What’s the difference between freelancing and contracting? Is there one?
“Contracting” and “freelancing” are often used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences, namely in where you’re working and, sometimes, how a company classifies you.
While the information below applies to U.S. contractors and freelancers, the information may help you ask the right questions, wherever you are working from.
Similarities Between Contract and Freelance Copywriting
You are Self Employed
In both freelancing and contracting, you are not employed by the people for whom you write copy.
You’re not a member of your client’s staff and they can generally bring you on to work on projects when they need. That also means they can end your service for them at will.
You (Most Often) Invoice Your Client
Usually you will invoice the company for whom you’re writing copy, or you will invoice the recruiting agency that got you the work.
Sometimes, you will technically employed by the recruiting agency and they will take out taxes. They may refer to this as a W-2 contract. What this means in actuality is you’re a contractor in the eyes of the end client you’re working with, but an employee of the recruiting agency.
If you’re working through a recruiting agency, be sure you know how the agency is classifying you: as an employee or a contractor. This will determine whether you need to set aside money for taxes or if the company will do it for you.
Differences Between Contract and Freelance Copywriting
The differences between contract and freelance copywriting sometimes get a little grey. “Contracting” most often means that you are working in the company’s office. (“Oh, I’m contracting at Agency XYZ for April through June. They just love my work.”) As more and more companies work with remote talent, you may find that there are contract positions that are 100% remote. However, you’ll likely still be calling into meetings and closely collaborating with a team via Zoom or Google Meet.
“Freelancing” is the term copywriters use when they do most of their work from home or other remote location. (“I’m doing a freelance brochure project for Aerospace Sneakers. They’re based in Bora Bora, but I’m in Topeka.”) You’ll also have client meetings as a freelancer, but you’ll likely have fewer than if you were on a contract.
You don’t use the term “contracting” when you’re working only occasionally going into their offices or calling in for client meetings or presentations. You’d more often use the term “freelancing.”
Contracting payments generally happen at an hourly rate, but may also occur at a “day” rate, which is usually your hourly rate multiplied by eight (the number of hours companies generally consider in a work day).
For freelance projects, it’s more common to price by the project. You may find clients who want to work with you on an hourly rate, too. Beware any client that wants to pay you by the word. As copywriters, we do so much more than write, so avoid charging by the word!
Duration of Work
Often, you’ll contract for a set period of time, say three or six months, or to cover a maternity leave or other extended break for a full-time employee. If a client really likes you as a contractor, they may extend your contract or look to hire you full-time (keep reading for more on contract-to-hire roles).
You’ll also likely have a set number of hours each week as part of the contract. Many contracts are full-time, 9-to-5 roles and your employer will expect you in the office or online, available for meetings and collaboration during those hours. There are part-time contract roles, too, which acts similar to a retainer agreement in many ways. The contract will, of course, lay all of the expectations out!
You may also freelance for a set period of time, but more often than not a client may bring you on for a specific project or ongoing copywriting needs. Once clients find a great copywriter, they don’t want to do the work of finding another copywriter. So, if you do great work, you may find you can freelance with a client for years and years!
As a freelancer, if you want to keep working with a client, don’t rely on the client to hand you projects. This will likely happen if they like working with you and have ongoing copywriting project needs. But you should also act as the professional partner you are. What opportunities do you see that could benefit the business? Re-pitching existing clients is one of the best ways to maintain a consistent workload!
What is a Contract-to-Hire Copywriter Job?
A contract-to-hire job is much like how it sounds: a company works with you as a contractor for a set period of time, generally anywhere from three months to one year, and then that position has the chance to become a full-time on staff position.
This doesn’t mean you should turn these roles down if you’re not looking for a full-time job! It’s a great way for you and the employer to see if the role is a good fit. Think of it like trying on a new job for size. You need a little time to get used to the role and see if it’s a good fit. Similarly, the client is able to see if you’re a good fit both work- and culture-wise.
So, contracting and freelancing have their differences but are really similar. The key takeaway, though, is to make sure you know what the situation is going to be before you begin the work. Ask these questions to determine if it’s a freelance or contract role and whether you want to move forward:
- Do they expect you in their office every day?
- How many hours do they expect you to put in?
- Are you billing by the hour or the project?
- Are you sending your invoice to this company or, if applicable, to the recruiters that found you the gig?
- And is anyone taking out taxes, or is it up to you to save your money?
Whether you’re “freelancing” or “contracting,” be sure you know what the expectations are. You might be thinking “wearing pajamas, working from home” and they’ve got an IT guy setting up a cubicle for you. And footie pajamas are never a good look in an office.
Your turn! Have you worked as a freelancer or a contractor? Which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on August 22, 2023