Remote Hiring Blueprint: Freelancers vs. Independent Contractors

freelancers vs independent contractors 1

Want to hire the best global talent for your business?

It's not as simple as picking between a freelancer and an independent contractor anymore.

In our new world of work, the lines are blurring.

Don’t get lost in the jargon.

In this guide, we’ll break it down for you—plain and simple.

So you can make the right hiring move, every time.

The Landscape Shift: A Snapshot

Recent data from Upwork suggests a notable shift in the US workforce—around 36% have embraced freelancing, a trend that got a significant boost post-pandemic.

But remember, the world of remote work is more expansive than just freelancing.

Heard of independent contractors?

If so, you may be wondering what the difference between freelancers and independent contractors is.

Let's help clarify that for you.

The Freelancer Defined

freelancers vs independent contractors 2

Imagine a dynamic, adaptable professional, often juggling multiple gigs at once, spread across various domains.

Freelancers typically offer specialized skills to a broad range of clients and tend to operate in fields such as media, design, and content creation.

Their mantra? Flexibility and diversity in projects.

The Independent Defined

freelancers vs independent contractors 3

While they share some similarities with freelancers, independent contractors often have deeper engagements.

They might work on an extended project for one client, offering niche expertise.

This can be as solo operators or under an agency umbrella.

Fields like IT, finance, and construction often see a higher prevalence of such contractors.

The Crucial Differences Between Freelancers and Independent Contractors

freelancers vs independent contractors 4

In the world of remote work, the lines between freelancers and independent contractors often blur.

However, understanding their intricacies is pivotal for businesses to make effective hiring decisions.

Let's dissect the key distinctions that set these two categories apart.

Engagement Length

While freelancers might be synonymous with short, diverse engagements (sometimes without fixed timelines), contractors often link themselves to extended, well-defined projects.

For instance, a freelance graphic designer might be hired to design a logo over a week, whereas an independent contractor specializing in software development could be tied to a six-month project developing a mobile app.

Hiring Channels

If you’re strapped for time, a contractor via an agency might be your best bet.

You directly coordinate with the agency on the deliverables and rates.

But with freelancers, it’s all about direct communication, negotiations, and personal rapport.

Work Rhythms

A freelancer's work schedule can be fluid, adapting to the multiple projects they balance.

Contractors, on the other hand, tend to have more consistent hours, especially if they're on a long-term project.

Payments Simplified

Both freelancers and contractors can operate on project-based or hourly pay structures. The distinction?

Freelancers generally handle their invoicing directly, while contractors linked to agencies might have the agency mediating the payment process.

This could mean added ease for businesses hiring through agencies.

Commitment and Contracts

The word ‘contract’ is in Contractor for a reason.

While freelancers often work without stringent legal agreements, independent contractors typically bind themselves to detailed contracts that outline project specifics.

Consider a scenario where a business hires a freelancer for content creation.

The agreement might be casual, perhaps based on mutual trust and a few emails.

On the other hand, when the same business engages an independent contractor for a marketing campaign, there might be a comprehensive contract in place, detailing roles, deliverables, and penalties for non-compliance.


The digital age allows freelancers the flexibility to choose their workspace, be it their cozy home office or a local co-working space.

For contractors, especially in specialized sectors like IT, you might need to arrange or suggest specific workspaces.

Imagine an independent IT contractor tasked with sensitive data work. They might need a secure and dedicated workspace, possibly even within the client's premises or a recommended secure hub, to ensure data safety and compliance.

A freelance writer, on the flip side, could easily churn out articles from a beach in Bali or a bustling city cafe.

Hiring Checklist: Freelancer or Contractor?

freelancers vs independent contractors 5

If you're in a dilemma, here is the checklist to follow:

  1. What's the project duration?
  2. Do I prefer direct or mediated communication with the hire?
  3. What's my budget bracket?
  4. Is there a fixed daily time slot I want to allocate?
  5. Is collaboration with in-office teams crucial?
  6. Is there a chance of transitioning them to full-time roles?

1. What's the project duration?

Duration spells differentiation. Freelancers are adept at handling short-term projects, allowing quick turnarounds. If your project extends over months, a contractor, especially those with specialized expertise, might be a better fit. Always evaluate the length and depth of the project against the flexibility or commitment you desire.

2. Do I prefer direct or mediated communication with the hire?

Communication is king. Freelancers generally prefer direct lines of communication, offering a personal touch.

On the other hand, if you're seeking a more structured communication system, often mediated through an agency, then independent contractors might be more your speed.

Remember: effective communication often dictates project success.

3. What's my budget bracket?

While both freelancers and contractors come with varied price tags, freelancers might offer more negotiation flexibility.

Contractors, especially those under agencies, might have standardized rates. But always weigh the costs against the quality and specialization you're getting.

4. Is there a fixed daily time slot I want to allocate?

Freelancers, with their multiple engagements, might prefer flexible hours.

If you need someone to align with a specific time slot consistently, a contractor, especially one bound to a longer-term project, could be more accommodating. Always clarify availability upfront.

5. Is collaboration with in-office teams crucial?

If constant collaboration with in-office teams is essential, it's worth considering how a freelancer or contractor fits into this puzzle.

While many freelancers are used to remote collaboration tools, contractors, especially those from larger agencies, might offer a more integrated approach to team-based projects.

6. Is there a chance of transitioning them to full-time roles?

If you foresee a full-time role on the horizon for the hire, discuss this upfront.

Contractors, given their longer engagements, might be more open to such transitions.

Freelancers, relishing their freedom, might need more convincing.

