Are Freelancers Automatically Entrepreneurs?

Last week there was a lively debate on the question of whether “freelancer” is a dirty word. (The consensus seems to be “yes.”)

But another question seemed to arise out of that debate: Is every freelancer also an entrepreneur? If you’re self employed, does that mean you’re an entrepreneur?

These questions were also triggered when I watched “Shine,” the short film by Biznik-ers, Dan McComb and Ben Medina (if you you attended the 2nd annual Creative Freelancer Conference in 2009 in San Diego, you may remember seeing a clip from it).

Watch it here and tell us what you think.

SHINE: The Entrepreneur’s Journey from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

6 thoughts on “Are Freelancers Automatically Entrepreneurs?

  1. Joe

    Hey Ilise… I think what separates a freelancer from an entrepreneur is whether or not this “independent” is out looking for work or waiting for it to fall into their laps. There are a ton of deadbeat freelancers out there that give hard working freelancers their negative stigma. If a freelancer is out looking for clients, promoting their talents and providing great creative services then yes, I think they can be considered to be an entrepreneur because they’re putting forth an effort to make a business happen.

    Personally, I love it when I get the “oh you’re just a freelancer…” from someone. I take great pleasure when I open their narrow little minds… usually in 45 seconds or less.

  2. Carolyn Brajkovich

    Hi Illise! Thanks for another amazing find. It’s actually great to hear that there are so many others out there like me. It gets tiring to hear people say that what you’re doing is a dream, so wake up and go get a job.

    No, not all freelancers will be entrepreneurs. The common theme I’m hearing from those interviewees is that they don’t fit the typical workers mold because there’s something else driving them. They don’t need to fit in with society’s idea of normal, because it’s not appealing to them. I know that feeling because I’ve felt it all of my life. I’ve finally realized that I just can’t do it anymore. So, now I am trying to establish my drive into something worthwhile that will make other lives easier. It’s really not about the money. If it is, then you’re probably not an entrepreneur. Sure, money is necessary to live, but does it allow you to thrive? I guess it depends on your definition of “thrive”. But either way (freelancer or entrepreneur), you have something valuable to give and need to find a way to make it happen. That’s the priceless question: how do we make it happen – whatever it is?

  3. heather parlato

    it’s a tough question, because anyone engaging in freelance without the help of an agency will be filing as a sole-proprietor of a business, yet i’ve met so many freelancers who don’t run themselves as an independent business. for me, in seeing that the law and tax code sees me as a business was one of the weird pushes i needed to see myself that way, and i do think it would only help more freelancers out there to embrace what they really are.

    i disagree with the previous comment and the notion that entrepreneurs are more interested in money. people who work for money are all interested in money. while i don’t necessarily think of myself as a visionary type of entrepreneur, i definitely switched over from the “freelance designer” definition when i realized i brought my clients so many more services in helping them plan their own marketing strategies and consult on best avenues tailored to each of them.

    so, i tend to think that all freelancers could be entrepreneurs, but it’s mostly in how they run their businesses. if you’re treating your new clients like your last boss, that’s one way to operate, but not nearly the extent of how one can operate. the potential is there, and the law already sees you as a business, now it’s just the difference in mindset about what you’re capable of.

  4. Hope W.

    Freelancers are not automatically entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are driven by vision and the desire to go out on their own and do things ‘their’ way. Some freelancers do this and may still call themselves a freelancer. Others are freelancing b/c they lost their job or b/c they like the lifestyle. But they are still operating with an ’employee’ mindset. How you view your business and what you want to create with it defines whether you are an entrepreneur or a freelancer. Entrepreneurs build businesses (even businesses of 1) that are systems that bring in cash flow whether the person works or not. Freelancers are essentially employees and employees have to work to make money…if they don’t work, there’s no cash flow.
    Basically, freelancers don’t have a business, they have a (series of) job(s). Entrepreneurs have a business not a job.

  5. Genevieve

    I find that those identifying as “freelancers” are people who think of themselves as designers/writers/photographers/illustrators outside the traditional workplace scenario. While “entrepreneurs” are people in any field who are passionate about running and building a business. I’ve met many self-defined entrepreneurs who have started several different businesses in their career, often in completely different industries. Freelancers tend to stick with their art-related field of expertise. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I run my design business because I enjoy being a designer, but I want to do it on my terms. I don’t use the word freelancer because as Heather points out, mine is technically a business and I deal directly with clients, am set up as a corporation, etc. I don’t use the word entrepreneur, because I’m more interested in running a design business than any other kind of business and I don’t see business-running as the primary goal of my career.

  6. Travis Tom

    I have been an on-again, off-again and now on-again “independent contractor”. I prefer this term over freelancer because it sounds more professional as an individual providing creative services. The past year I have been working as an independent and let me tell you, it is fearful not knowing where the next project will be coming from, but somehow there always seems to be a project that comes in at the last minute to save the day. So I am working more on trying to keep steady workflow and I think some self-promotion is due. My grandparents come from an entrepreneurial spirit (merchant store owners and then a restaurant). I tend to think I have that same spirit.

    Beyond the contract work from a home studio, I wrote and illustrated an alphabet book last summer and it is being pitched around to a few publishers at the moment. Ideally I think the book should become an e-book and possibly a coloring book. As an icon specialist I have recently created 4 icon sets (with a few more in the works) that I hope to turn into a series of downloadable fonts available to the public by this summer. The themes of the dingbat/icon series are Celebrations, Tourism, Summer Games (inspired by the Olympic spirit, and Abstract Technology. These side ventures that relate to my field have created an excitement in me I haven’t felt in a long time.

    I came across a quote a few years ago that I filed away in my brain, “I’d like to make money while I sleep”. Although I don’t remember which magazine I read that in, it has constantly pushed me with ideas of coming up with ways to earn a supplemental income – creating a product that I created and can be proud of. As I spend more time on these side ventures, it seems my business model may be evolving. Maybe I got bitten by that entrepreneurial spirit bug.