Understanding the Different Types of Freelance Work


As the freelance economy has grown, so has the language to describe this workforce. True to the terminology, every freelancer is unique in their work, portfolio of clients, and lifestyle.

But with an expanding dictionary of terms and endless combinations of projects, it can be confusing to know what “being a freelancer” really means. Whether you are exploring a freelance career or hiring freelancers for your business, the best place to start is by understanding the misconceptions, styles, and opportunities of freelance work.

Debunking the Myths

A common misconception about freelance work is that freelance is always remote. While this is often the case, not all freelance work is done remotely, nor all remote work done by freelancers. Depending on the work performed, some clients will in fact prefer freelancers work on-site with their team for a project.

Another assumption is that freelancers work on several projects at once, or that they work part-time for a variety of clients. Although a common story, this is also not necessarily true across the board. Some projects require full-time freelance work over its lifecycle, while others require a long-term commitment for a fixed number of hours per week.

A final misunderstanding worth mentioning is the synonymy of the gig economy and the freelance economy. The gig economy can be defined by work on short-term projects, while the freelance economy characterizes a variety of work styles and career paths. In this sense, the freelance economy is inclusive of gigs, but not exclusively. According to the Freelancing in America: 2017 study, 49% of freelancers prefer the terminology “the freelance economy” while only 10% prefer “the gig economy.”

Defining Freelance Types

There are five commonly used freelancer categories: diversified workers, independent contractors, moonlighters, temporary workers, and business owners. By no means are they mutually exclusive, and most freelancers will straddle the line between these categories. (Note: percentages provided by the Freelancing in America: 2017 study.)

Diversified workers comprise of 35% of the total freelance workforce. As the naming suggests, diversified workers receive income from a variety of sources and employers. This variety could include being hired as a part-time employee with a company while also doing freelance projects with other clients, as an example.

The second largest portion of freelancers, at 31%, are independent contractors. Contractors work on a project-to-project basis and have a range of clients. Usually, this is the role that most people think of when they hear “freelancer.”

Moonlighters represents 23% of the group, and are close to diversified workers on the freelance spectrum. Moonlighters differ in that they have a steadier employment with a company. In other words, they side-hustle with freelance work in their spare time while working as full-time employees.

The final two categories each make up 6% of the freelance workforce: temporary workers, and business owners. Temporary workers, or temps, are employed by a company for a fixed amount of time. Business owners are those who have employees but are still self-employed and identify as freelancers.

Which path works for you?

Freelance work is constantly being redefined and reshaped as the workforce changes. Adapting to the future of work involves not only being attentive to these transformations, but also regularly revisiting how freelancing can work for you.

One of the advantages of freelance work is that whatever you want to pursue — or are looking to hire — is up to you. It will depend on the level of risk you are comfortable with, your history with freelance work, your network and financial status, the function of the role, and your time commitment and schedule. If you are currently employed or are hiring freelancers, your contractual agreement and employment policies at your company while also come into play.

There is no “one size fits all” for freelance work; you have the power to shape your own career every step of the way. With tools like Ease, you can kickstart or build momentum to your freelance career by connecting with clients whose projects match your skills and preferences. Start by making note of your own priorities — whether it’s a flexible schedule, working remotely, or saving money — and see how you can succeed in the freelance economy.