Business Ethics in Freelancing: A Primer

What Ethics Means To a Freelancer? There a number of ways in which ethics can be described and explained. This is mainly due to the fact that ethics is based, to some extent, on tradition. Over time, a body of ‘DOs and DON’Ts’ is established to serve as a guide for the behavior and interaction of members of a group, community, profession, department or any such gathering.

It would also not be too ambitious to state that ethics has a lot to do with following one’s conscience. The guiding principles in a profession or chosen career path should, more or less, be based on what is right or wrong according to one’s conscience. But this too should be rational, within reason and not detrimental to the group, gathering or parties concerned.

Ethics is really, therefore, your moral compass. Each has their own, but since none operate in a vacuum, a freelancer should consider the bigger picture: how their actions would impact their job, reputation, and the profession that they represent as well as the client with whom they are dealing with.

It is these values, principles, norms, good work habits, acceptable trends, and behaviors that govern procedure, relationships, proper performance of one’s duties, rules of engagement in a job in order to enhance trust, output, productivity, growth and eventually a lasting impression, reputation, client or customer feedback, recommendations, and hence, future work and repeat work, that dictate the ethics and ethical behavior of a freelancer.

Most Important Ethical Issues for Freelancers

instantShift - Important Ethical Issues

There are a number of areas that a freelancer needs to bear in mind as they search for jobs and whilst in the process of conducting whatever work they may be engaged in. These are issues that impact the nature of the relationship that you end up having with your clients.

The major ones or most important ones for freelancers are set out below.

  1. Consistency: Consistency is necessary since it lets your client know what standard of output to expect from your work, as well as the level of responsibility, creativity and other matters, to look forward to in your assignments.

  2. Integrity: This is one of the most crucial ethical issues of any work relationship. It encompasses trustworthiness and therefore the level of responsibility that a client can place on a contractor or freelancer.

    Areas where issues of integrity come into play are in the representation of a freelancer’s dealings with a client or employer’s finances-such as amount spent or cost of a project; level of training, qualification, experience. Freelancers should not give a better impression than what the situation is in reality just to obtain work; however, enthusiasm and the willingness or curiosity to learn a new line of work should not be stifled.

  3. Obedience: A freelancer should be ready to follow instructions. A freelancer should also be humble enough to accept corrections, criticisms and should therefore avoid being hot- or hard-headed.

  4. Loyalty: Your relationship as well as the experience gained from such relationship with your clients or employers should be considered when pledging your allegiances or in the selection of future work and assignments from various clients. Like they say “better the devil you know”.

  5. Dependability: Strive to be reliable as this will determine if your employee will count on you to deliver a future job.

  6. Competence: The work that you produce should be of such a high standard that is comparable in quality to work done by the best and most competent freelancer out there.

  7. Productivity: Your level of productivity assures your clients or employers that they are getting their money’s worth. It also ensures full and proper utilization of resources at your disposal.

  8. Focus / Concentration: Staying focused on your project requires approaching your work single-mindedly and avoiding any distractions that often hinder proper performance and errors in your work.

  9. Efficiency: Being efficient means meeting or even surpassing you employer’s expectations in producing the expected results. It means reducing or avoiding waste and performing projects with a high level of skill; wherever possible or reasonable a freelancer should strive to reduce the turnaround time of delivery of completed projects.

  10. Communication: Always keep your employer posted on your progress or any other issue that may require attention. This will help in determining the estimated time of completion and delivery of the completed work, and help ensure that things are going according to plan.

  11. Reachability: Always keep in touch with your employer. This is quite vital as there may be new developments that need to be taken into consideration with the project you are working on.

  12. Meeting deadlines: A delay in the delivery of your work as per the expected deadline leads to delays in other areas; this could be both in your work as well as that of your client.

  13. Results oriented: A freelancer should focus their mind on producing results that are in line with the contract or agreement; this also means that they should work towards achieving and maintaining their employer’s satisfaction.

