Freelancer or entrepreneur? Making the mindset shift

Julie L F Goldstein

Julie L F GoldsteinContributed by Julia L F Goldstein, the founder of JLFG Communications, which helps businesses share their world-changing ideas through clear and concise content. She is also the award-winning author of Material Value: More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Manufacturing of Everything from Cell Phones to Cleaning Products.

During an online business workshop in December 2020, the presenter asked me whether our venture was a hobby or a business. Here’s the difference: A hobby or side hustle involves a discretionary investment of time and money. With a business, the owner is all-in and committed to making it a success.

I felt dismayed at the idea that my company wasn’t a “real” business. But I could change my perspective and my goals. After 25 years of self-employment, I felt ready to make the shift from freelancer to entrepreneur.

What’s in a title?

Conference and webinar registration forms ask for name, email address, company and job title. The first two are easy. For self-employed professional service providers, the last two might make you question your role.

Maybe your business name is just your name and perhaps your credentials—Nancy Smith, CPA. Or perhaps you created a fictitious company name when you registered your business. If you didn’t, should you do so?

When I moved to Washington State in 2014, I initially registered my business as Julia L F Goldstein Communications. I recently shortened it to JLFG Communications. It sounds more professional and fits better on web pages, especially on mobile devices.

As for job title, that could be the services you offer—writer, accountant, graphic designer. That choice puts you squarely in the freelance category. I usually list my title as owner, which feels more entrepreneurial.

Entrepreneurs, however, usually call themselves founders or CEOs. I can see listing my title as founder but don’t feel comfortable saying I’m a CEO. That title connotes someone who leads a team of employees.

Running a business

If your professional service offerings are a hobby, you can complete projects as they come. There’s no need for long-term strategy or a plan for growth because there’s no risk if your venture fails to attract clients. You can always fall back on your day job or your spouse’s income to pay the bills.

Saying you’re an entrepreneur means committing to all the aspects of running a business. You’re in charge of operations, sales, marketing and finance. If you want to stay in business, all of those activities need attention.

Being a solopreneur, by definition, means going it alone. You don’t hire employees. But that doesn’t mean that you should run your business without input or help from others.

You can join business groups and share advice with other solopreneurs. You can hire freelancers or entrepreneurs from other industries on contract. Those people become part of your team, even though they aren’t employees.

In 2020, I took a bold step that I had been considering for years. I engaged a bookkeeper and a virtual assistant (VA). As a result, I gained new insight into my profit and loss statements. The results were disconcerting—spending money to hire help and to publish my second book during a year when the content writing work dried up for several months was not good for the bottom line.

The choice to invest in my business, however, was a step in making the shift from freelancer to entrepreneur. With better knowledge of my finances and the ability to outsource administrative tasks to a VA, I was in a position to consider the big-picture strategy.

Business growth for solopreneurs

Growth is a standard way to measure business success. How does your revenue, client roster or email list compare to the year before? If the numbers do not increase each year, or if the increase is below a certain threshold, we are taught to believe that our business is doing something wrong.

Strategy involves long-term planning. Where do you want your business to be in one, five or ten years? The entrepreneurial mindset requires a willingness to invest in your business to support your vision for the future. Growth, however, need not be exponential. Not all entrepreneurs aspire to run an empire or grow revenue to seven figures and beyond.

As a solopreneur, you get to decide how many clients you want and how you want to engage with them. Say, for example, that you intend to double your client roster or to entice prospects to sign up for a new program you created. Consider how reaching those goals fits into your long-term vision and strategy and adjust accordingly.

My long-term strategy is still a work in progress, but I’m a solopreneur on the path to business success on my terms. How about you?

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