3 Types of freelancers: which one are you?

Whenever a designer asks me if they should quit their job and go the freelance route, I always answer with two questions.

First, I ask, “What are your goals”?

And second, I ask, “Will what you’re doing now help you get there”?

If you don’t know how to answer those two questions, then it’s not time to go off on your own yet. You’d stress yourself out. You’d feel discouraged, lost, and altogether defeated. I know this because I’ve made this mistake. I quit my first full -time agency position to run away from a job instead of run towards a goal, and it took months to find my feet again.

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Without goals, you’ll have no tools to measure your own accountability. You’ll be tempted to take any opportunity that lands in your inbox. This is a transient lifestyle that fills your pockets but not your dreams, and you should avoid it at all costs because it is utterly exhausting.

But the good news is that freelancing isn’t black and white.

You’re not forced to make a decision between “fulltime” and “freelance”. I know an increasing number of people who successfully do both. I’ve come to realize that there were several different types of freelancer. The trick to freelance success is in redefining what freelancing means to you.

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To find out which type of freelancer you are, you should do this exercise:

Sit down and write down your ideal workday. What does it consist of? Where do you go? What do you accomplish? How many hours do you work? What type of house do you go home to?

I think you’ll find that the lifestyle you describe will fit into one of these three categories:

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The supplemental freelancer

You don’t have to quit everything to try something new. Almost everyone I’ve ever come across in my professional career has had a side hustle.

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I’ve known an HR manager who ran a cupcake business.

I have a creative director who makes and sells leather goods.

Another former Creative Director designs footwear.

Another, bath soaps.

Supplemental freelancers do these things outside of their day-to-day jobs because they truly enjoy them, and they provide a means to earn additional income.

The supplemental freelancer craves additional creative stimulation or simply does it for financial purposes, but the point is that if they’re successful enough, they may even grow to the point where they can replace a salaried job.

Supplemental freelancers are able to rely on the consistency of a full time job while experimenting with passion projects outside of the office, until a new and lucrative path becomes clear.

The small business owner/hustler:

Individuals who have found momentum in a specific niche start to straddle the boundary between “freelancer” and “small business owner”.

These are the people who have tested their skills in a freelance marketplace and have decided to go all in.

They work long hours, whether it’s doing paying work, networking, or making sales pitches.

They chase their goals tirelessly day in and day out. They have a clear vision, and refuse to do anything else but the things that they love.

The experiential freelancer:

In my opinion, probably the most trying type of freelancer you could be. An experiential freelancer is tirelessly curious and always trying new things.

Their main objective is to creative the freedom to explore, roam, and push their boundaries.

They value new experiences more than anything else. Perhaps they haven’t figured out a clear path, but they’re enjoying the process of figuring it out and value the learning experiences it provides.

Which kind of freelancer are you?

So, before you drop everything to take up freelancing (or decide to avoid it), know that there are many more layers to it.

When it comes to the decision between full time or freelance, know that you can have both… if you want. Freelancing is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

You just have to know exactly what you want so that you can be prepared for the lifestyle that comes with it.

Did we leave anything out? Have something to add? Leave a comment, tell us what kind of freelancer you are, and let’s talk!

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Millo Articles by Drew Palmer

Drew is a multi-faceted designer based out of Philadelphia. He has been working most recently as an interactive designer for various global software development companies. He is also the founder of 5-star freelancers, a platform dedicated to empowering creative freelancers around the world.
Read more from Drew.

  1. Before opting freelancing for full time I worked with few companies as a graphics designer but never felt a sense of freedom and creativity.
    Though freelancing has ups and downs like any other businesses but I am really loving it. I have time for my family, friends and the others things I love to do. in short i’ts more of fun now not a job.

  2. Terry Griffin says:

    I haven’t freelanced full-time for two years, but back then I was likely more an “experiential freelancer” than a “business owner.” I did try, for several years, to make it work as a business, but I ultimately burned out. Why? Well, while I enjoyed the ride—the freedom, the challenge, the “new and different”—I was basically just running away from corporate life. In the meantime, I never developed a real passion for freelancing, and that led to my downfall. Nowadays, I’m back in the corporate life, and happy as a clam to have a j.o.b.! But I did enjoy the break. 🙂

    1. Terry – I was guilty of the same thing when I started out. When I left my agency job it wasn’t to go towards something, it was to get away from the stale environment I was in… and it was very, very hard to build a business for myself when I didn’t really know what I wanted. Fantastic that you’re happy at a job again! But, don’t be afraid to flex those creative muscles on the side 😉 you never know what will come of it.

  3. David Perry says:

    Well then, I’d fall in the owner/hustler category! Fun read Drew – Thanks!

  4. Ivan Andelovic says:

    Good article Drew!

    I would definitely say that I’m a 2nd type freelancer, a.k.a. hustler because this is me in two sentences:

    “They chase their goals tirelessly day in and day out. They have a clear vision, and refuse to do anything else but the things that they love.”

    1. Awesome, Ivan! If you’ve got the drive and the energy, don’t suppress it!

  5. Been working in an agency for a while now, before that freelanced in college.

    Now ive come to the point where i want to freelance full time.

    1. Do you want to be a full time freelancer because of the lifestyle it provides? Or because the work is more interesting?

  6. As someone who straddles the line between freelance work and an office job, this article was very informative. When a new or experienced freelancer straddles two jobs, it’s not easy. Thank you for such an informative article.

    1. Thanks for the response, Robert. It’s definitely not easy! I’m a straddler, too. I work a steady 3 and sometimes even 4 jobs at a time and as hard as it is at first, it becomes easier to manage if you have a constant goal in mind. Keep it up!

  7. wanje luckie says:

    greetings,

    i must say this is well explained, i am small business owner / hustler. i create design work through out the night / morning, as a new day commences with darkness 00:00 am. at this time it’s quiet and peacefull. by day i chase all i leads, every last tueday of each month it’s networking i.e. a meet up group with enough creatives from different industries.

    wednesday’s and friday’s is munch days. i enjoyed and love to cook. i cook some elbow licking munch for hungry people who can no make time to make their own and drop ’em to the respected offices and places of work.


    ‘each one teach one & reach’

    one love,

    wanje luckie.

  8. Very interesting. Excellent food for thoughts.

    Thanks!

  9. Karen Shea says:

    Before being a graphic designer I owned a restaurant started from the ground up. When I began my new career with a new BFA in hand, I applied for jobs and when I was offered two very interesting positions I realized I could not work for someone else having been an entrepreneur. So freelancer. And I never looked back. Some of us just have it in our blood.

    1. Nice work, Karen! A lot of us know straight away exactly where our hearts are and where we want to go with our talents. For others it takes a bit more experimentation through trial and error. There’s no shame in either route, as long as it gets you where you want to go!

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