Saturday, November 04, 2006


Interesting where the word freelancer came from. In medieval times, an independent knight that didn’t serve the king offered his services for hire. The term was first coined by Sir Walter Scott in his well-known historical romance Ivanhoe to describe a "medieval mercenary warrior." (Another good illustration of how it worked in medieval times is in the Arthur Conan Doyle book, “The White Company”). You could hire his lance, thus he was a freelancer (or a Ronin in Japan). A freelancer is a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer. When the job, project, assignment is over, the freelancer is free again.

However, this suggest that freelancers are only in it for the money … that they’re just mercenaries … guns for hire.

But, more positively, it also means that they can work for causes, projects, people they believe in … that they want to support … and want to help to be successful. It means doing work that matters … that makes a difference.

Freelancers want the relative freedom and control of managing their own work and business, and the opportunity to do work they love and believe in … and getting paid for it! It also means freedom in how they structure and use their time and space. Without having to keep regular contracted hours, a freelancer can start their day at 2.00pm and work late into the night. Or they may work intensively on a project for 6 months and take 6 months off.

But there are particular skills and characteristics that are required. Some keys ones seem to include (with thanks to Tom Peters and many others for some of these ideas):

Do work that matters
Look for and accept particular assignments (that you believe in and really want to help with). Would you do the work for nothing if you had to, just because it gets your juices flowing? There's nothing wrong with doing any work you can get as long as it pays the bills, but it would be a shame if that's all it ever was.

Be committed to your craft
Continually look for ways to learn and develop. If someone calls in a ‘contractor’ they expect an expert (whether its an electrician, a cabinet maker or a film producer). The ‘lance’ you bring to a cause has to be worth something. Be prepared to do low-paid or voluntary projects to develop your skills, experience and portfolio … and because lots of them are simply worth it.

Get out there
Roam the countryside on your trusty steed! Meet people, go to events, go to the library, have coffee, lunch … whatever … with others. Make connections and have conversations. Write to people telling them what you do and how much you’d love to help them. And so on, (this is a whole topic in itself – maybe we’ll come back to it).

Finally … (and irrelevantly)

Why do adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up? They’re looking for ideas.

Some references I find helpful and inspiring:

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