How Freelancing Can Benefit Black People
Freelancing is an empowering career choice that puts you in control.
I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I am a firm proponent for freelancing, and I believe that freelancing can benefit people from all walks of life. No matter your race, age, country of origin, gender, ability level, or academic background, freelancing presents tangible benefits to everyone. But as you can see from the title, I’m zeroing in on the benefits of freelancing for black people. Why? If you didn’t know, today is Juneteenth. And I’ve written this post as a way to celebrate.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Juneteenth — short for June 19th — is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, but the 13th Amendment didn’t instantly eliminate all slavery within the U.S. Juneteenth marks the day when the last 200,000 slaves in Texas were notified of their freedom two and half years later. Though not an official national holiday, Juneteenth is recognized in most states, and it’s gaining more traction now among states, municipalities, and even corporations. You can read more about the history of Juneteenth here.
Now that I’ve addressed the reason for this blog, let’s get into the meat of it. I am a black woman who has been freelancing for the better part of the last five years. I think that freelancing has afforded me the autonomy to advance my career without the conventional trappings of institutional racism and workplace discrimination. Let me illustrate with a personal anecdote.
The first job I got out of college was at a local chamber of commerce in one of the most popular travel destinations in the country. I worked in data entry along with two other people on my team. One of them was a black woman like me, and the other person was a white man. Mind you, we all did the same job. We all started at the same time. And we all sat in the same area. The CEO started inviting one of us out to lunch, and it wasn’t me or the other black woman. He also gave my white, male coworker opportunities to sit in on certain meetings and learn important business fundamentals to help advance his career. The other woman and I were never invited. Now, this coworker didn’t know the CEO personally or have some sort of familial connection to the company, but he got special attention from the man in charge.
What I want people to take away from this anecdote is that modern-day racism doesn’t look the way it used to. It’s not that anyone is going around calling people the n-word blatantly at work. It’s more implicit now, and it takes the form of preferential treatment. The white man who I worked with received preferential treatment from the CEO, who was also a white man. He could have invited all of us out to lunch, but he didn’t. He looked out for his own. And that’s the nature of discrimination today. It’s that people in power extend opportunities to people who are like them, and they don’t make themselves available in the same way to people who aren’t. So, minorities have to work harder to advance career-wise because they aren’t usually offered that same hand-up from workplace leadership.
That’s just one story of many. Any working black person can give you sad anecdotes of discrimination they’ve faced in the workplace. And that’s why I think that black people should rethink their views on employment and consider the benefits that freelancing can offer them. Here are a few reasons why black people should freelance:
1. There’s freedom in freelancing.
Naturally, freedom is very important to black people. Even more so than entrepreneurship, freelancing is the freest form of employment that you can have. You are your own boss in full control of your career. You don’t have to depend on a manager to give you a promotion or a raise. You can advance your career and increase your earning on your own. You can work when and where you want to. And you choose who you work with. Work is a major determinant of your quality of life. You definitely don’t want a boss controlling your life.
2. The quality of your work determines your success, not the color of your skin.
Every freelancer is different, and how you present your personal brand will be up to you. Some people like to put their face front and center on their digital portfolios, websites, etc. But as a freelancer, you don’t have to lead with your appearance. Most of my clients have never seen me or even heard my voice and vice versa. Letting your work speak for itself is very possible as a freelancer. And because you can eliminate your color from the conversation and lead with your work, you can circumvent discrimination.
3. It’s a great intro to entrepreneurship.
Freelancing is definitely less risky than traditional entrepreneurship — read about the differences between the two here. However, there are people who know that they want to be business leaders. Black people often face hurdles to entrepreneurship, so freelancing is a low-cost, low-risk way to learn about business fundamentals. Freelancing is a hands-on introductory course to entrepreneurship that teaches you about things like cash-flow management, client acquisition, marketing, and more, all while growing your professional network.
4. Most clients just care about your ability to get the job done.
When I started freelancing, I created opportunities for myself. I started a personal blog and published my own content. I used that experience to pitch to a magazine and then used that experience to pitch to more clients and grew my business from there. In my experience, I’ve found that you don’t have to jump through the hoops of traditional employment to land clients. Potential clients aren’t going to run a background check on you or check your credit score. They won’t ask you if you have any convictions or a disability. They usually don’t care about your references. They just want to know if you can get the job done, so having relevant examples of your work curated in an appealing digital portfolio is really all you need to get started. Basically, the barriers to entry for freelancing are few.
Ultimately, because I was in control of my own career, I didn’t have to face a lot the struggles common to the workplace. Advanced by the coronavirus pandemic, freelancing continues to grow in popularity, offering people another path to economic empowerment. A lot of people are giving freelancing a shot, and I think black people should do so too. Freelancing won’t eliminate race-based discrimination, but it can reduce the amount of it that we have to face. I encourage black people to consider pursuing a freelance career. Freelancing truly gives power to the people.
If you’re thinking about freelancing, look beyond low-paying, high-exploitation gig jobs. There are many lucrative freelance careers that you can get into with a little effort. Check out our VBO Skill Center for examples. If you have any questions about freelancing and how to get started, feel free to leave a comment below.