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Entrepreneur or a Freelancer: What’s the Difference?

Working with students on their career goals, I find there’s often a confusion between freelancing and entrepreneurship. Their goal is self-employment, but the motivation is undefined.

To help you clarify your ’why’, here are some key differences between the two:

Freelancers

  • Freelancers swap their skills and time for money.
  • Freelancers value freedom and flexibility: the ability to work when they want and where they want.
  • Freelancers have a low overhead: perhaps just a laptop and software.
  • Freelancers may work remotely (from home) or within the client’s office for the duration of the project.
  • Freelancers are solely responsible for marketing, quoting, account managing, invoicing as well as producing the work!
  • Freelancers rarely generate projects, but bring their skills & experience to a specialist project area.
  • Freelancers are their business: without ‘you’, the business does not exist.
  • Freelancing is not scaleable: your creative output and the income you can generate are constrained by the number of hours in the day.

Entrepreneurs

  • Entrepreneurs create businesses, grow businesses and sell businesses (think Richard Branson!)
  • Entrepreneurs work long long hours now to give themselves freedom later.
  • Entrepreneurs work on their businesses, not in their businesses.
  • Entrepreneurs seek to scale their businesses, employ people, expand their services, products and geographical distribution.
  • Entrepreneurs employ people smarter than themselves and motivate them to be their best.
  • Entrepreneurs seek innovation, look for gaps in the market and never settle for the status quo.
  • Entrepreneurs are comfortable with risk, quick to learn from failure and see setbacks as inevitable challenges along the road to success.
  • Entrepreneurs have an exit strategy and work towards making their own role redundant (so the business can exist without them).

This comparison is not meant to suggest that one is better than the other and there is often overlap between the two, particularly in the early days of entrepreneurship. Or a freelance business might organically morph into a successful enterprise.

It’s important to be clear of which you are or which you aspire to be.

Choosing the wrong hat can be frustrating, de-motivating and lead to burnout. See my previous post, What does success mean for you?.

For myself, I have been freelancer most of my career: freelancing has given me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with some truly remarkable people, travel to some amazing places as well as make a pretty good living.

Freelancing can also be a profitable side gig to your main job, or an outlet for more creative work than your main gig allows (the right freelance projects can look very impressive on your CV). Freelancing can also be a handy safety net between full-time jobs. Freelancers enjoy being hands on and can struggle to delegate (because no-one else can do it as well as they can!)

Entrepreneurs though, crave the big picture: the challenge of building an ‘empire’. The satisfaction of making a difference. As well, they are likely to be strong strategic thinkers, great salespeople (influencers) and motivators. They cherish the thrill of the chase. They crave significance and want to leave their mark on the world.

If your career goal is self-employment, what’s your motivation? What’s your temperament?

Where are your talents best served? Freelancer or entrepreneur?

Either can be immensely satisfying, but understanding your ‘why’ is essential.

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