Learn the difference between an entrepreneur, solopreneur, and freelancer. Plus, what you should be calling yourself!
First we have the legal terms:
- Sole proprietor
- Some other ones that I can never remember
Then we have the non-legal terms:
Okay, okay. So maybe that’s not quite one million different ways to label yourself as a business owner but for a person that knows literally nothing about business… 6 different terms is just about as confusing as one million!
Different ways to introduce yourself as a business owner
My introduction to the online business world was by two amazing women who regularly used the word solopreneur when speaking about and to their audience. It was the first time I had ever heard the term so I actually Googled it to see if it was a word they made up or if it really truly existed in the dictionary. (Turns out, it’s a real word after all.)
Then I went down this rabbit hole of how I should define myself. For some unknown reason, that one word really mattered to me for a decent amount of time.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an entrepreneur.”
Entrepreneur felt waaaaayyyy too legit for me. In the beginning I felt like too much of an imposter to feel confident labeling myself a real life entrepreneur. To me, a real entrepreneur was someone who ran a multi six figure or seven figure business. An entrepreneur was not someone who was barely making $500 per month.
“I’m a solopreneur.”
After learning that solopreneur wasn’t a made up word, I instantly loved it. Solopreneur was less hoity toity than entrepreneur (in my opinion) and more relatable. But then I really thought about it… at first I had no clue what the hell a solopreneur was so if I introduced myself as one would the response be, “WTF is that?!”
“I’m a freelancer.”
While freelancer made the most sense because nearly everyone knows what a freelancer is – and it’s exactly what I was doing at the time – it also felt too non-commital. Freelancer implied I was just taking on a couple projects here or there to make ends meet rather than trying to make a full time income from my new business.
Like I said… I thought about this A LOT. The million dollar question constantly on my mind was, “what do I identify as in the business world?”
And my answer – even to this day – may surprise you.
Before I share my answer with you, I want to explain how I interpret these three terms after having been in business for a few years: entrepreneur, solopreneur, and freelancer.
What is an entrepreneur?
Oxford language defines entrepreneur as, “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”
This definition isn’t completely representative of what entrepreneurship entails in the 21st century. I’d take it even further to say that an entrepreneur runs a business online or in person by selling a product or service.
I’d also argue that it’s possible to launch a business with minimal financial risk and still label yourself as an entrepreneur. Just because you’re not risking your entire life’s saving or taking out a huge business loan doesn’t make you any less of an entrepreneur. It actually just makes you more financially responsible.
What is a solopreneur?
A solopreneur is defined by Oxford language as, “a person who sets up and runs a business on their own.”
That I completely agree with! A solopreneur is a single human being that runs a business, online or in person, and is solely responsible for the work that is done as well as the success of the business.
The minute you hire a contractor or employee to help you complete any work inside your business you no longer can consider yourself a solopreneur.
What is a freelancer?
Lastly, Oxford Language defines freelance as, “working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company.”
Basically, a freelancer is a person who takes on work from multiple companies, businesses, or people without actually being employed permanently by any of them. “Freelance” doesn’t mean you’re getting work from a designated freelance platform. A person could get work through their own website and still consider themself a freelancer.
Freelancer can and is oftentimes used interchangeably with solopreneur because the person doesn’t have a team working for them. I don’t recommend this – you’ll read why in a minute!
Should you identify yourself as an entrepreneur, solopreneur, or freelancer?
That million dollar question I asked myself for months ended up not having the answer I expected it to…
You can call yourself whatever the hell you want to call yourself.
HOWEVER! I do have a recommendation for you: call yourself a business owner.
Something I’ve learned over the last few years is that people have preconceived connotations about entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and freelancers.
Entrepreneur = “currently out of work,” “in-between jobs,” “can’t hold a stable job,” or (my personal favorite) “lives in parent’s basement”
Solopreneur = “millennial who doesn’t want to work for a living but still wants to sound important”
Freelancer = “can be bossed around,” “will work at all hours of the night and weekend,” or “will do work for an absurdly low cost”
None of these things are accurate but unfortunately, it’s hard to change the minds of people who believe these generalizations. So, if you can’t change their minds… change the words you use to explain what you do for a living.
I know a lot of people start out as freelancers and when you’re truly doing freelance work alongside your full time job, it’s easy to say “I do some freelancing on the side”. But at a certain point, that has to stop. At a certain point you need to stop calling yourself a freelancer and instead say:
“I’m a business owner.”
That’s the easiest way to feel confident in what you do while avoiding unnecessary questions about your lifestyle.
Last week while I was touring an apartment complex, my RV travels became a topic of conversation. The leasing agent asked me what I did that allowed me to work remote full time and travel. I immediately said, “I own my own business.” I didn’t say, “I’m an entrepreneur” or “I’m a solopreneur” or “I do freelance work.”
Instead of trying to use a fancy term I just said it like it was. Because I do literally own a business. And so do you!