100/hr and up (yes this is a real thing, and far more common than you think).

I’ve also seen many freelancers get unexpected cash bonuses from clients (again, more common than you think).

I’ve even seen clients give spontaneous raises to loyal freelancers.

So I don’t believe freelancing is a “race to the bottom” on price. Maybe a better way to say it is that the “race to the bottom” is yet another self-fulfilling prophecy that is only real if you decide it is.

#3: “Lowballer” (aka “lowballer clients,” “cheapskates,” etc)

This one is a little touchy. I’m not saying cheap, petty, and even exploitative clients don’t exist. Of course they do.

What I am suggesting is that by focusing on them — or, worse, blaming them for your challenges — has the opposite of the desired effect. You’re taking your own innate power to control your own destiny and giving it to them.

If you like them enough to give them such an amazing gift for free, don’t insult them by calling them names like “lowballer.” And if you hate them, why be so generous as to give them your power?

Remember, words influence your thoughts which influence your actions which lead to your results. When I hear a freelancer complaining about “low-ball clients”, I know their chances of winning are slim.

#4: “Order” (as in, “Danny, I’ve been freelancing for a month but haven’t gotten any orders yet”)

I spent years working as a waiter. I took a lot of orders.

Nothing wrong with that. If you want to take orders you can become a waiter too.

But if you want to be a successful freelancer that’s a different thing. You need to get this order taking mentality out of your head.

The problem is anyone can take orders. Taking orders is the bottom of the freelancing pyramid — you have the most competition there, because taking orders is relatively easy — and it pays the least. You want to race to the bottom? Thinking of yourself as someone who takes orders is a fast way to get there.

#5: “Creative”

Marketing companies use this word a lot — you’re not Jordan or Sam, or even a writer or designer — you’re a “creative”.

It may not be malicious — maybe it’s just a convenient way to refer to members of a company’s creative team (as opposed to its sales force or other departments) — but that doesn’t make it any less insidious.

The problem: it reduces your value by turning you into a commodity; an interchangeable part on an assembly line of other “creatives.”

The clients I’ve known who refer to their writers and designers as creatives seem to value us less as individuals. Coincidence? As a copywriter trained in the art and science of verbal persuasion, I highly doubt it.

#6: “Pitch”

I don’t envy someone making a sales pitch.

That person is asking for something and hoping someone else will say yes. All of the power is in the hands of the person being pitched to.

What if there was a way to flip this power balance around so that you had your fair share of it?

There is. As you may have guessed by now it starts by rejecting the word “pitch.”

Pitch implies your hand is out, empty, waiting for someone else to put something (work, money, a contract, a project) into it.

But what if you extended a full hand instead? A hand that contained a bunch of ideas to help the client improve or grow their business?

Now you have all the power, because you haven’t come empty handed — you’ve come bearing gifts. And the gift giver always has power because people want gifts.

Don’t pitch. Gift. And win.

#7: “Freelancer”…?

Unlike the other words I’ve listed, I’m not sure about this one. I’ve gone back and forth on it over the years.

On the one hand, freelancing is cool, fun, and trendy. The days of “freelancer” being synonymous with “unemployed” seem to be over (if they ever really existed in the first place).

On the other hand, freelancer might be another reductionist term that makes you sound more like a commodity than the unique, talented, caring individual you are.

Yet it’s also a useful word to signal to people that they can harness our talents by hiring us to do some work for them.

And yet, when was the last time you saw the word “freelancer” next to someone’s name and got really excited?

(Can you tell I’m a copywriter — I think it was Joe Polish who said a copywriter is someone who can argue any point in both directions.)

The reason I’ve included it here is because I want to see what you think. Yay or nay? Voice your opinion in the comments below.

Creative Commons Image via Nick Boren

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