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A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer. The term “freelance” was first coined by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in his well-known historical romance Ivanhoe to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” (or “free–lance“). The phrase later transitioned to a figurative noun around the 1860s and was then officially recognized as a verb in1903 by various authorities in etymology such as the Oxford English Dictionary. Only in modern times has the term morphed from a noun (a freelance) into an adjective (a freelance journalist), various verb forms (a journalist who freelances) and an adverb (she worked freelance), and then from the verb into the derived noun form “freelancer”.
The author and poet Ernest William Hornung (1866–1921) also used the term in “The Gift of the Emperor” to describe something of poor quality: “I warmed to my woes. It was no easy matter to keep your end up as a raw freelance of letters; for my part, I was afraid I wrote neither well enough nor ill enough for success.”
Fields where freelancing is especially common include journalism and other forms of writing, copywriting, computer programming and graphic design, consulting, and many other professional and creative services.
Freelance practice varies greatly. Some require clients to sign written contracts, while others may perform work based on verbal agreements, perhaps enforceable through the very nature of the work. Some freelancers may provide written estimates of work and request deposits from clients.
Payment for freelance work also varies greatly. Freelancers may charge by the day or hour, or on a per-project basis. Instead of a flat rate or fee, some consultants have adopted a value-based pricing method based on the perceived value of the results to the client. By custom, payment arrangements may be upfront, percentage upfront, or upon completion. For more complex projects, a contract may set a payment schedule based on milestones or outcomes.