When Did Freelancing Begin?

In today’s world, the concept of freelancing is so ubiquitous that it’s difficult to recall a time when freelancing as we know it wasn’t a thing. In fact, freelancers have existed for centuries in one form or another. The word “freelance” actually came from medieval times, when armies would hire “a free lance” to fight with them i.e. someone who was not allied to any particular group. However, our modern conception of freelancing, laptop rather than lance, has only existed for the past few decades.

After men on horses and before the rise of the internet, freelancing was limited to certain professions, such as journalists and photographers. These people would work on short contracts as independent workers, rather than taking a traditional, employed job for one company. But this still looked very different to the freelancing we think of today, where someone can sit at a laptop and work for multiple clients in any one day.

Then, the big wide world of the internet changed the jobs market, broadening the freelance landscape. It became possible to work online, rather than in-person. Meaning you could work for anyone, anywhere. And for more than one person at once. This revolutionary way of working gave birth to the type of freelancing we know and love today.

As the web became more common and accessible in the mid-90s, the first freelancing platforms started to pop up, merge into super-platforms, or flounder and disappear. They became global workplaces for freelancers to find work and clients to hire freelancers. Through these platforms, people could work for multiple clients online, in one day even, perhaps on the other side of the world—without ever needing to meet the person face to face or even have a telephone call.

Elance was one of the earliest of these sites—founded in 1999, and oDesk in 2003, which merged to form global giant Upwork in 2013. European-based PeoplePerHour started in 2007. Australian Freelancer.com appeared in 2009 and purchased other established freelancing sites, some of which were founded back in 2001 and 2004. Now there are countless platforms, big and small, new and established, generalist and specialist.

Although many freelancers gain work through methods other than these freelancing platforms, and some freelancers dislike these sites altogether, it’s fair to say that these platforms made freelancing a possibility for the masses—creating the global freelancing marketplace that we see today.

What do you think of freelancing platforms—love them or loathe them? When did you start freelancing? Comment below or get in touch.

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