Let’s not call moonlighters freelancers

A few days ago, I read two blog posts on the same day about how “freelancing” can help you overcome your temporary money problems.

It seems many people are confusing freelancing with moonlighting.

If you work extra beside your regular job, that’s moonlighting. You’re trying to earn something in addition to your usual income.

If you’re freelancing, on the other hand, you’re an entrepreneur—a solo professional—selling your services on a commercial basis to clients. Believe me, it’s a totally different story from doing the occasional job on the side. You’re trying to put food on your and your family’s table.

A freelancer is a one-person company. Responsible for everything a “real” company is (yeah, the one that pays your salary). Marketing, sales, operations, payroll, taxes, strategy, forward planning, you name it. That’s a big load to carry for one individual. Freelancers live or die by the income they are able to generate through their own work input.

So let’s not hear anyone talk about freelancing any more when they just mean “a little on the side”.

Posted via email from Unorganized thoughts around marketing



  1. Tom Ellett - 2012-12-03 @ 07:26

    Unfortunately ATIO, the provincial translators’ association here in Ontario, Canada, perpetuates this misuse of the term “freelancer.” Full-time solo professionals are called “independent translators” in ATIO-speak, while in-house (e.g. Canadian federal government) translators who accept other work on the side are called “freelancers.” Aargh!

    • Kimmo Linkama - 2012-12-03 @ 10:39

      Thanks, Tom, for your comment!

      I’m surprised that many people and indeed, organizations, are mistreating the word ‘freelancer’ (or ‘freelance’, as it is sometimes used). This despite the definition of the word by authoritative sources, such as Wikipedia, the Cambridge Business English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster.

      Perhaps we should go back to the roots of the word ‘freelancer’ to understand what it means. The Wikipedia article tells us:

      The term was first used by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in Ivanhoe (1820) to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” or “free-lance” (indicating that the lance is not sworn to any lord’s services, not that the lance is available free of charge).

      I don’t understand the degradation of the term. You don’t need an artificially beautified “officialese” term when a perfectly acceptable colloquial one already exists. If, in contrast to being a solo professional, we want to talk about work on the side, ‘moonlighting’ is defined as to work at an extra job, especially without telling your main employer (Cambridge) and to hold a second job in addition to a regular one (Merriam-Webster).

      I don’t know about other professionals, but I’m almost proud to be able to call myself a freelancer. A mercenary warrior who is available for anyone and who can freely choose whom to work with.

  2. Chuck Kent - 2013-02-14 @ 17:16

    Good points, thank you. When I launched my virtual agency in 1995, I quickly discovered that I could only drive the business with the highest quality independent creative talent, which meant: 1 – full-time freelance (to your point, no moonlighters, no dabblers, only people running their professional lives as an all-out solo business); 2 – only experienced freelancers; it takes a while to learn how to operate independently; 3 – only senior-level creatives. If you want to get it right the first time (or with as little wasted time and effort as possible) years of experience count.

    • Kimmo Linkama - 2013-02-15 @ 11:01

      You’re very right, Chuck. I think that the economy being what it is these days and everyone wanting to get more done with less resources, freelancers are slowly getting (back?) to being valued more. You’ve got an interesting business model – fully virtual agencies are not at all common in Europe. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Diana Trimble - 2018-03-20 @ 01:48

    Although I get your point, I do not agree with your definition of “freelance” which is a lot more fluid than what you wrote. All “freelance” means, is that you do not work for one particular company as an employee. Period. If you don’t believe me, look it up in the dictionary. It does NOT have to mean you have your own “company” or even limit the work you do to one field. Nor does it have to mean that you only do one kind of work. I know what I’m talking about, because I’m a freelancer. I’m mainly interested in writing and editing work, but I can’t always find it, so maybe I’ll pick up a few days painting houses, or gardening. According to you that’s “moonlighting” but you’re wrong. Moonlighting is when you have a regular job and then you pick up work on the side. But if you are already freelance and then you pick up some other occasional work, it is NOT correct to call it “moonlighting”, it’s just more of the same.

    • Kimmo Linkama - 2018-03-24 @ 11:18

      Hi Diana,
      You may have missed my definition of moonlighting in the first sentence of the third paragraph: “If you work extra beside your regular job, that’s moonlighting.” So actually we agree! It just annoys me when that type of work is described as freelancing, because freelancing essentially means taking total responsibility for your income alone.

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