by Roberta Balagopal, Career Consultant

The term “freelancer” seems to mean a variety of things when attached to job ads or individuals’ resumes.

So what exactly is a freelancer anyway?

When looking for a freelancer, employers (aka clients) must be aware of what freelancing actually is, and equally importantly, what freelancing is not. Here are some commonly used – and commonly confused – terms that appear regularly in job advertisements.

(Please take note, the following is for information only and not intended as legal advice.)


“Contract” covers a wide variety of arrangements. Every staff or vendor you hire will (or should) have a contract of some form or other. This is simply a way to have a common understanding of the duties, rights and obligations of both parties for the particular work in hand. A freelancer should certainly have a formal contract with the one engaging his (or her) services, but he is no more synonymous with “contract staff” than an actual employee.

Part time

The hours or timing which a freelancer spends on a particular job is really immaterial. This arrangement applies more to employees who are engaged to be present or available at certain times of the day or days of the week. Yes, the freelancer would be engaged to meet certain deliverables at certain times, but whether he works on a project 9-5 every weekday or shares out his time amongst multiple projects and clients makes no difference, provided he fulfils the terms of the agreement.

Flexi work

Flexi work is a strategy used to deploy staff at non-traditional times or days of the week. The reasons may vary; it may be for operational efficiency issues or to promote work-life balance. Either way, again it has no relevance to the freelancer. How he deploys his time is at his own discretion, provided the agreed deliverables are met.

Work from home

A freelancer might possibly work from home, or may have an office of his own, or may work onsite at the client’s premises. Again the workplace arrangement has little relevance for a freelancer. If he is required by the job scope to be onsite, the reasons for and terms of this should be spelt out clearly in the contract – for example, conducting training, installing software, etc.


Casual work is a confusing term. The word ‘casual’ implies choice whether or not to do anything at all, which should never truly be the case in a contractual arrangement. This term may simply be another way of meaning ‘temp’ or ‘on call’.


Temps are usually engaged to deal with a sudden or seasonal influx of work, and only for the duration of the extra work. They may be engaged for a project as well, but often the nature of the work is routine and minimally skilled to keep costs low. Freelancers are contractors so their arrangement may well be temporary, but freelance professionals are unlikely to be referred to as temps in this sense.


On-call work arrangements can be deployed for a number of situations, such as emergency, tech support or medical services, where sudden unforeseen workloads may occur. It is not however a good practice to use on-call arrangements for non-vital services unless it is truly unavoidable. Extra workloads for most businesses can be anticipated and provided for with hiring temps. For freelancers, any such arrangement would need to be clearly spelt out in the contract, and the scope and duration detailed. For example, a software developer may offer on-call support for a specified period of time after handover of the product. However, freelancers should not be assumed to be on-call unless explicitly stated.

So what is a freelancer?

A freelancer is an independent contractor, with a particular skill set, who engages himself to use this skill set for a particular client, for a particular scope of work, and for a particular duration. The freelancer may operate under a business or company, or simply as an individual. In all cases, the governing arrangement is the contract between freelancer and client. The freelancer is paid per job, not a regular wage, and all dealings with the client, including risks and liabilities, will be spelt out in the contract.

There are a number of guides on how to draft a contract, and if, as a client or a freelancer, you would like further information or examples, you are welcome to contact us.