What Do You Tell People about Being an Online Freelancer?

I find that many of my friends and family don't really “get” the online freelancer thing. And what can I tell them?

Since I work online (and sometimes feel as though I live online), I tend to find myself in this happy bubble where people know what I do. I hang around with bloggers on Skype when I start feeling lonely and isolated. I read news about blogging, and I get a lot of my other “real” news from blogs as well. Everyone I come in contact (and by “contact”, I mean my husband, my son, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype) with on a daily basis has a pretty good idea of what I do — and it makes sense.

But when I talk to people in the “real” world about what I do as an online freelancer, they are flummoxed. To so many, professional blogging isn't a Thing. Why would bloggers hire staff writers? Isn't blogging what you do for fun, so your relatives on the other side of the country can see pictures of your kids? Can you really make a living writing online?

Online Freelancer

And, of course, there is the respect factor. Having an online career isn't exactly seen as legitimate by many people out there in the “real” world. It's something that you do on the side, or while you're trying to get a “real” job.

Explaining Myself as an Online Freelancer

Some aspects of my work as an online freelancer are fairly easy to explain. I create content for web sites. People understand the need for company profiles and “about” pages. When it comes to blogging, though, the best I can usually do is talk about professional blogging as a “marketing tool” for businesses. “I'm part of the marketing effort,” I say. Because the last thing I want to do at my cousin's wedding is to try to explain to a total stranger that many of the bloggers I write for make money off affiliate programsthat is a business model these days — and one that works out well for many online entrepreneurs.

I have been fortunate recently to start writing over at U.S. News & World Report. While my writing there isn't exactly lucrative, it's something that others can undertand. While I am immersed in the digital world, and the importance of the mainstream media is fading for me, there is still an air of legitimacy conferred by writing for mainstream media outlets online. It's something of a relief to be able to say, “I write mainly online. I recently started writing for the investing blog at U.S. News and World Report.”

I'm not embarrassed about my career path as a professional blogger. But it is sometimes hard to explain to those who don't take the online world for granted, like I do. Being able to point to something that my grandma can understand has been a great relief to me on those occasions that I venture into the “real” world for social interaction.

What about you? How do you explain your online work to those living in an offline world?

Image source: The Oatmeal

7 thoughts on “What Do You Tell People about Being an Online Freelancer?”

  1. Depending who I’m speaking to, I say different things. Perhaps it depends on how much I want to impress someone, or perhaps it’s random — saying the first thing that comes to mind. I might say I develop financial websites. I might say I’m a writer and leave it at that, or that I write about personal finance. I might say I recently sold a business. I’ve never gotten the impression that someone thinks it’s weird or questions how I can afford living.

    That said, I’ve been very quiet about my writing with people I know from outside the online world. I never gave my coworkers specifics about what I was doing on the side. I didn’t even tell my family until I had been writing there for a few years. I wanted to maintain some level of anonymity. I recently opened up and shared more details with friends, but I don’t point anyone to the site unless they ask specifically. And people rarely do — people rarely care all that much.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      We encounter very different people, my friend 🙂 I don’t usually point to my site at all. My conversations go like this: “What do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “What do you write?” “Mostly, I write online, as a freelancer.” “What kind of stuff?” “Oh, web site content, blogging, that sort of thing.” “Blogging? People pay you to do that?” “It’s sort of like marketing now. A lot of businesses have blogs and they need content for them.” “Oh.” Then I change the subject and ask about the other person.

      But my grandma, who is really interested, has a hard time. However, she was excited when she read a quote from me (as an “expert”) in the Deseret News — a Salt Lake paper that she gets in Idaho. That’s when she decided that I had “arrived.” And writing for U.S. News & World Report is something else she understands, even if I’m “only” writing online.

  2. Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

    Very thought-provoking post, Miranda! I don’t hang out with too many people who would be flummoxed, strangely; musicians, actors, etc. That said, I think for someone like yourself to make money online with something you love takes passion, commitment, flexibility, and a lot of ingenuity.

    Bottom line: You are a writer and a creative spirit. Congrats!!

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I think it does make a difference. A lot of the people I see in the “real” world are very traditional in terms of what constitutes a “job”, as well as in other ways. So the idea of an online freelancer is very foreign to them.

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