I started out searching for freelance work to try and escape the unfairness of opportunities in the real world. I didn't think I'd see the same racial inequalities in the freelance job market. I definitely didn't think I'd need different instructions for finding black freelance jobs. But, here I am, writing some to share!
One specific experience served as the catalyst for my dive into freelancing. Here's what happened: my friend Sam and I decided to look for part-time jobs to earn some cash while we finished design school. We went to the nearest mall and split up to ask around for applications.
When we met back up, I showed Sam my empty hands; I hadn't had any luck. No one was hiring.
"Really? I got five applications and I've already scheduled an interview," she said.
That’s when I realized I was being judged on something I couldn't control.
I can never be 100% sure that the reason I didn't get any applications was due to my race. Even so, I couldn't help but feel like I was going to keep facing judgments based on my appearance in a traditional professional environment.
It may have been a bad experience but it did have a silver lining. It led me to start seeking a path where my skills would trump connotations about my appearance. ⛅️🦸🏽♀️
I've always recommended the freelance route to people looking for more freedom. Freedom from discrimination and the other disadvantages that black and minority communities face is no different!
Black communities around the world are often underserved and underprivileged. Traditionally, they've had far less access to vital resources, job training, higher education, and career opportunities than people of other racial origin. People of color also face more scrutiny due to racial stereotypes (unfortunately lots).
In many ways, freelancing helps black freelance workers to overcome those challenges.
1. Starting a freelance career is a relatively low-cost endeavor. You don't need much more than a computer and an internet connection once you've got a skill to work with.
Even if you don't have a computer at home, you can start off using one at the library. Everyone admires the huge tech companies that started in garages – this is the same thing!
2. Freelancing also allows you to carve out your own space; you don’t have to choose from the only options out there – you can build what's best for you.
In a world that's continuously telling us the box we should fit in – and punishing us when we don't – freelancing is a way to live the life you want.
Freelancing gave me the opportunity to express myself online in exactly the way I wanted. I didn’t have to be what someone else thought I should be, I just needed to prove I could do what they needed done. I've felt empowered as a black freelancer since!
While freelancing can solve some of the issues black freelance workers face, it isn't quite a racism-free utopia. There are still shady people and micro-aggressions that black freelance workers could experience, unfortunately.
However, if you keep these five lessons I've learned in mind, navigating the world of black freelance gets a little more predictable.
When working in the traditional workplace, it's our employers who decide when (and if) we'll get promotions and opportunities to develop our skills. They hold the key to our professional development, which is…bad news.
A study by RHR, a global firm of management psychologists and consultants, proves what black people have known for decades: racism and racial stereotyping play significant roles in holding people of color back from advancing their careers to higher-level positions.
Freelancing puts the control of our career development back in our own hands. Instead of relying on someone to look past racial stereotypes and select you for a promotion, you give yourself raises!
In freelancing, you invest in yourself by seeking out jobs that teach you new facets of your skills, either in new industries, technologies, or processes. Reaching for work a little outside of your current scope will build your portfolio and range.
Describing your skills and the way they can solve a client’s problem is the best language to use when pitching to clients (I go further into how to do this in my freelance course if you're interested 😉).
As your skills and experience begin to rise, so can your rates.
When you're free to invest time in yourself, you're free to grow your business as you're ready to – putting the power back in the hands of the black freelance worker!
Although there are plenty of reasons why freelance jobs work well for black people and others, the world isn't perfect. There are still challenges that black freelancers face that white freelancers don't.
Colorism is another facet of racism to face, too; African freelancers have to struggle with the connotations of their entire continent before getting to a phone call.
While there are always challenges when doing work you care about, tapping into the freelancer mindset can help. One tactic to hacking the market in your favor is to use your community as a resource.
It's a tip directly from my experience: when I began getting freelance jobs, I noticed that primarily black clients and minorities hired me to start.
As my success rate with other beginner freelancers from minority communities climbed, I noticed I felt a camaraderie with my clients. After all, we were from similar communities.
Minorities were more likely to trust me based on my word that I'd work hard, because when I started out freelancing, I didn't have much 'proof' to add to my portfolio.
Eventually, my skill level transcended my blackness and I was able to offer more (and higher-level) services. I could move beyond the smaller, black freelance market.
Unfortunately, even as freelancers, we're still connected to this society – which presents some of the same micro-aggressions minorities face in the traditional workplace.
In the black freelance world, the three most common micro-aggressions most often happen as biased actions (doubting your experience, needing more proof) or insensitive comments.
This is what I looked like the first time a client in the freelance industry judged me based on bias:
I had just arrived in London to meet and pitch to an investor on a project. When I walked in the room, all smiles and confident energy, he said:
"You must be a really chill person since you have dreadlocks."
I just laughed it off and got to work. The whole room relaxed when I let it roll off my back and focused on the work.
Working in the black freelance job market, my reaction and my work were the only things I could control in these Diet Racist™ situations.
In my mind, I faced a choice between wasting my time with a reaction & explanation of why their notion was inaccurate or to push the focus back to my work and let it go. I've had to make this choice more than once!
If you are one of the unlucky black freelancers who have to encounter a micro-aggression, let me tell you how I see the situation. I guard my peace of mind against uneducated comments by refusing to let them take up any of my valuable time.
When I'm in a professional atmosphere, I'm here to do my best work – which will speak for itself.
Remember that you've already worked hard to communicate your value to a client: if they can't understand that value due to a racist preconception, you shouldn't spend a minute more using your positivity to enlighten someone stuck in the dark.
If someone randomly touches my hair or says something Diet Racist™, I usually correct them and say, “Actually, that's not my experience but I appreciate your opinion.”
I diffuse the situation, get it off my chest, and move on. I’m not here to run a Racism 101 course. I’m here to do my best work. Let ignorant people stay ignorant – I'm here to crush these black freelance jobs.
When we're trying to jump career levels traditionally, it feels hard to find out how to reach our dream destination. After all, the focus is on the success of the company, not our personal career.
As freelancers, we're already working with worldwide connections, so we have a huge pool to search for people to learn from and grow with as well. We don't need a physical space to connect to others in the black freelance market; we have to make use of that! 🌎
Reaching out and integrating into a freelance community gets you working side-by-side with like-minded people who want to lift each other up and learn from each other.
*FTN exclusive tip: you can always turn the conversation at your shared coworking table into a client search.
Freelancers can provide industry- or niche-specific advice that you couldn't find elsewhere. Once you start mingling, you'll meet people with more than one shared area of experience whom you can turn to with questions.
I'm positive that I'm not the only black person who started seeking out freelance jobs to escape workplace racism or lack of opportunity. Perhaps you were feeling like you couldn't cultivate the career community to suit the real you.
So, join ours! The FTN community has a place to share stories on Facebook and even more perks available if you take our freelancing crash course.
While you're getting your freelancing ducks 🐥🐥🐥 in a row, keep these tips in consideration if you're a black freelancer:
Oh – don't forget one of the most important facets of working as any kind of freelancer.
6. Be yourself; you'll only feel free if your business represents the real you!