Are You an Entrepreneur or a Freelancer?

I was having an argument with a freelance colleague the other day.

Not a heated argument. Just a healthy discussion.

"Freelancers are NOT entrepreneurs," he kept insisting. "You're providing a customized service. So the client is the boss. And that makes you a service provider, not an entrepreneur."

What?? I'd never heard that argument before!

It didn't make any sense to me. And I was surprised to hear it from someone as experienced and successful as he.

It was so off-the-wall, I didn't even try to argue with him. Plus, I was in a hurry. (And this wasn't the reason for our call, anyway.)

But later that day, it got me thinking...

Did he have a point?

Sort of.

I'll explain more in a minute. But first, let's talk about the standard definition of entrepreneurship.

According to, the word "entrepreneur" means...

A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

By that definition alone, many of us are entrepreneurs.

If you're taking your freelance effort seriously, it's very likely that you're treating it as a business. And you're probably taking considerable initiative and risk.

Does it matter that you don't have employees, physical products or a fancy downtown office?


Does it matter that you don't have investors, a business loan or a board of directors?


Employees, offices, inventory, a warehouse — those are all byproducts of the traditional entrepreneurial model.

But we've entered a new age. A one-person service-based business is now a viable model of entrepreneurship.

Just because you're crafting a customized, made-to-order product (the client deliverable) doesn't necessarily mean that you're any less of an entrepreneur than a furniture business that sells custom, made-to-order pieces.

The only difference is that you don't have physical inventory, employees, a warehouse and an office.

Those "physical" clues are no longer a good indicator of whether or not someone's an entrepreneur.

One-person businesses are growing like crazy. And many of them are surprisingly successful.

The web has democratized access to resources, knowledge, information, talent, tools and marketing reach.

In the process, it has evened the playing field. And it has given each one of us the power to create the kind of leverage that used to require several employees and massive amounts of capital just 20 years ago.

Here's a great example of that leverage. According to new statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 30,174 “nonemployer” firms in the U.S. that brought in $1 million to $2,499,999 in revenue in 2013.

Those are some serious numbers for a one-person operation.

And according to an article in Forbes, the largest group in this category is made up of professional, scientific and technical services firms.

So here again ... are these people entrepreneurs?

I think they are.

But there's another important reason to think of ourselves as entrepreneurs. And it has all to do with mindset.

When you see yourself as an entrepreneur, you're much more likely to act as a business owner. And that alone tends to breed better decision-making.

For instance, you'll understand and appreciate the fact that business is not just going to come your way.

You have to find it. You have to hustle.

Your body of work won't do the marketing and selling for you. Because great art, in and of itself, is not enough to put food on the table.

With an entrepreneurial mindset, you'll do a better, more consistent job of promoting yourself and your expertise. You'll also tend to price your work more profitably. And you'll have a greater appreciation and recognition of your true value.

You'll be more mindful of your productivity and work capacity. And you'll periodically review every aspect of your business to ensure that you're getting the most value out of everything you do.

So, back to my friend and his claim that freelancers are not entrepreneurs.

Is he right?

It all depends on your specific goals and intentions — and how you see yourself.

If your intention is to keep yourself busy and keep mind engaged, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But that just means that your practice is a hobby, not a business venture. It's not entrepreneurial.

Same thing if you do your work purely for the artistic value and not for the income it can provide you. There's great value in that approach for many people. I respect that.

But if you're serious about creating a business that generates a steady source of income ... and if you want to get the maximum amount of return on energy and time invested ... you would do well to think and act as an entrepreneur.

The most successful freelancers I know are very entrepreneurial. They have nearly as much (if not the same) business sense as they have talent in their chosen craft.

Want to be more successful as a solo business owner? Exercise your entrepreneurial muscle.

It will do you good.

What Do You Think?

As freelancers, are we entrepreneurs or just service providers?

Or does it depend? And if so, what's your criteria?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments area below.