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Are You a Freelancer or an Entrepreneur?

There are a lot of words that describe who we are on this journey: entrepreneur, solo-preneur, freelancer, self-employed….I’m no word-smith but I’m sure there are more.

I often hear debate about the difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur. Some people consider themselves one OR the other and not both.

So if we’re going to get all picky about words, and since the name of this community has quite the emphasis on “freelance” and not so much on “entrepreneur”, I want to clarify what those two words mean to me.

Freelancer or Entrepreneur?

Here’s what I think about this question:

I think you should be both.

I am both, so I’m biased.

But I think you need both to get to freedom.

So let’s take a gander at the dictionary for a sec.

Freelancer [free-lans, -lahns, -lans, -lahns]: a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job,etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer.

So we all pretty much fit into that right (or would like to eventually)? If you don’t earn a regular salary from one person, you’re a freelancer. That’s settled.

Here’s where things get a little more complicated from the French side of the world:

Entrepreneur comes from the french verb “entreprendre”.

The english language has it’s own definition (at least dictionary.com):

Entrepreneur [ahn-truh-pruh-nurz, -noo rz; French ahn-truh-pruh-nœr]: a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

But I prefer the french definition:

Entreprendre: to take action, in general long or complicated

So how does this relate to you?

  • It’s easy to be a freelancer. And by that I mean it’s the easiest way to start working for yourself. You have skills, you can find people that need what you offer and you can sell them your skills. If you don’t have skills you can get some.
  • You can keep your day job and be a freelancer, to make sure things stay safe and “stable”. (Read this to find out why I put stable in quotes)
  • You can do what’s easiest for you and be a freelancer (only offering the services you know like the back of your hand and that you know people will buy).
  • You can get freelance work without having to go too far outside your comfort zone (bidding for jobs on craigslist, elance or just talking to friends and family)
  • You can do this work without setting up a business entity, hiring an accountant or really looking into your finances.

And going back to the definitions of entrepreneur, there isn’t considerable initiative or risk needed and it doesn’t have to be taking long-lasting or complicated action. With that in mind, if that sounds like you, you’re more a freelancer than an entrepreneur.

An entrepreneur is in it for the long haul.

An entrepreneur is willing to take risk.

An entrepreneur is a CEO of a business, not a person with skills to sell.

What does it look like to be an entrepreneur as well?

  • Planning your growth, setting goals and taking action to meet those goals.
  • Putting time and money into developing services, products and income streams for the long-term.
  • Investing in your business (hiring an accountant, taking courses, hiring a coach, bookkeeping, online software)
  • Putting time and effort into marketing your business, making connections in your space and building a personal brand.
  • Taking risks for the big picture rather than the present moment.

I knew I wanted to be a freelancer AND entrepreneur the day I started it all. I knew that I wouldn’t want to trade time for money as a web designer forever. So the moment I started freelancing as a web designer, I already started building out the Freelance To Freedom Project.

I knew it would take time to build an audience that I could serve in a non-1-to-1 way and that was ok. I took risky action on something that took a lot of my time with no monetary reward (blogging weekly for 7 months). Time I could have spent making more with web design.

But I had long-term goals in mind that were more important than the present.

And it’s paid off already.

Because I took action that I knew would be long and risky (maybe no one would read or buy from me), this year 40% of my income came from “passive” sources.

So what do you want to be?

If you prefer life to be on the easy-side (but with more freedom than a 9-5) freelancing is your jam. And that’s 100% ok.

If you want to challenge yourself, reach goals & success in business beyond your imagination, step into a bigger picture, and are willing to put in a lot of effort for the long-haul to get there, start thinking like an entrepreneur.

Remember, freedom is up to you to define. It doesn’t need to be to you what it is to me or anyone else in this community. What does freedom mean to you and can you get there being a freelancer, and entrepreneur, or both?

Let me know in the comments: Do you consider yourself a freelancer or an entrepreneur? Are you one and striving to be another?

-Leah

Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis is the founder of The Freelance To Freedom Project and a web designer/developer for brilliant entrepreneurs. When she’s not hanging out in the FTF Community, you can find her people watching on the streets of NYC. Come say hi on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • LOVE this!! You are such an inspiration (I think say that with every blog post). Thank you for giving me a virtual kick in the butt each week with your wise words!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Oh you’re too sweet. Thank you. You’re quite the inspiration yourself lady. Love virtual butt kicks!

  • I am definitely both but more an entrepreneur. I have to sections on my website for my work. The web designer (my freelancer side, selling time for money) and the web design training courses I am setting up (my entrepreneurial side, creating passive income). By the end of 2015, I want to be 80% entrepreneur and 20% freelancer, so basically flipping the metrics on their head. I actually don’t enjoy trading time for money, I am far better suited to developing online courses and group coaching. I will also be moving more into personal development than web tech training and it will all fall under a big umbrella. So yeah, I’m in it for the long haul and building an empire 🙂

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Love that! So great that you have considered this and have set a plan in motion. I don’t think being an entrepreneur is just about “passive income”, but more about the mindset of running a business rather than just selling skills. But I have the “passive income” talk planned for another day (because I don’t think it’s ever actually passive!). But I love that you see where your strengths are and are focusing on that rather than on wanting passive income to work less, ya know? When I set goals instead of saying freelance% vs entrepreneur% I say 1-1 design work vs. courses vs consulting vs. products, etc. Because I do think you need/can be both although it’s a highly debatable topic!

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  • This conversation comes up very often for me. So many labels I could mention and it is why I have kept with designer because of it. I was a freelancer and now I am totally an entrepreneur. I am much more than designer now.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yes, it’s all just labels. So glad you’re stepping into bigger things!

