There is a distinct divide in the professional services industry, yet one term is used to clump everyone into one category: freelancer. I hate the term, even though it may seem like splitting the hairs of intended use of English. While most use the term out of a lack of a better word at the moment, others use it in a condescending tone, much like “the nanny” or “the help.”
Freelancers are frazzled shells of their dream selves when they quit their job to work from home and live a life of freedom. They are worn down, bowing to the illogical demands of many people who want to devalue their work and wring every bit of work out of them for the least amount of coin. All you have to do is spend 10 minutes at the hilarious site Clients from Hell to see how bad things can get if you’re not respected by your clients.
In most cases, a freelancer has just left the corporate world and is just starting out under their own name or they lack the skills or confidence to give themselves a promotion.
Experts, on the other hand, are respected, in-demand, and generally laid back because they run much more of the show than a freelancer. They are able to offer more to their clients than just delivery of a project to get their money — they improve their clients’ position in the marketplace.
There are several traditional definitions of what makes an expert, but they all agree that it takes time, dedication to their trade/skill, and even some amount of luck being in the right place at the right time with the right tools and support (Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers). Even using the basic “10,000 hour rule,” I surpassed that easily quite a while back, but that’s not all it takes… because some people do jobs poorly for many years without ever expanding their skill-set or improving customer satisfaction.
Can you look at past work and shudder that you used to do that crap months and years ago? If you can’t, then what have you been doing with your time – just running the rat race?
The Difference in the End
In the end, the difference comes down to a few things, while seemingly like nerdy English class exercises, they amount to a big deal.
First, you respect yourself more knowing that you are at the top of your game. Sure, there is almost always (always unless you’re actually the world’s greatest at something) someone better than you, but if you’re an expert and know how to take care of business, you’ll know you’re not at the bottom.
Second, your clients will respect you more than if you’re some $20/hr schlub. Charging those rates doesn’t command respect, timeliness, politeness, or anything a client might be tempted to do if you’re a “dime a dozen” person. You’ll know the difference the first time a client e-mails you for your opinion on something before spending money or backs out of something just because you advised them of dangers.
Third, your peers will respect you. Some industries are cutthroat. My industry can be, but (by and large) the WordPress developer community, especially the Genesis community are cooperative. We share info, tweet for help, discuss new ways to accomplish things, and even team up to complete projects using everyones’ best skill areas. If your peers respect you, then when they’re busy, they’ll send work your way. Be sure you do the same, by the way.
So, what do you want to be? An expert or a freelancer?