Freelancer vs. Permalancer: Staying Just Enough Outside the Fold.

Updated: Apr 24



In a previous blog we focused on the outside perspective of a freelancer, and what it brings naturally to the conversation and the culture of an organization. This time, we take a look at the very tenuous balance of what happens when a freelancer becomes too involved in an organization, and ultimately gets into what we call “permalancer” status. (WARNING: This is NOT a place you want to be for a variety of reasons. But most of all, you lose your outside perspective that you were hired for in the first place.)

So - you are working with a company, the relationships starts to take on long term status, and you think this is all great, right? Steady income, you learn each other’s expectations, the work gets easier….and then all of a sudden you wake up one day and realize: you are now treated and expected to operate MORE like a full-time employee WITHOUT the benefits of actually being full time, and likely the opposite of why you became a freelancer in the first place.

Now what?

So first, let’s break down the situation:

1.      You have surpassed the “dating” stage and have now entered long-term status. What does this mean exactly? It means that the “best behavior” part of a relationship has gone out the window, and the true colors are showing through. Does this always have to be bad? Of course not. But relationships are hard for a reason, as we have many times addressed. And part of that comes with being exposed to tough topics that you may not have influence over and can’t solve.


2.    You know all of the dirty laundry…and then some. Find yourself being roped into the political part of working with a company? That is a big uh-oh. While finding your way to the inner circle can mean more fluid work and faster feedback and alignment, it comes with its own set of baggage. You become a confidant without any of the control to influence the organization. Now you are wasting valuable time. That you are likely NOT getting paid for.


3.    You have lost your outside POV. Which is arguably your most valuable asset. You’ve gotten sucked in, and now, your subconscious evaluates the work from the filter of, “we have tried that before”, or “we can’t possibly produce that”, or “it will cost too much money to…” And just like that, you have lost the biggest value you bring to the table in the first place. Your fresh, creative, outside point of view. Which is why you get paid the big bucks. Slippery slope here? You bet…

So what can you do about this when you are constantly trying to sell yourself as a freelancer, do good work, and build relationships?

Here is what we recommend:

1.    Be social and friendly, but don’t do the dirty laundry.  This requires diligence, high emotional intelligence, and a soft touch approach. Now, we are not suggesting that you be rude, or that you refuse to listen. After all, a large portion of a freelancer’s job is to listen hard for what you need (READ: the right information) and you are a partner to the client. BUT - you have to turn down information that will taint your POV and get you focused on the wrong things. And hold strong. It won’t always be easy.


2.    Avoid situations where you may be embedded into the wrong conversations. Part of learning about an organization is getting familiar with their protocols and processes. So spend some time doing so, and identify the meetings that are NOT helpful to you. (Read: meetings with no clear agenda, that weekly status meeting that turns into the same discussion over and over, the client venting sessions.) Opt out with grace.


3.    Remind the client that they are paying you for an outside POV. And that in order to give that POV, you have to remain outside of any non-useful or negative conversation that is not  associated with the work. Not that you don’t want to know them, spend time with them, and as we have stated above - all of that is important to doing your best work. But your lens is only as reliable as your ability to not become too ingrained. And objectively, this should close the door on “permalancer” status.

Finding yourself having a hard time avoiding the “permalancer” position? Give us a call. We have been there. And we can help you get out without losing any of your work. And arguably resulting in even more, since you are providing the proper lens of what the best freelancers are able to accomplish!

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Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping start-ups, small and mid-size businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank.  They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.

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Photo credit - Bob Schwartz @5schw4r7z