It's always about gauging commitment and alignment with company culture.

IRS & Employee Classification: Stay Informed

freelancers vs independent contractors 6

It's more than just understanding the roles—it's about legal compliance. The IRS has guidelines on classifying workers, focusing on:

  1. Behavioral control
  2. Financial control
  3. Type of relationship

Misclassification isn't a mere error—it can lead to significant penalties. Ensure you're informed, and compliant, and consult with professionals when in doubt.

Freelancer vs Independent Contractor: Taxes…

freelancers vs independent contractors 7

Ahhh the dreaded taxes…

This is quite likely the main reason you are here.

Uncle Sam breathing down your neck?

Is your bank manager calling you every few hours?

One of the main confusions in the independent contractor vs. freelancer debate is how they're taxed.

Let’s demystify this, with the USA as our example.

Self-Employment Tax


If you've ever asked, Is a freelancer an independent contractor from a tax perspective?

Here's the clarity: freelancers are usually required to pay self-employment tax, which covers both Social Security and Medicare taxes.

This means they're on the hook for the full amount since they don't have employers to share the burden.

For instance, imagine a freelance web designer earning $60,000 annually. They'd need to calculate their self-employment tax based on this full amount, which could be a significant slice of their earnings.

Independent Contractors

In the eyes of the IRS, there’s often little difference between freelance vs. contractor categories.

Like freelancers, independent contractors are responsible for the entirety of their self-employment tax.

Tax Deductions


Essentially, freelancers can deduct business expenses directly from their business income.

The silver lining for freelancers lies here. They can offset their income with business expenses—be it the cost of a new laptop, their monthly internet bills, or even traveling costs related to their work.

Consider a freelance photographer: Camera equipment, editing software, and travel to shooting locations can all be deducted, reducing their taxable income.

Independent Contractors

On the flip side, contractors have a similar privilege. However, if tethered to a larger agency, these deductions could vary. It's the agency's guidelines that often dictate what can be deducted and what can't.

Legal Distinctions: Freelancer vs. Contractor

freelancers vs independent contractors 8

If you’ve pondered, Is freelance the same as an independent contractor from a legal viewpoint?

You're not alone. Let's untangle it for you.

Work Agreements


Typically, freelancers might not have stringent contracts, but it's advisable. Detailed contracts shield them from scope creeps, late payments, or disputes over intellectual property rights.

For example, a freelance content creator might face clients changing their requirements mid-project. A well-crafted contract can protect against such scope changes without additional compensation.

Independent Contractors

The contractor in contractor vs. freelancer isn’t there for show. They usually operate under detailed legal agreements, ensuring clarity on deliverables, timelines, and payment terms.

Intellectual Property


Without clear contracts, intellectual property rights can reside in a grey area. It’s crucial to define who retains rights to the work once it's done.

Independent Contractors

As with freelancers, rights should be explicitly outlined in their contract, but given their usual adherence to detailed contracts, this is often clearer.

Payment Complications in the Freelancer vs. Contractor Debate

freelancers vs independent contractors 9

Whether you’re dealing with a freelancer or an independent contractor payments can be a labyrinth.

Let's try to clear those up for you before your accountant comes calling.


  1. Freelancers: With freelancers helming their invoicing, businesses might find themselves juggling different invoicing platforms or payment gateways, especially when hiring a plethora of freelancers. For instance, while one freelance writer might prefer being paid via PayPal, another might send invoices through platforms like FreshBooks or QuickBooks.

  2. Independent Contractors: Those linked with agencies might have streamlined invoicing processes, but solo contractors will resemble freelancers in this aspect.

International Payments

Freelancers and Independent Contractors: If your hired talent resides overseas, brace for currency conversion rates, transaction fees, and potential delays. Platforms like PayPal or Wise can simplify this, but they come with their own fees.

Imagine hiring an employee from India: A payment sent might lose some value due to conversion rates, and platforms used might charge a fee—factors to account for in the initial agreement.

Tax Withholding

Freelancers and Independent Contractors: When you dissect the difference between freelancers and independent contractors in payment terms, neither typically have taxes withheld by the employer/client. It’s their duty to manage their tax payments, though businesses need to provide them with an IRS Form 1099-NEC if they earn more than $600 in a year.

For instance, if a business hired a freelance illustrator for a project costing $750, they'd need to ensure that a 1099-NEC form is provided to the freelancer, keeping Uncle Sam in the loop.

Hiring Freelancers vs. Independent Contractors

The differences between freelancers and independent contractors, while nuanced, can substantially impact your business's operations and objectives.

From engagement length, and communication preferences, to intricate tax implications, each facet needs your meticulous attention.

However, as you delve into these intricacies, compliance emerges as a fundamental aspect.

Whether you're looking at hiring a freelancer or an independent contractor, understanding the legal and tax obligations is non-negotiable.

But here's the silver lining: You don't have to do this alone.

Parallel, a leading EOR and Payroll Platform, emerges as your trusted partner in this journey. We are dedicated to ensuring that your hiring processes, irrespective of the category of remote worker, remain seamless and compliant.

Ready to simplify your remote hiring endeavors?

Book a free demo with us today!


How do freelancers differ from independent contractors?

Freelancers are short-term, versatile workers, while independent contractors often focus on long-term, deeper engagements.

Which is a better fit: contractor or freelancer?

It's subjective and depends on your business needs—freelancers for short-term, specialized tasks, and contractors for extended, in-depth projects.

Can I transition from an independent contractor to a full-time role?

Absolutely! It's a strategic move to retain top talent and ensure long-term collaboration.