  14. Staying informed: It helps the freelancer as well as their employer in producing work that is up to date especially where a freelancer is engaged with a particular client on an ongoing basis; this may include wider reading on the subject, or further training to acquire the most current and necessary skills.

  15. Unbiased: Like a journalist or a reporter, be sure to stay neutral to the topics that you handle unless your opinion, involvement or point of view is called upon.

  16. Curiosity /inquisitiveness: Be curious and inquisitive in so far as this will help with the performance of your duties as a freelancer. Enthusiastic and ready to ask questions, clarify issues and learn the way things should be handled.

  17. Follow or stick to standards and standard procedures: If there are standards that have been established over time on how to accomplish certain tasks, such as styles of referencing in producing scholarly reports, then by all means stick to these tried and tested requirements.

  18. Professionalism: Endeavor to be professional in the way you conduct business as well as in your interaction and communications. Your language, dressing, salutations, correspondences, appearance and presentations should correspond to the subject as well as the subject matter that you are handling. To gain an edge over the competition, a freelancer should always strive for the highest ethical standards as it is these that will determine their level of recognition in the industry that they serve and the prospect for future ongoing and lucrative contracts.

  19. Clarity: To produce work that meets your employer’s expectations, a freelancer should be clear in their goals, objectives and how these are represented in the work that they do. Seek clarification as well as clarify issues through proper and timely communication. Be clear in portraying your ability to meet expectations.

  20. Be organized: Manage your time and your work. Allocate time for all the duties that require your attention to ensure that you do not leave anything unattended. Also, make sure you have planned time for your other inevitable duties that are necessary in your life even though not related to your work.

  21. Generosity: Clients are usually impressed by freelancers who do work that goes beyond the price that they have settled for. Giving over and above what you are being paid and still maintaining the appropriate quality is a big plus in the eyes of your employer. Also, where possible and reasonable, offer your time and skills in one of the many areas that may need your input or in helping other freelancers overcome the difficulties they may be encountering in a similar field.

  22. Stick to the budget: Budgets are a vital way of controlling costs. A freelancer who has the power to determine how much gets consumed or spent on a project should exercise due care and concern in sticking to the proposed budget as well as informing the client when it becomes clear that this may not be possible.

  23. Stay within scope: Where a contract has a clearly set scope or area of coverage, such as when writing a report, by all means ensure compliance and avoid tricks that you may think will help you accomplish the project with minimum effort or help you cut corners and still get you paid the agreed sum of money.

  24. Honesty: To a freelancer, honesty is one of the most crucial areas of ethical behavior that determines the maintenance of a proper relationship with an employer. This will determine the level of trust in this relationship and it is from this that they can decide on the level and amount of responsibilities they can bestow upon you.

  25. Check / Counter-check/ Proofread: Other than handing over your completed assignments to your clients, the work should, as much as possible be error free. Where facts and figures have been used these should be checked and counter-checked to add to the authenticity of the work. For written work, always proofread your completed tasks. All this is done to eliminate confusions, repetitions, redundancies, spelling mistakes as well as errors of omission or commission.

  26. Background checks: Wherever possible do a quick background to give yourself a reasonable level of assurance that your client really is whom they say they are. Other than helping you understand their business better it acts as a kind of guarantee that they will pay you upon completion of the contract.

  27. Turning in completed assignments: Once you have settled on the terms of the contract then it is upon you to deliver on their agreement. Not unless there are circumstances that hinder you from proper completion, which should be discussed with your employer, your word is your bond and this is what the employer is relying upon for delivery of the goods.

  28. Be considerate: Always have care and concern for your client and your client’s customers when carrying out your duties. This means sympathizing with the client in the use of resources, budget, time, standards and quality requirements.

  29. Neatness/tidiness: As much as possible, all you do should be presented in the best possible way. Taking into consideration the layout of your work, legibility, elegance and other factors that contribute to how smart your work looks.

