Freelancer or Entrepreneur? Seth Godin cares and so should you

Freelancer or Entrepreneur? Seth Godin cares and so should you

In my recent post 25 insights from Seth Godin’s Startup School, my first insight was deciding whether you are a freelancer or entrepreneur. Although the difference is subtle, the impact of thinking you’re one type and acting like the other guarantees almost certain failure.

Are you a freelancer?

Who hires you? If sending your protégé would result in your client being unhappy, you’re a freelancer. People hire you because you’re amazing at what you do. Perhaps they don’t have the guts to make decisions about what’s next or you are creating something new because it’s been identified as important.

Now you know you’re a freelancer, recognize that you’re the centre of someone’s universe at the point when they need you, but you won’t be needed forever. Times change and whatever you’re the best at today must evolve or you won’t get a call tomorrow.

If there is too much demand for your work, you can’t hire someone just like you and share the load. People are hiring you, not them. This may even work a few times but the business will fail because the person who is being hired for their incredible work (you) is also the person who needs to sell your reputation to new clients. The endless loop of trying to find new clients to keep the payroll running will take all of your time and you won’t have any hours left to be the brilliant person that you need to be.

This may sound familiar if you are a freelancer working more than 80 hours per week.

You’ll also notice that many successful accounting and law firms typically build a brand where the client is no longer hiring ‘John Smith’ but they’re hiring Deloitte or PwC. If John was to leave and expect to charge $1000 per hour from the same clients, he’ll soon find out that they didn’t care so much about John but the ability to hide behind the name: "But Deloitte said it was a good idea!"

The original partners successfully transitioned from freelancers to entrepreneurs. This is rare, not many do.

What is an entrepreneur?

Where a freelancer is the singer in the act, the entrepreneur is the agent who makes it a show. A singer could be soloist, a duet or front a band, but it’s the agent who makes the action happen. The agent wants to assemble the best artists to deliver an experience to an audience she understands. If a member of the act is sick, she’ll even try step in and take their place, but she’s not the act. She has a commitment to putting on the type of show that she believes will resonate with the audience. When she fails and the audience doesn’t show up and tell their friends she looks for another audience.

Entrepreneurship isn’t about you. It’s about what you create. Your art is the living organism that we call a business. It connects people with a cause and you inspire confidence in the movement when everyone doubts you. You probably do this by telling stories.

Someone once described the bi-polar ups and downs that we entrepreneurs feel as similar to a pendulum. Sometimes it feels things are positive and only getting better, then all of a sudden, the world is against us, and then it’s not again. The skill is realizing that the reality is that the pendulum is almost still to the outside world, it’s the voice inside our head that makes it swing.

Can I be both?

Sure, but not on the same project. But the real question is: why do you need to be both? Every freelancer and entrepreneur that I know wishes they had more time to work on their project and to be the best they can be. Perhaps you’re not sure whether your project will work. In this case, hedging your bets will only make it more risky rather than make it safer. Choose, quickly.

What about you Todd?

I've added two others categories.

Investor - I’m an investor in Apathco Group. I no longer show up every day and do the hard work that my team does. Three years ago, I wore every hat: sales guy, marketing guy, operations guy, admin guy...some of these I was better at than others but the business was only as good as me on my good days. The entrepreneurial pendulum impacted my business because the business was tied to my emotional wellbeing. This wasn’t fair to my team who had the passion to step up and take ownership of their work. So I took a step back and defined myself as an investor.

Entrepreneur - I’m an entrepreneur in my latest startup Referron. There’s no salary, my equity is earned from sweat and my role has changed from designer to developer to project manager and who knows what’s next? We’re building the business to be bigger than the founders. We’re building the community for our customers but we’re not always going to be around to moderate - we'll build a team for that.

Freelancer - When someone hires me to speak, that’s me as a freelancer. I’m trading effort for a benefit that only they could provide me. This could be money but could also be exposure to their community.

Artist - You’re reading my art, perhaps you listen to it too? It’s only as polished as I want and when I receive feedback, it’s my choice to take it on board or not. I don’t need the world to love me or my ideas, but those who do have my heart and mind forever. Your attention is valuable and I hope that I’ve earned it. Each day that I show up, you have a choice to listen or not. I’m still showing up. As an artist, I hope that you tell your friends if you think that I’m worthy of their attention (and your credibility) too. If not, that’s okay.

Listen to the Startup School podcast in iTunes here.

Todd Heslin

Todd Heslin

Data Nerd | Entrepreneur | Blogger | Tech Investor

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