How to Earn Professional Respect as a Freelancer

Written by Erin Ollila on December 7, 2016

I still remember the first time I realized someone close to me didn’t take my business seriously. We were making plans, and she made air quotes as she referenced me “working” from home. I immediately felt the sting of her implication, but it was early in my freelance career, and I wasn’t quite sure how to reply, so I let it go. You know how hard you’re working, I thought to myself. Don’t worry about what other people think.

While that might be true, it’s important the people in your personal life give you the professional respect you deserve. Self-employed individuals often work long hours and face more responsibility than those traditionally employed. While an IT specialist may be responsible for the entire organization’s hardware, software and network problems, you’re accountable for that, too, in addition to marketing and sales, design, customer service, maintenance, scheduling, production and more.

Present Yourself How You Want to Be Seen

People are comfortable with fixed routines, such as a nine-to-five job or an annual salary. It’s square. It’s familiar. It isn’t that they don’t want to give you professional respect; it’s that the life you’re living isn’t what they’re accustomed to. Your friends and family want what’s best for you, so they need your help to see your business as a reliable profession, rather than a hobby.

Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally for many people, and it’s easier to be humble than to boast about your professional achievements. However, your words and attitude dictate how people treat you. If you run into your old boss at a restaurant and they ask how your work is treating you, don’t shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh, you know. It’s going okay.” If you always talk down to yourself, others will, too.

Instead, be confident. When a family member asks about what it’s like being self employed, tell them! Talk about how hard you work to attract new clients or the satisfied customer you broke your back to please last week. Tell them that, according to the 2016 Freelancing in America report, there are almost 55 million individuals freelancing in America. That’s 35 percent of the workforce. You’re certainly not alone.

Build an Outward Professional Brand

To gain the professional respect you deserve, let your business do the heavy lifting for you. Invest money in a website, business cards and other promotional items. Sure, in the early days of self-employment, it can feel terrifying to spend money on a business that’s not yet profitable, but the return on investment will be massive.

If your finances hold you back, use your creative skills to build your brand. A writer who needs a website, but can’t afford to hire a designer and developer, can create a professional site using Squarespace for as little as $12/month, so long as the written copy reels in the sales. A graphic designer without business cards can cut up leftover card stock and hand-sketch a business logo and contact information onto each individual card.

Once sales start coming in and you feel more financially confident, hire others to help you with marketing and branding. When people see you’ve made a financial and personal investment in your freelance business, they’ll realize your career is just as valid as theirs.

Share Your Excitement with Others

Social media is an ideal tool for gaining the professional respect of your family and friends. While they may think they understand what you do, it’s likely they actually don’t. Use your networks to set goals for yourself, meet them and then celebrate with your followers. Even better, showcase your hard work. If you’re a graphic designer, don’t hesitate to share your recent work. A landscaper, for example, can post before and after pictures of lawn treatments or manicured gardens.

If your personal and professional accounts are separate (as they should be!) make sure to share professional updates on your personal page from time to time. That isn’t to say you need to overwhelm your friends with work updates, but you should occasionally showcase both sides of your life. Don’t post pictures of afternoon trips to the zoo with your baby if you never share the times you’re up late at night filling orders while the rest of your family is fast asleep.

There will always be pullback in the beginning of your freelance career until your friends and family understand what you do. After all, it’s not their responsibility to learn how hard you’re working. It’s your job to inform people. Want respect? Demand it. You deserve it.

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