Choose Your Path: Freelancer or Entrepreneur

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Most businesses are started by “technicians”. A technician, in this context, refers to the person who builds products, delivers services, or makes the goods a customer purchases. Technicians do the work.

The skills required to provide goods and services are different than the skills needed to build and grow a successful business. Many critics believe this disconnect is why most businesses fail. The qualifications for one area do not translate to the other. Even worse, most business owners don’t notice the deficit before it’s too late.

Technicians start businesses to get paid doing what they love. They are capable of doing the work but often unqualified to, or unattracted by, essential business activities like marketing, sales, operations, or finance.

For example, Sally enjoys making delicious pies. For years, her creations are Thanksgiving favorites loved by families and friends. Based on her family’s insistence, she opens a pie shop.

Pretty quickly, reality sinks in.

Instead of her days being spent creating new recipes and enjoying her craft in the kitchen, she is pulled into necessary business functions as a bookkeeper, shopkeeper, janitor, and much more. She got into businesses to bake but is now stuck running a bakery.

This concept is known as the Entrepreneurs Myth. It’s discussed in detail in the book E-myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. For entrepreneurs working to build and grow a large business, I strongly recommended reading the book. For freelancers wanting to build a solo business, proceed with caution.

Before you start working on the business, not in the business, pause to consider if entrepreneurship is what you really want. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. While less celebrated than modern startup empires, freelancing is still a powerful path to opportunity.

You can enjoy your work, make good money, and work for yourself by being a freelancer without being an entrepreneur.

Freelancing is not entreprenuership.

Seth Godin does a great job explaining the difference, “Freelancers get paid when they work. Freelancers can’t scale because they are doing the work. Entrepreneurs make money when they sleep. Entrepreneurs build a business to sell. If you’ve gone out and raised money, you are an entrepreneur because your investors want you to give them the money back, and the only way that’s going to happen is if you build it bigger than yourself.

“When learning how to think like an entrepreneur, your job is to hire people to do every job you can imagine. You should do nothing other than figure out what to do next. If you’re a freelancer, you should embrace the fact that the work is the point and you can’t scale your way out of that because that’s what people are hiring you for, is to do the work.”

Freelancer or Entreprenuer? One is not better or worse than the other but they are different.

The problems emerge when you fail to choose which type of business you’re building. Problems compound when you desire one, but behave like the other.

Building a business that runs without you is an excellent goal, but it doesn’t have to be your path. Doing the work can be fulfilling, but it becomes a bottleneck to growing bigger. Embracing one will conflict with the other.

There is not a right answer, but you do need to pick your path.

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Morgan J. Lopes

Morgan J. Lopes

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CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.