The Difference Between Freelance And Unemployed

freelance professionalism

In almost any comment section of an article about freelancing – and especially any article that has the audacity to suggest that freelancing may be a viable way to make a living – some person who thinks they are very clever will make a remark about how freelance is just a kinder way to call oneself unemployed. That person is almost always incorrect; freelancing is, by a great many measurements, a major economic driver.

That said, there are some individuals who could use a refresher (or maybe a first-time lesson) on the real difference between being underemployed and being a freelancer.

The difference, of course, is professionalism.


Professionalism for freelancers can feel sort of nebulous; after all, when you work from home (or a coworking space, or a coffee shop), professionalism looks a lot different than in a traditional office environment. This is especially true if your freelance medium is a creative one, where a suit and tie or pantsuit might look out of place, and where you might not be used to all of the facets that come with essentially owning and operating your own business.

So what does professionalism look like when you work for yourself? Mostly, it looks like attention to detail and a lot of planning and paperwork.

Own Your Web Presence.

Potential clients are going to Google you – and you need to be ready when they do. Regardless of what kinds of freelance work you do, you need to own your domain (, ideally), your Twitter handle, your Facebook account, your LinkedIn, and anything else that might be relevant. Have a professional email address – either Gmail or at your own domain – for your freelancing business. If you like, you can have personal social media accounts as well, or you can have just one to do all of your social media marketing, but know that prospective clients will judge whatever they can find online.

Treat it Like a Business.

Remember that your creative pursuit is just a part of running an overall freelance business, which means you need to make sure the business side of things, like paperwork and billing, are down pat. Writing for Crunch, Jon Norris gives this excellent advice: “Make sure all the basics are in place (freelance contracts, invoices, etc.).”

“This way,” Jon explains, “you can worry less about the paperwork and more about the actual job. Remember to invoice promptly – nobody wants to get a bill they’ve forgotten about a month down the line.”

Get yourself some billing, tax, and time-tracking apps to make sure the financial part of your freelance business is above-board. This will not only make tax season less terrible, but also ensure that your clients know that you’re serious.

The Difference Between Freelance and Unemployed

Keep a Calendar.

The least professional thing you can do as a freelancer is be disorganized with your time. Time is money, after all, and no one wants their time or money wasted.

Figure out ways to maximize your time, and make sure that you write down every appointment, due date, deadline, and any other relevant date. If you’re always walking into client meetings calm, cool, collected, and early, you’re going to appear like the reliable, punctual person you are.

Look the Part.

Both online and off, you need to look like a professional. This includes having clear branding, an attractive logo, and a decent-looking wardrobe – none of which need to be especially expensive. To support fellow freelancers, it’s nice to drop a little coin on your branding (find a designer you like and pay them a reasonable rate), but as far as your personal attire goes, second-hand jackets and slacks can go a long way. Just because the freelance wardrobe at home is stretch pants doesn’t mean you want to show up at meetings in your pajamas.

If you’re starting a freelance career, or looking to grow your existing business, download our free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap.


Hanna Brooks Olsen FOLLOW >

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.