“What Is Freelancing, Exactly?” Explaining Your Solo Business to Everyone Else

Written by Bethany Johnson on January 9, 2018

I’m a data analyst. Explaining this to friends and family isn’t too hard; I pull trends and stories out of huge data sets and present them visually to achieve different business goals. Usually, when I describe what I do, I’m met with nods of understanding.

Until I mention clients.

You see, data analysis isn’t too hard to comprehend, but when a relative starts probing further (“Oh, yeah? Where do you work?”), I hesitate. Does this person know anything about how a solo business works?

What about you? What is freelancing to you? Learning to explain what you do isn’t just for the sake of having an elevator pitch. Describing the freelance business model is a great way to inspire others to follow your story, support you and perhaps launch a freelance business of their own someday.

Compare Side by Side

A quick list of differences is a great way to explain what you do. “I’m a graphic designer” doesn’t exactly detail how your life is different from a W-2 employee. Instead, mention a few ways your days are unique from a traditional job. These ideas can get you started:

  • I develop myself professionally instead of relying on performance reviews and corporate training.
  • I don’t have a boss. Instead, I choose my clients.
  • I’m not leashed to a cubicle or a time clock. I can even work poolside whenever I please.
  • Instead of receiving a paycheck, I negotiate my rates and invoice clients to collect.
  • I pay my taxes and insurance on my own — an employer doesn’t do it for me.
  • I choose and buy my benefits based on what I prefer — not what a company decides.

List a couple biggies like these, and your friends and family will get the idea.

Listen to Other Orators

If comparing and contrasting doesn’t work, simplify the explanation by taking a page from people who have famously done it. Recently, Bill Gates made headlines by releasing a swarm of mosquitoes on stage at a presentation. Not long after, it was fireflies. His dramatic presentation skills have impressed speakers everywhere, but, according to Forbes, it’s his mastery of the most common, basic words that hits hardest. In two minutes, the man explains the science of climate change and his new initiative to tackle clean energy in language that a ninth grader can understand (minus the word “hydrocarbon,” that is).

To achieve such simplicity, write down three points that make your freelancing unique from conventional employment. Then, run your explanation through an online tool that measures the readability level your explanation. Not only will your friends “get it,” but you’ll also enjoy the confidence of being able to raise the subject in any other setting.

Tell Your Story, Not Your Business Model

Last year, my breakout story was published. It explained how, in my cube job as a data analyst, my best work seemed to fall flat. One day, I realized my analytic mind kept spotting and extracting stories, not just numbers. It dawned on me that I may be better suited to writing brand stories based on data. So, like a freelance reporter (something everyone understands), I took a few side gigs and nailed the assignments. After the expected learning curve, I realized I could replace or exceed my salary as my own business-of-one. So I took the leap, quit my old job and quickly filled my client roster to do just that. Usually, people at my family reunions are more interested in me than my little shop’s legal structure, so I’ve perfected the relevant parts of my story to get them up to speed.

In short, a true story always answers the question, “What is freelancing?”

While many aspects of your life may be suddenly easier when you go independent, the lifestyle is still unconventional to some people. Explaining it to kids, relatives and strangers is, believe it or not, a skill. With a minute or two of focused deliberation, you can master the skill just like you’ve mastered every other facet of running your business.

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