You started freelancing for a number of reasons:
- You wanted to work from home.
- You loved the work.
- You craved the freedom.
Unfortunately, not all blogging clients will respect your freedom. Some still think that because you’re working for them, they can treat you like you’re an employee. It’s enough to make you want to give up your freelance practice and return to the 9-to-5.
You’re not in the corporate world, so why does it sometimes feel like it?
Well, it doesn’t have to.
Do you want to get your freedom back? Do you want to hold the title of “freelance blogger” with honor? Do you want to control your destiny?
You have the power to do all those things, if you manage your client relationships wisely.
Here’s how you should really be treated as a freelancer — and 5 warning signs that you’re still being treated as an employee instead.
Freelancer vs. employee
Let’s start by considering the difference between freelancers and employees. The term “freelance” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:
“A person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization.”
“A person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”
Essentially, freelancers are self-employed individuals who work on an independent contractor basis. They’re also business owners because they run a sole proprietorship.
Think of your relationship with your dentist, a field in which around 90 percent of professionals are self-employed. You are your dentist’s client, not his employer. You listen to his expert advice without trying to tell him how to do his job.
Blogging clients should work with you in the same way, as you’re a service provider, not an employee.
5 signs your freelance blogging client thinks you’re an employee
1: They want you to sign a non-compete agreement
A non-compete agreement, also called a non-compete clause or covenant not to compete, is a contract that says you will not engage in a similar trade that competes against the client or employer.
This type of agreement is usually used in employer-employee relationships to prevent employees from being hired by competitors immediately after their current job ends. It ensures the company’s trade secrets are kept safe.
When a freelancer’s client requests this type of contract, they are typically trying to restrict you from working with another company in their industry. This is not okay.
A non-compete clause gives the client unfair control over your business and prevents you from specializing. It’s also a huge indicator of “employee” status, which means in the US, the IRS could classify you as an employee and your client would have to pay part of your taxes.
As Jennifer Mattern pointed out in a recent Be a Freelance Blogger forum post on the topic, this is an inappropriate request except when you’re working as a subcontractor for a content agency and you sign a non-compete saying you won’t steal their clients from them. She also points out that a confidentiality agreement stating you won’t share anything about the company is an appropriate alternative to a non-compete agreement.
2: They’re paying you employee-sized wages
When you go into a freelancing job comparing your hourly wages to those you made as an employee, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing calls this a “deadly math mistake.”
First, you have to consider that you don’t get all the perks that employees get. Paid time leave as a freelancer? Not a thing. A health plan, disability benefits, retirement, employment taxes, and equipment are all coming out of your pocket as a freelancer as opposed to being tacked on to your wages.
Now that you’ve realized that the two wages aren’t comparable, your clients have to realize that, too. Because they aren’t providing you employee benefits, they’re likely saving money even if they’re paying you double the typical hourly rate for employees.
Not only that, but consider for a moment that you’re a business owner. You don’t say to your dentist, “Okay, I’ll pay you $20 per hour because you’re working for me.” No. You realize that you’re paying the dentist’s business for the services provided.
Once you agree to employee-comparable wages, it’s all too easy for clients to start thinking of you as an employee and start taking more control over your business like they own you.
3: They request a branding change
Though it doesn’t happen often, these types of requests do happen with clients who push their luck.
Let’s take an example. Your client decides to launch a page featuring all their staff and writers. They want everyone’s headshots to match with a white background, dark shirt, squared shoulders, and grayscale coloring. Oh, and you have to upload the photo to your Gravatar account.
That prevents you from branding your own business the way you want to represent yourself. That’s like asking your client if they can change their logo to match the dimensions of other client logos in your portfolio.
4: They tell you when, where, and how to work
The IRS differentiates employee and independent contractor relationships based on the amount of control a client or employee exercises. According to the IRS, behavioral factors considered include:
- Type of instructions given
- Degree of instruction
- Evaluation systems
In the “types of instructions given” category, the IRS points out that if your client tells you when, where, or how to work, you’re entering employee territory. For example, a client might demand that you work for them from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST Monday to Friday, hire a specific subcontractor named Al to help you with the work, and only work from home where you have secure Wi-Fi.
Again, this is not okay.
Be aware that some requests that enter this territory are fair, such as requiring you to attend scheduled Skype meetings with the team. Other times, clients are exercising too much control, and you shouldn’t have to comply with every demand.
5: Their evaluation system measures how you perform the work
Another factor that the IRS uses to differentiate independent contractors from freelancers is evaluation systems. According to the IRS, employee performance can be measured based on how the work is performed. Contractors, on the other hand, are evaluated on the project’s end result.
If a client is watching you like an eagle to see how you’re performing the work, they’re treating you like an employee, and that’s not fair to you as a business owner.
What to do in this situation
The first step to take in ensuring healthy client-freelancer relationships is to outline expectations in your contract. Include an Independent Contractor Relationship clause that details:
- Control: You (the contractor) determine when, where, and how to work to perform the services outlined in the contract.
- Exclusivity: Your services are non-exclusive to the client, and you can perform similar services to other clients during the length of the contract.
- Assignment: You have the right to assign subcontractors to work on the project with you.
- Taxes: Your client will not withhold taxes from you, and you will be responsible for all local, state, and federal income tax.
- Benefits: You are an independent contractor and are not eligible for employee benefits your client offers, such as health insurance or sick pay.
If you’re already in a situation where your client is exercising control over you, but your relationship was not defined in your contract, you can do several things.
First, you can talk to your client about your relationship. It’s going to be a nerve-racking conversation, but it’s necessary. Approach the conversation with the intent to educate your clients. Chances are they’re treating you like an employee because they don’t understand the difference, especially if you’re the first freelancer they’ve hired.
Second, be sure you aren’t caving in and acting like an employee. The more you act like it, the easier it is to treat you that way. That means that you have to work around deadlines realistically. Let your client know you have other clients; if they think they’re the only one, they’ll think you can dedicate all your time to them. Also remember that “No” is a powerful word and is sometimes necessary to preserve your freelancer-client relationship.
You didn’t leave your old job and go freelance only to head right back into being treated like an employee. Keep these thoughts in mind as you brave the world of freelancing, and you’ll have a level of control and freedom you’ll feel happier with.
If all else fails, it’s okay to drop a bad client. You became a freelancer to control your own destiny, so go out there and do it!