I’m a freelance writer. I’m a business owner. I set my rates, I decide what services to offer, and I decide which clients to work with and what projects to take on. I’m not an employee. Neither are you if you freelance — in writing, design, consulting, or any other area. Yet I see freelancer after freelancer still using resumes to try to land gigs. What’s worse is that I see clients occasionally demand them in job ads, making it clear they don’t quite grasp the difference between working with employees and contractors.
My advice for freelancers is to bury that resume. Stop sending it out and start acting like the business owner you are. You can land better gigs and get more respect as an independent professional when you stop starting business relationships giving people the impression that they can treat you like a traditional employee. Why are resumes a potential problem? Let’s talk about it.
Why Resumes Aren’t the Best Option for Freelance Professionals
As a freelancer, you are not an employee. You should not be treated like one. You’re a business owner. You have freedom and flexibility employees don’t have. And in exchange for that you take on added responsibilities like paying more taxes and business expenses which saves clients money. Clients also can’t treat you the same way they treat employees. For example (in the U.S. specifically) clients of freelancers generally can’t determine basic things like when or how you’ll work or what tools you’ll use. You’re the business owner. Those things are up to you.
When you start that relationship with something like a resume, you put yourself in line with employees. That’s not the image you should start out with. All a client needs to know to make a hiring decision is that you’re qualified to do the job and what you plan to charge for it. They can get that information in other places without insisting on kicking off the relationship in employer-employee style.
Benefits of Focusing on Portfolios Instead of Resumes
Your professional website and portfolio are pretty typical ways to handle things as a freelancer. Your portfolio can be either online or offline. Here are some of the main benefits of focusing on portfolios instead of resumes:
- You focus on what matters — samples of past work or case studies for those offering consulting services — rather than often-irrelevant things like where you worked as an employee ten years ago or what your GPA was in school. Resumes are more for people and jobs where real results aren’t easily shared and where it’s more about long-term commitment to an employer than specific projects and results. As a freelancer, you’re generally being hired for the latter and samples in a portfolio establish more credibility than a resume ever could.
- You present yourself as a business owner up front rather than an employee-like worker, which can make negotiations on rates and other contract terms easier. When you hire an accountant or plumber they don’t give you a resume. As a freelance professional, you’re just as much a business owner. Businesses don’t send resumes. Their websites, case studies, past work examples, and testimonials do the talking for them.
- You put the emphasis on your best work and don’t have to worry about gaps in your employment history or other negatives often highlighted by resumes which are often irrelevant in freelancing. When timing is relevant (such as showing you’re up to date on the latest technical trends if you’re a freelance programmer or designer), you still have the option to highlight that.
- No emphasis is put on how long you stayed with each previous client or employer in a portfolio. In freelancing it’s very common to take on one-off projects and very short contracts. Resumes traditionally focus on longer-term employment. Hiring parties who are used to those traditional resumes and the implications of leaving a company after a brief period could paint you in a negative light, even if only subconsciously. That’s just one more risk you have to take.
If you’re prepared to treat your freelance career as a business in other ways — paying extra taxes, marketing your services, dealing with negotiations and collections, etc. — there’s no good reason not to do the same when trying to land gigs. Resumes are for employees. Build a solid portfolio instead and start your next professional relationship off on a higher level as the business owner you are and not as if you’re some temporary employee stand-in. And remember that if a resume is requested, it’s okay to say “no” (tactfully) and offer a portfolio. I’ve been taking on independent gigs for over a decade now, and rarely have I refused to provide a resume and had a prospect balk (and if they do, these days I walk rather than letting clients start things off by treating me as an employee, and sometimes they still come back) . Most have been perfectly happy with a portfolio instead. But when you’re dealing with new business owners or people used to traditional HR practices, often they just don’t know to ask for it.