New at the Office: 4 differences between freelancers and employees

Showing up to a new job is always somewhat stressful. Whether it’s a freelance job or as an employee, you want to show up on time, practice good hygiene, and generally look like a pro.

But I think there are some differences in how you act those first few days. Some of these have to do with your purpose there. Some have to do with how to work effectively, and some have to do with simple appearances.

And here they are in no particular order:

1. Freelancers shouldn’t chat. Employees can.

Employees might need to build relationships in order to do a good job, so it often makes sense to spend a little time talking about your kids (or your motorcycle, or your jello addiction).

You want to get your job done, but part of your effectiveness in the years to come could depend on good feeling between you and the people you work with.

Freelancers should put their noses down and get to work. Be friendly. Be relaxed. Be willing to smile. But your default attitude should be: I’m getting paid $XX an hour to accomplish this task. I need to be working on it.

Yes, some contract jobs depend on relationships, too. But make those relationships based on how effective and professional you are.

2. Freelancers should dress better than employees

Employees are… well, they’re employees. If employees wear t-shirts and shorts, then a new employee should feel free to adopt casual dress after the first day or so (after asking the boss). Fitting in and being yourself is an important part of being productive on a team.

Freelancers aren’t supposed to be relaxed. They’re supposed to be experts and pros who get in there and get the job done. You don’t work for the company that hired you. You work for Yourself (capital Y) and your company is super-professional.

So if the employees are wearing shorts and ratty t-shirts, do you wear a suit? No. You wear pants and a collared short-sleeve shirt. Or something similar that suits your own taste. (Ok, if you have REALLY nice shorts, then maybe go for it.)

And you groom yourself, even if the male employees are sporting 3 day beards all the time.

3. Freelancers should put in the time

Employees might take long lunches with their colleagues. They might take coffee breaks with them. After all, they’re getting to know them.

Really, whatever the corporate culture is (an hour for lunch vs. half an hour, for example), the employee can and should jump right in. And if employees typically leave at five on the nose, the new employee can, too. (After a week or so. I’d say to put in a few extra minutes at first, to make sure that no thinks you’re watching the clock.)

Freelancers should be seen as dedicated task-accomplishing machines. Not as humans who take an hour for lunch or catch the early train. This is a little strange, because freelancers are often paid by the hour, so a long lunch is free to the company. But perception isn’t logical and perception is key to getting more gigs.

4. Freelancers shouldn’t use foul language

Employees should pay attention to the culture, as usual. An employee who doesn’t typically curse shouldn’t START cursing just because the others do. But if you’re a #$%$^ kind of person, and the rest of the office is, too, then let loose your inner drill sergeant.

Freelancers should remain above the fray. I don’t mean that you can’t occasionally let a word slip, if it would go without notice among all the badinage. But you certainly don’t want anyone thinking that you’re one of the most profane people in the room.

The bottom line for freelancers: Always be a bit MORE professional than the employees around you.

Why is this true? Part of it is the misconception that freelancers are raking in the big bucks. They see you as the person making more per hour than they are. They don’t see your overhead or your lean months when you can’t get a gig.

They see you as making a claim of expertise worth more money than they’re getting. Don’t blow it by being just one of the guys.

Am I on the right track here, or is this all nonsense? Are there other things that freelancers should think about in their first weeks?


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