Taking the Free Out of Freelance


adjective: self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I hate the word freelance. Although the definition above fits the way I (and many of you) work, I much prefer the terms consultant, business owner, self employed, or entrepreneur to describe the manner in which I make a living.

That’s because to me, the word freelance suggests working without a plan. It suggests that I work a bit, but not a lot; that I get paid, but don’t make a steady income; or that I float and do things on a whim. For many of us, a lack of structure, reliability or intention are not characteristics we want to be associated with our work. One of the best ways to ensure that doesn’t happen is to replace the notion of “free” with thoughtfulness, strategy and focus. Even if you’re one person, working a few billable hours a week, you can still be doing so with intention. You can minimize the chance that people will perceive you’re floating along, and maximize the credibility and respect they give you instead. How? By having a business plan. Written by you, for you.

You see, if you’re consciously working toward a vision, the benefits of being self-employed increase exponentially. The passion, creativity, authenticity, and flexibility it brings you is harnessed in a meaningful way. Even if your consulting business is comprised of a small team, the same principle still applies. Instead of being a collective group of freelancers, you can be a cohesive group on a mission!

Here are some tips to help get you started on planning your way from a freelancer to mindful consultant:

  • Identify your values

    List the qualities you appreciate in others, the distinct things about you that you wish everyone would appreciate, and the beliefs that guide the way you approach your work. For example, the importance of a positive attitude, an open mind, respect for others, and asking questions all have a place in my business plan. They are the constants I want to experience in the workplace I’ve created.

  • Embrace your dos and don’ts

    Think about what leads you to your happy place. What conditions have to be there for you to work at your best – whether that means being innovative, efficient, funny, or strategic? In my business plan, I have two-page chart, with dos in one column and don’ts in another. My most natural way of working is described in detail here, and it serves as a great tool for assessing whether opportunities are a good fit for me.

  • Create a client wish list

    If there are organizations or people you admire and would love to serve, write them down! It’s that simple. A wish list can provide inspiration on days you’re feeling lost and help focus your business development and marketing efforts. Plus, it’s a great conversation starter. By discussing your wish list, you’ll be showing to others and yourself that you’re working with intention. It will help you build confidence and will increase the chances that you’ll come across an “in” to one of your dream clients!

  • Set targets

    Even if they become irrelevant before they’re achieved, having a few targets in mind will help you fix your gaze on future possibilities. For example, when I first launched my business, I set the goal of working with two clients from my wish list within the first year. By acknowledging that’s what success looked like, I was able to go after it with gusto (and, celebrate when I got there!). I’d suggest referring to your targets often to re-evaluate if they’re still meaningful to you and figure out what else you could be doing to get closer to them.

  • Keep an eye on the present

    The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you can constantly grow and evolve. I’m not suggesting that you create a plan for being stuck. If you need to make a change to continue to feel alive, successful or authentic, do it! You can revisit your plan as often as you need to. Updating your plan should become part of the process every time you move toward a noteworthy change. Right now, my plan represents my long-term vision, and grouping my steps forward into three-month chunks is working for me. The key is to find a balance between the future and the present that works for you.

  • Write it down

    Whatever you do, be sure to write your plan down rather than keep it all in your head. You’re bound to lose site of your vision when you’re discouraged, tired, overworked, or worried. Since these are the times when you need vision the most, you need to be able to refer to it easily and completely. Verbalizing your plans and keeping them in one place creates a whole new level of accountability and inspiration.

If the idea of creating guidelines for yourself makes your skin crawl, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you become rigid. Oh no; I’m all for the pursuit of freedom and flexibility! I’m simply saying that whatever your ultimate goal, you can create a plan for achieving it. Now matter how big or small your ambitions, you can achieve them sooner if you consciously work toward a specific, well-documented vision. Even if the words are never read by anyone other than yourself!


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Laura Melanson is the strategist and storyteller behind Red Balloon Relations, an ideation and creative writing boutique that combines emotion and strategy to help people challenge their status quo.


  1. Great tips Laura! The new one for me is the client wish list- I’m going to create one for clients and one for partnerships. Thank you for sharing your brilliance girl!

  2. Very nice — punchy, pointed, poetic, and powerful.

    > if you’re consciously working toward a vision, the benefits of being self-employed increase exponentially.
    Beautiful point!

    I especially like your points on staying mindful and deliberate and using plans and writing as a way to enhance your flexibility and freedom, not constrain it.

    There might be another reason why you don’t like the term freelancer — it doesn’t match your mindset. Seth Godin says it’s important to figure out whether you want to be a freelancer or Entrepreneur and he distinguishes them this way, in his Bootstrapper’s Bible …

    Know whether you are an Entrepreneur or a freelancer. The mindsets are different. An freelancer will happily work away at their craft, while an entrepreneur is about being a part of something bigger than themselves, and changing the game. Risk is a key part of the entrepreneur’s lifestyle. It’s more of a roller-coaster ride. A freelancer on the other hand, prefers routine and perfecting their skills.

    • Hi J.D.,

      Sorry I didn’t see comment this until now! Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it. I love Seth Godin and you’re right, that distinction is *exactly* why being a freelancer doesn’t work for me! Thanks for sharing it, that just made my morning :)