  • Jo

    This is spot on! I started as a freelancer, trading my skills for time while I got used to no more 9-5. I became an entrepreneur after about 6 months at the moment when I renamed my computer folder from ‘Freelancing’ to ‘Business’. It was a definite mindshift to start making future plans, investing and thinking bigger. The freelancing is still the core of the business, but it’s certainly not all of it and won’t always be.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Isn’t it crazy how such a small thing can shift your mindset!? Thanks so much for sharing that little detail, I love it!

  • Wow, 40%! That’s impressive! You and the community you’ve created is such an inspiration to me and has continually helped me push myself to the entrepreneurial side more and more. Here’s to goal setting 🙂

  • I’ve become more entrepreneurial-ish in the last year, but I’m still trading time for money. I have plans to expand beyond my design & illustration business, but it’s a steep curve because, unlike most design professionals, I don’t want to teach web design & Photoshop. I’m over it, I’ve done it for free when I was 19-22 and it doesn’t inspire me anymore. I’m still refining the direction I want to go in and teach.

  • Thanks clarifying this debate. Your posts are always helpful to me on this journey! Now that I look back I had been working as freelancer even before I quit my 9-5. I did more than was required of me at the office and some of the connections and relationships I nurtured eventually led to people asking me for “other” related work outside of my regular job duties. I took those requests seriously and served those clients with more gusto! because I was passionate about the work. This began my freelance journey. But I’m definitely an entrepreneur because even my 1-to-1 services are part of a larger business goal. I’m in it for the long haul and I know that each project and task is building something toward the future I envision. Thanks for being an inspiration Leah 🙂

  • ‘To take action’…loving it. That’s what I need more of in 2015!
    Guess that puts me in the entrepreneur category –

  • Great post! I had never looked up the definition of each of these terms… but I’ve always thought of myself as a “business owner” AKA entrepreneur, and didn’t like it when people put the “freelancing” label on me. As in, “oh, she’s just freelancing, ” like its just a way to make money – not a true business. But I see looking at these definitions and the way you’ve broken them down why each has their own “name” and truly are a different beast.

  • Great stuff Leah (as always)! When I first started I didn’t think of myself as both but definitely do now. So glad you did and started the FF2FP! You keep me inspired, improving, growing and excited (as always)! Thanks!!

  • Leah,
    I definitely agree! The way I see it, I’ll freelance until my small startup business gets off the ground. And even then I’m sure I’ll still be freelancing part of the time. I knew I didn’t want to work a 9-5 anymore, and also wanted to offer my services via my own website, so I started freelancing and solopreneuring at the same time.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Love this Leah. I was just struggling with a blog post title because I wasn’t sure whether to use “entrepreneur” or “freelancer” (believe it or not!) but now I think I have the answer. Great post!

  • A few years ago when I was staying home with my firstborn, I was definitely a freelancer. This second time around, I am definitely leaning toward being both in the way that I am setting up my business. I think it’s an important distinction.

  • I am both! I love both sides of it equally. I love taking on custom work, (as a cake designer) but right now I am working on building more passive income streams into my business model, including selling “bagged” products through an online store front, and working on some small buyable paper products. Thank you Leah for this great post. I wasn’t really sure what separated the two, but this makes it very clear.

  • What a fab post! I definitely consider myself both the freelancer and entrepreneur.

    Freedom to me means being free from the constant panic and chaos of trying to line projects up to keep income coming in. It means you’ve created steady streams of income to give yourself the flexibility of working your schedule to fit you rather than letting the money dictate. 🙂

  • There’s a new word in there somewhere to describe us, “freepreneur,” “entrelancer?” I don’t know, something like that.

    I’ve found some days I want to be an entrepreneur and I’m out there creating content, making connections, working on my business. Some days I’m fine being a freelancer and put my head down and get sh*t done. So far it’s been a decently balanced mix I hope will continue.

  • Love this, Leah! My husband and I frequently talk about what the word entrepreneur means. It’s the risk part that many entrepreneurs nowadays forget about. Like you said, we are in it for the long haul. And the way most of us start, for a while we have to wear all hats in the business. Kudos to you for making the right choices and making it all work out so well!

  • I once heard it phrased “from freelancer to founder” which I liked a lot. Freelancing always seemed like staying afloat, do work you love (or not) for some money, not sure if you’ll still be doing it a year from now. Founder is planting you flag and declaring that you’re in it for real and for keeps. That you’re starting a legacy. And I agree- you need to be both!

  • Love this Leah!! I am both too! But definitely freelancing for longer. This is a great reminder to keep my eye on the prize and moving towards that big picture as an entrepreneur. And ultimately being the architects of our own lives and defining freedom. Thank you for sharing!

  • Such a great conversation. I’ve totally struggled with this in the past.

    I found myself saying I was ‘just a freelancer’. I realise now that I was scared to step up and be seen in a bigger way. Of having an opinion. And sharing it.

    I felt like an entrepreneur was someone who was more excited about the business, growth and building a team.

    So I decided to give up the labels and just be ME.

    Part freelancer (I’ll never take for granted being able to work 1:1 with clients to being their vision to life x) and part entrepreneur, where I want to share what I know and help make the world a better place.

    Vari x

  • Jamie Melly

    I’ve realised I am both of these. I’m a freelance translator, but I come from a sales background where networking and general selling of yourself has become second nature. That sets me apart from a lot of the translators I’ve met who seem to think jobs will fall from the sky.
    As for risk, I’m translating a friend’s sci-fi novel from French to English for free. I don’t put every waking moment into it, but my goal is that it will pay off and a. I’ll have a portfolio piece to break into literary translation and b. maybe the English version will be so successful that we can split the proceeds when it’s published. I’m also writing an e-book when I’ve got downtime from freelancing work so I can generate a passive income stream.

    So yeah, I’m both and I love it that way.

    Thanks for the article, Leah.

    J

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