October 4, 2016

Have you ever thought about the word “freelance”?

Words are fascinating.

You can learn a lot about why people think about certain things in certain ways by tracing the orgin of a word back into the distant past.

For example, I was thinking about the word “freelance” the other day.

Free + Lance

Wait… does that mean “available weapon”? aka a mercenary?

So I looked it up.

Sure enough:


Origin: early 19th century (denoting a mercenary): originally as two words.

Huh… mercenary.

So I looked that up:


(of a person or their behavior) primarily concerned with making money at the expense of ethics. “she’s nothing but a mercenary little gold digger” synonyms: money-oriented, grasping, greedy, acquisitive, avaricious, covetous, bribable, venal, materialistic; informal money-grubbing “mercenary self-interest”


While I don’t think this “money at the expense of ethics” accusation is true of any freelancers I know, one wonders if there is a subconscious stigma buried in the minds of clients.

Here is another tidbit that caught my eye:

A mercenary is a person who fights for personal gains of money or other recompense instead of fighting for the ideological interests of a country, whether they be for or against the existing government.

In other words, a mercenary typically doesn’t give a crap what they’re fighting for as long as they get paid.

Okay, what’s the point of all this?

Even though you ARE ethical and you DO give a crap about what you’re “fighting for” on behalf your clients (i.e., helping them achieve their goals), billing by the hour ENCOURAGES this mercenary stigma because your financial incentive is not aligned with that of your client. You get paid for putting time in, regardless of whether it moves the needle for your client’s business. By contrast, value pricing aligns your interests and give you a powerful motive to achieve the desired outcome of your client. 

Yet another reason that hourly billing is nuts.