Who do you think you are?
Everyone who works for themselves has wrestled some point over what title to use. Many start by using the title “freelance _______"—designer, writer, software developer, or whatever the case may be.
The words you use influence others’ perception of you.
According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, words can literally change your brain. They argue that a single negative word can increase the activity in our amygdala (the fear center of the brain). This releases dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, which in turn interrupts our brains’ functioning. In other words, “angry words send alarm messages through the brain, and they partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.”
Meanwhile, a positive word can strengthen areas in frontal lobes and promote cognitive function. They write “as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will include you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”
So what does that mean for us?
What’s your first thought when you hear the word “freelancer”? Do you picture a college kid working out of her parent’s basement? Most people perceive freelancers as in the lurch, between unemployment and their next ‘real’ job.
Many people who call themselves freelancers don’t exactly think of what they do as a business. But they should.
Clients too often see freelance arrangements as low-cost line items rather than strategic partnerships.
And that creates a power imbalance, with the client in charge—hardly an ideal situation for independent workers, especially those trying to start a business with the express purpose of gaining more freedom over their work.
When he first started out, Tim Dietrich described himself as a “freelance database consultant.” But he soon realized that the “freelance” tag said more to clients about the structure of his business (process) than what he could actually do for them (results). Tim now introduces himself with this simple line, “I develop custom apps for businesses.” Who would you want to work with more: Someone who tells you how they file their taxes or explains what they can do for your balance sheet?
Your livelihood doesn’t depend on your own self-perception, but on how potential clients see you and your work.
Freelancers don’t always see themselves as business owners because businesses have quarterly targets, revenue streams, and brand images to preserve. And clients expect that other businesses have systems and processes leading to consistent results. Don’t worry if you’re still working on systems and processes. It’s still okay to call yourself a business—which can in turn push you to build a workflow for yourself, set firmer goals, and increase your margins—just like an actual business.
This episode is sponsored by AND.CO, the freelancer’s resource! They offer great tools for freelancers, including curated job lists, time tracking and invoicing software, contracts, free guides and more!
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