Out LoudToday I am writing about the importance of names, labels and their meanings, and the impact they can have on success.
A few years ago, when I was in Australia dreaming of starting up on my own, I was desperate to be a ‘freelancer’.
Even before Instagram and its unbalanced coveting of the non- 9-5, I longed to set my own hours and to waft about in overpriced boho gear from General Pants Company.*
The freelance life was all I wanted.
I had a highly ridiculous romantic vision of building a hybrid empire, where I would sit at my laptop working on Very Fulfilling Projects every morning, before wafting down to the post office in the afternoons to mail out beautifully crafted parcels to my loyal customers.
(I once read a ‘day in the life of’ article about a glamorous lady who ran a vintage clothes business in Ibiza and who was enviably proficient in wafting down to the post office – and I wanted to be just like her.
I didn’t get as far as thinking about what I might actually make/sell/post to my loyal customers in my beautifully crafted parcels; that was beside the point.)
Anyway, when I returned to the UK and took the leap to set up on my own and actually became a freelancer, it was GREAT.
I had my own clients and set my own hours. I was the living.the.dream – minus the wafting to the post office part, alas.
Somehow though, I found that the role I’d coveted for so long didn’t seem that prestigious.
But was it the role, or was it the term ‘freelancer’?
‘Freelancer’, outside of the Instagram bubble of coffee and nice stationery and all of the other cliches, can have negative connotations.
In my experience, the term freelancer can mean various things to various people, including: casual; a bit-part member of a team; not as committed as a full-time member of staff; someone who is carrying out a role ‘on the side’ of something else.
Not all of these interpretations are negative, but they have the potential to be perceived as such.
And – especially when we’re starting out – the way we present ourselves and how we are perceived can mean the difference between winning business and not, which can then be the difference between carrying on or throwing in the towel at the first hurdle and going back to a safer option of full-time employment.
My advice? Embrace the term ‘business owner’ over other labels like ‘self-employed’ or ‘freelance’. Once I ditched the term freelancer and started thinking of myself as a business owner instead, I felt more confident and more capable, which reflected in the success of my business.
But it took a while. Because saying ‘I run my own business’ felt ODD.
It felt like I was blowing my own trumpet and getting ideas above my station, all of that bulls*t stuff that was a long-held belief – that I had to quash and I still work at quashing.
Of course, ‘freelance’ isn’t a relevant label for all businesses anyway. I am coming from the perspective of being a ‘freelance’ copywriter/PR consultant.
In other industries or even in other countries, there might be a different response to the term freelancer. Yet I would still recommend shouting about your status as a BUSINESS OWNER above anything else.
Because that’s what you are when you, er, run your own business.
For example, when comparing “I’m a self-employed florist” to “I run my own floristry business”, the latter to me sounds so much more authoritative than the first, and is likely to make the person saying it feel far more #BADASS and all of those other cliched #BOSS hashtags.
Do you agree?
Let me know your experience of the label ‘freelance’ and whether you’ve used it over ‘business owner’ and what that has meant for your business.
p.s. As an aside, while thinking about how certain labels might mean different things in different countries, I recalled how, when I first started job-hunting in Australia, I referred to myself as a ‘PR consultant’ on my CV because I thought it sounded suitably authoritative.
It was only when I’d sent my CV out to a few places did I realise that, in Australia, ‘PR consultant’ is a junior title and I’d accidentally done myself out of 7/8 years’ experience. Sigh. Taxi for O’Donnell.
Bonus pro tip: always do your research in the market you’re pitching in!
*And yes, there is a shop in Australia called GENERAL PANTS COMPANY, which I guess doesn’t really translate that well over here in the UK…