Why solo PR pros despise being called ‘freelancers’

Not every independent industry veteran shares the feeling, but more than enough eschew the title to give you pause before mistakenly offering an insult to a colleague.

Don’t call a solo PR pro a freelancer.

Not all solo public relations professionals may feel this way about the word, but more than a few do.

Call them solos, independents, business owners or even consultants, but unless you want to get their blood pressure up, don’t call them freelancers.

When some PR pros hear the word “freelancer,” they often think (fair or not) of an individual known for being good at one thing and only doing that one thing, either part-time or full-time, and often in between full-time jobs. On the cost side, they are perceived (again fair or not) of being the “cheap” option.

I recently had a conversation with someone who sees herself only as a freelancer. She charges very little for her time and complains quite a bit about the types of assignments she gets, the little amount of money she makes and the nature of the work. She sees herself as a contract employee and not an independent business owner.

This is all about mindset.

How to position your value

Generally speaking, freelancers may see their role as selling a service for time spent and producing a deliverable, such as an article, a news placement or a series of social media posts.

“Independents” see themselves as selling value, which is more than just time spent writing, editing and proofing or pitching. Independent practitioners seek to add value by factoring in strategic counsel and advice, planning and other value-added services.

Now, there may be some who consider themselves PR freelancers who may read this and say, “I do that!” If you do, maybe it’s time to rethink your positioning.

Solo PR pros often don’t work alone, and they often do a broad range of things for clients. Just as often, they are likely to subcontract services as appropriate, just as any agency would. In short, a solo PR pro is a micro-agency whose business model is built to give clients a range of services that may often require more than one person to do. Most work full time and they do not see themselves as between jobs.

Many solo pros scale to client need, and as that need subsides, they scale down. This makes hiring a solo pro a very easy and affordable option, but not always the least expensive one if that’s what you’re after.

As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Common assumptions about freelancing

In the years since I’ve been an independent practitioner, I’ve run into the inherent bias among some clients that comes with the use of the term “freelancer.” Based on my experience, and many stories I’ve heard from other independent PR pros, there are some common assumptions that come with the freelancer label.

Clients tend to think you do can only do one thing, you work alone and are not scalable. They assume you don’t have a team or access to one. Tied to this, they may assume your rates are significantly lower despite your decades of experience, and you may even be hungry enough for work to cut your already low rates.

While there are no shortages of people looking for work and who are willing to lower their rates, it is important to know there is a large segment of self-employed communications pros who see it differently.

What good solo pros provide

A worthy solo PR professional likely has years of experience in a given specialty or two. Many have big agency backgrounds or other pedigrees that are as much a part of what they bring to the table as their skills themselves. When you work with a serious independent practitioner, he or she knows what you’re up against because they’ve been there.

They usually have access to resources that are comparable to what any agency would, and an ability to scale a team and the necessary resources to meet a client’s needs. If the assignment is too large, there is also a chance they have a relationship with the right organization who can deliver at that level.

You may be surprised at just how “big” a solo PR pro can be in terms of effectiveness.

In communications, we often rediscover the need to change words to alter entrenched mindsets, and the distinctions are not always trivial. This is one of them. If you have been calling yourself a freelancer and want to take your game to the next level, perhaps a good starting point is to move away from the more constrictive label.

Or, if you are on the hiring side and are considering extending the power of your team at multiple levels, you may want to hire someone who thinks more broadly.

Ultimately, this may mean dropping the “F” word from your vocabulary.

Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy, and he is producer/host of the ShapingOpinion podcast. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data

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