what's the difference between freelance, contract, and employee?

What Is A Freelance Writer? (Freelancer Terminology)

What IS a freelance writer? Are you confused by freelancer terminology like contractor vs employee and clients vs customers?

There’s a lack of clarity about our roles and what we call ourselves. For example:

  • Who’s the client?
  • Do we call them clients?
  • Are they customers?
  • Whatever we call them, are they the boss?
  • Are you the boss?

In this post, I’m clarifying some of the most frequently used and commonly misunderstood terms that refer to our roles.

Freelancer vs contractor vs employee

First, let’s define the differences between an employee and a contractor. You can only be one or the other.

A contractor is someone who is not an employee, but is working for a company or person. You do work for the company/person on a contract basis.

When someone hires you as a full-time employee, unless you’re specified as a temp worker, you’ll basically be employed there until someone says “You’re fired!” or something less dramatic.

A contractor usually has a specific project, with a defined scope. You can still seem like an employee, in the sense that you might go to an office, do your work at a desk, and have a set schedule. But you’re only there until that project is done, and then YOU are done.

Who’s the boss?

Angela or Tony? Kidding. And if you don’t get that reference, well… you’re a freelance writer and know how to use Google.

An employee has a boss. A contractor reports to a supervisor or project manager, but only about the project itself. To avoid confusion, a contractor may refer to that person as a boss, but that’s in name only.

A freelancer is their own boss.

You are in charge of when, how, and where you do your work. As long as you hit the milestones and hand in the deliverables that were agreed upon with your client, you have a lot of autonomy. And your freelance clients shouldn’t feel like your boss. If they do, you need to reexamine the relationship.

When you’re a freelancer, you may have a similar ongoing relationship to an organization or person that you’re working with, but you shouldn’t be treated exactly like an employee. You should not have to show up each day at a specific time and place and have specific availability, and have that person or organization directing you from day to day. That’s employee territory.

For even more details on being an employee vs a freelancer, read my post “Freelance Mindset vs Employee Mindset.”

Customers vs clients

Now, we’re going to define the people who pay us. What do we call them?

People who buy your products off of a shelf (even a virtual shelf) are customers. People who buy your services are clients. Simple.

Before someone becomes your client, there are two different terms to use: leads and prospects. Both leads and prospects are “pre-clients.”

A lead is someone who has shown any kind of interest in your services. A prospect is someone who has entered the conversation with you. For example, a prospect could be someone who has responded to a cold email that you sent them.

I’m throwing in a bonus term for you – sales conversation. Don’t freak out, please. A sales conversation is just you having a conversation (vocal or written) about selling/buying your services. You may or may not end up working with the person, but you’ve had that conversation.

Clips Camp

If you need help getting great writing samples for your portfolio, I have a course called Clips Camp.

It’s a three-week course for new and advanced-new freelance writers who want to get started with high-paying client work. If you’re on Upwork or Fiverr and miserable, if you haven’t even done anything to get started and you don’t know what the first step is, then Clips Camp is for you.

I teach you how to put together a solid portfolio of writing samples that position you as the kind of awesome writer that awesome clients want to hire. If you want in on that, or just want more information, go to clipscamp.com.

what's the difference between freelance, contract, and employee?

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Ashley (24) (1)

After working with dozens of brilliant, hard-working entrepreneurs as a freelance writer, I learned a thing or two about great content. Now I bring my years of experience, practice, and self-study to bloggers and businesses that want to nail it in the content game.


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