Self-Employment Models — Are You a Freelancer, Entrepreneur or Solopreneur?

Written by Erin Ollila on December 7, 2016

I’ve never identified with the term “freelancer.” That isn’t to say I don’t love everything about the lifestyle, like bringing my daughter to the zoo in the middle of the day; I just feel like the title doesn’t suit me. In my profession, writers pitch magazines or brands story ideas and, for the pieces that get accepted, they’re paid and move on to find new work. It’s like a constant chase for employment, and that pursuit doesn’t fit my professional goals, such as teaching writing courses. But do any other self-employment models fit me better?

If you’re new to working on your own or you’re considering leaving a nine-to-five job to work for yourself, you should first identify which self-employment model fits your needs. Are you a freelancer, solopreneur or entrepreneur? Answering this question will help you strategize for the long term. Know that none of these models is better than another; they all have intricacies that some workers identify with better than the others.

Defining the Self-Employment Models

Before learning about the ways workflows, employees and clients influence your job title, you should understand the basic definitions of the three self-employment models.

  1. Freelancer: The Balance defines a freelancer as “someone who offers services for a fee. In general terms, a freelancer works independently with no expectation of a permanent or long-term relationship with a single employer.”
  2. Entrepreneur: According to Merriam-Webster, an entrepreneur is “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.”
  3. Solopreneur: Macmillan Dictionary reports a solopreneur as being “a business owner who works and runs their business alone.”

Workflow of the 3 Models

The way people complete their work often defines which category of self-employment they align with. For example, entrepreneurs are often extremely comfortable hiring others to complete the work that needs to get done, while freelancers may scoff at the idea of outsourcing. Solopreneurs, as you’ll notice in other instances, as well, appear to fall between those two approaches.

Entrepreneurs may contract out all their marketing or branding needs to freelancers. They may also hire someone to handle customer service, inventory and shipping. The key is getting the work done and doing so quickly, as many entrepreneurs prefer to network with others to advance their business. They’d rather delegate a project to be completed midday, so they can make time for a networking lunch instead.

Solopreneurs are similar in that they’ll consider working with others to build their business. However, instead of hiring employees, they may contract with other self-employed individuals or companies to complete projects as they arise. Solopreneurs are like freelancers, because you can expect them to roll up their sleeves and get the work done on their own or alongside their counterparts. Since freelancers often work on contracts, they don’t need to hire others. Freelancers can finish their responsibilities and move onto the next project without consulting anyone else.

Many solopreneurs and entrepreneurs work somewhat traditional schedules. For instance, they often make themselves available to clients or colleagues during “normal” office hours. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t working late in the night, while everyone else in their house is asleep, or waking up hours earlier to complete a work project. Comparatively, freelancers will change their schedules depending on the needs of their lifestyle or current work project.

Who You Work With Defines Your Role

Do you have absolutely no interest in hiring employees? Chances are, you’re a freelancer. The only other people freelancers work with are their direct clients. For example, a photographer will temporarily work with a customer or host a one-time appointment, like in the case of a professional head shot or a wedding package that includes the proposal, engagement photo shoot, the main event and even a “trash-the-dress” session after it’s all over.

For an entrepreneur, the only way to scale your business is to eventually bring employees to the mix, whether it’s just two or twenty people. These employees may onboard quickly or gradually over time. A home improvement business is a good example: While the entrepreneur may start off on his own, eventually he’ll need to hire other construction workers to complete the work and, depending on his growth, may also hire landscapers, plumbers or electricians.

Solopreneurs waver between the two on employees. Some solopreneurs toy with the idea of hiring help over time, but it may not be important to their current needs. Instead, they’ll often hire on a contract basis. For example, they may work regularly with a graphic designer to create a logo or refresh any marketing materials, but the relationship is project-based only. Solopreneurs may see the value in hiring a virtual assistant, which is someone they can pass off more menial tasks to work on (like keeping social media accounts current or uploading blog posts). This person plays an integral role to the solopreneur’s business, but can still be given work on an as-needed basis.

Knowing your process and the needs of your business will help you define which model you fit under, which can guide you along your business venture. Which of the self-employment models do you consider yourself: a solopreneur, entrepreneur or freelancer?

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