  30. Discrimination: As far as possible, do not allow your judgment be guided by stereotypes of prejudices that are based on your employer’s or subcontractors race, religion, country of origin or similar background or characteristics that may lead you to unfairly discriminate against them.

  31. Independence: Most employers would like to find and work with freelancers who are responsible, accountable and able to work under minimal supervision. This allows the client to attend to other issues that need their attention.

  32. Humility: Be humble enough to accept your mistakes or to ask for help or assistance when you are facing difficulties. Pride may hinder you from learning new skills that are vital to your work and hence prevent you from progressing.

  33. Online/Public rants about clients: Avoid public discussions concerning anything related to your client or employer. It goes against ethical behavior when you reveal matters that are private or those that you have been entrusted to you under your relationship.

  34. Character assassination, defaming, deriding, of other freelancers: More than just keeping your client’s affairs private, how you deal with other freelancers should also be professional. Even where the competition is cutthroat, this does not justify spoiling their good name in the hope that you can get ahead of them or acquire a better position in your career.

  35. Client’s reputation: Take into consideration the past history, past practices and reputation of your clients. This might just be what you need to make a decision whether it is moral to carry out any work for them.

  36. Conflict of interests: Be guided by your conscience when taking on freelancing work especially where this may bring about a conflict of interest; this may occur especially where you are taking on multiple assignments, and the clients concerned are in the same line of business.

  37. Attendance/ absenteeism: Avoid getting into the habit of playing truant and forming a pattern of coming up with excuses that prevent you from accomplishing your duties. Absenteeism from work reflects on you negatively and will determine your reputation and whether you get repeat customers.

  38. Giving credit to sources: When you have borrowed ideas from another source, get into the habit of giving credit to the source. This is applicable in many areas especially where intellectual property is concerned. This will help avoid plagiarism and the possible negative consequences of this.

  39. Stewardship: Always keep in mind where you are entrusted with property or goods that belong to your employer you are acting in a stewardship position and therefore do not be tempted to misuse or act in a manner that may give the wrong impression to others. Equipment or automotive vehicles should be handled with care and applied to accomplish the parts of your task for which they were meant and not for personal use. Where this has not been observed, and damage or injury was caused through negligence you should exercise a high level of responsibility and professionalism and do whatever it takes to compensate your client or have them deduct the cost from the agreed price of the contract.

  40. Treat contracts, clients according to merit: Give credit where it is due when it comes to making judgment calls where an assignments calls for it. Past dealings with the client may help you judge what to expect from a client in the future and it may help you avoid misjudging them and hence misunderstanding them.

  41. Assist where you can: As concerns of work that is conducted on an online platform, you can assist the owners or moderators of the platform by reporting anything that may seem inappropriate or going against the norms of the work environment. This works along the spirit of community policing since the authorities may not have an eye on everything that is taking place.

  42. Be cooperative: Approaching your work with a cooperative attitude makes things go much smoother than when there is no cooperation or less than what is necessary. It also helps grow a good relationship.

  43. Etiquette: While carrying on with your business and it takes you into different environments make an effort to observe the acceptable behavior of those whom you come in contact with.

  44. Respect: Do your best to understand the position of all those who you are dealing with. Respect their age and experience, where this is the case, and if possible learn from this. This is one of those things that your client will notice that may seem minor or of little significance.

  45. Duty of care: Treat your client’s property or information as if it was yours. Take it upon yourself to protect integrity of the information that is entrusted to you and apply portion when interacting with others not to disclose more than what is necessary or what may jeopardize your client’s business or their future engagements.

If these ethical behaviors are learned, acquired and practiced by a freelancer over time they become second nature and become part of normal, everyday practice. The difficulty or sheer length of this list is by no means meant to discourage or overwhelm freelancers; it is a guide as well as a point of reference that should even grow as your experiences grow in this chosen career path.


Image CreditsBigStock

Like the article? Share it.

LinkedIn Pinterest


  1. It’s really very nice post. anyone can learn useful content from here.

Leave a Comment Yourself

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *