A freelancer is not an entrepreneur

A person sat asking the question am I a freelancer or an entrepreneur?

If your business is just you, or based on your personal brand, then here’s a question: are you an entrepreneur, a freelancer or a solopreneur?

Whichever it is, you’re the boss (of you) and you might think that the label is irrelevant; especially as these words are often used interchangeably. They are, in fact, quite different – in definition and, more importantly, in mindset.

So what’s the difference?

Whatever their field, a freelancer does it all themselves. They get paid for their craft, skills or talent, and time. There is a finite amount of this available to them and that can limit the scope of their business.

If a freelancer wants to grow beyond these limitations, they can become an entrepreneur or a solopreneur.

An entrepreneur sees an opportunity in the market and turns that into a business that is bigger than just them. They may seek financing from investors. Their goal may be to create a business they can sell or leverage in some way. The entrepreneur creates jobs for other people to do, and builds a business with them.

A solopreneur works with other freelancers and individuals, engaging them to take care of aspects of the business – accounts, marketing, logistics, etc. – so that they can devote more of their finite time to creating products or providing a service, depending on the nature of their business.

There is no right or wrong choice, only different mindsets.

Why does it matter which path I choose?

A lot of business books and advice out there have a ‘bigger is better’ philosophy, emphasising growth and expansion: more turnover, a bigger team, etc. That’s not right for everyone. For example…

For many years, my business partner and I grew our digital marketing agency fuelled by this belief. It took the combination of economic downturn and burnout for us to realise that we didn’t actually want to run the business we’d created. We’d been sold someone else’s dream and burned ourselves out building it. For us, prioritising growth over everything else was not the right strategy. (For others, it might be, just not for everyone).

It’s a choice of mindset:

“I am going to grow this to be a big business”

“I am going to make this business work for me”

The first is the default option we are often encouraged to adopt. The second is about setting your own bar and measurement for success.

The entrepreneur role is about growing the business, not delivering a product or service. If that turns you on, be an entrepreneur. If you want to get paid for your craft, skills or talent, the solopreneur route allows you to grow your business without stepping back from your customers. It depends on what you love doing.

Solopreneurship: being yourself

You can hire someone else to do your accounts, bookkeeping, graphic design, website, photography, and so on. As a solopreneur, the creative work, skill or talent that people are hiring you for is done by you.

For many, this means they can be themselves (i.e. different) and get paid for it.

This also means you can avoid Seth Godin’s ‘race to the bottom’ because your key selling point is not price or speed of service/delivery (the only way to win on these is to be the cheapest and fastest). No, your key selling point is you.

When you’re selling ‘you’, you’re not aiming for wide appeal, you’re not trying to please everybody. The opposite is true: you’re selling to people who want the unique thing that you bring. That’s a race to the top!

Doing something specific and unique for a small audience means you can charge more for doing it. Successful freelancers don’t have a lot of clients paying a little, they have a few clients paying a lot.

How do you win those clients?

The key is to clearly show people your who, what and why.

  • Who do you work with?
  • What do you work with them on? (What outcome feeling or insight do you guide them to?)
  • Why can they trust you to deliver it?

In communicating your answers to these questions it shows the right clients that you are the perfect person to work with.

Don’t expand your scope. Focus it!

A successful freelancer/solopreneur chooses the smallest viable market, not the biggest one. It might be just a handful of companies and individuals – the number doesn’t really matter as long as it’s enough to keep you busy.

Focus on the people who really want what it is that you do.

Then show them why they can trust you to deliver on your promise.

Use your story and back catalogue of content to really stand out and to make it clear to those people that you are best placed to help them get where they want to go.

With the right clients, you can charge more because they can see that you clearly deliver more, and what you deliver is exactly what they want.

There will always be someone else offering a cheaper alternative or giving it away for free. What you have to figure out is how to do is build relationships, practices and skills that they can’t or won’t.

Be you and get paid for it

There are a hundred undifferentiated freelancers doing what you do. Just showing up and hoping clients pick you means you are in a race to the bottom (price and speed, remember?)

Being a solopreneur (effectively outsourcing the parts of your business that are administrative and/or just not your thing) means you can spend more time on differentiating yourself and seeking out the clients willing to value you.

This process takes time and effort and I have written a book that makes that work simpler: Reframing Marketing: A 3-step plan for effective and ethical marketing. Chapters include finding your smallest viable audience, creating content that makes you stand out, and packaging up your best work into something that people really want to buy.