Hey Freelancer: Are You a Worker or an Entrepreneur?
After a few years of freelancing it finally dawned on me what the biggest roadblock to my financial success is.
I started my freelance career as a worker and I’ve remained one ever since. I sensed it in the past as well but the final realization came only when I was able to put it into words.
My quick career start and end
At the beginning of my “career” I got a great Web agency job during the new economy boom. It was well paid and it was easy. I got paid by the hour and after work I still had enough time for
- or hobbies.
Then the tide changed and the new economy broke down within a few weeks. I kept my job for a while but soon enough someone who was cheaper has replaced myself.
He was a nice guy and I even showed him everything before it became apparent that he’d replace me. In a way I was lucky to get fired relatively early.
The company went bankrupt a year later in spite of the lay offs. The management has been replaced as well but they were just cold blooded capitalists.
They were all about cutting costs no matter what happened to the people. Soon enough nobody cared for the company anymore.
The employees cared only for themselves and even fought each other not to get laid off first. It’d didn’t help them in the long run as the business crumbled.
Working for others
Long story short I was quite happy to leave early after I overcame the humiliation and feelings of failure.
I was trying to find a new job for a while but wasn’t really serious about it. I didn’t want to live through all that again.
In a company where you’re just an employee it doesn’t matter who you are or what you like doing.
At the end of the day only the money you earn matters. To get the money you have to do things you hate. You are forced sit all day in a crowded room (aka office) with people you often despise.
Ultimately your boss or employer decides about your fate. You get fired any day.
Thus you work even harder out of fear. I’ve described this as wage slavery in the past and I haven’t changed my mind since.
Wage slavery hasn’t been abolished along slavery although the Abolitionists meant to end both kinds of slavery.
Today you can abolish wage slavery yourself. The most common and often easiest way to do so is to try to freelance.
Of course freelancing is not easy but once you’re established it’s OK. There is one problem though with freelancing.
Freelancer or day laborer?
Freelancing, at least done the way I did it, is not really the end of wage slavery. It’s just a different, more subtle way of wage slavery as long as you remain a wage slave in your head.
To simplify the matters and to make this article less provocative I’d like to call the wage slave “worker” as everybody else does.
Even as a freelancer you remain a worker. You become “your own boss” as the saying goes.
This is “truer” than you think. As your own boss you are the person who has to exploit you. You will soon find out that as freelance works seemingly never stops.
You get envious of those who work only 9 to 5.
You have to force yourself to wake up early, to work hard and to work long hours, after all you get paid by the hour, just like a worker.
You try to add hours to your work day at the expense of friends and family.
You have only a finite number of hours to sell per day or week. You can make your clients pay more but “the invisible hand” of the market will slap you once you become too expensive.
In the worst case you’re just a cheap day laborer nobody takes seriously. It’s frustrating both ways.
The 19th century worker mindset
The problem is your mindset. It’s the mindset of the worker from the nineteenth century. Someone who toils all day and is still dirty and hungry. Think about it: We’re in the 21st century!
Automation is not just about the manufacturing process. With computers and the Internet you can automate almost everything. At least you have tools to make everything easier.
As a worker you are serving the tools not the other way around. You have to keep them running like the assembly line in the factory.
It’s not the tools that assist you, you assist the tools.
- For web designers Photoshop is the assembly line.
- For bloggers WordPress is the assembly line.
- For SEO people Google Analytics is the assembly line.
The worker diligently goes to work every day and nothing ever changes until s/he may get a raise or a promotion after a few years.
By now losing your job is more common though. Job security does not exist. We’re all in more or less precarious situations.
How an entrepreneur thinks
Now let’s compare the worker to the entrepreneur. I don’t mean the already rich lazy capitalist living off the fortune made in the distant past.
Imagine an entrepreneur like yourself. Somebody who has no money yet to multiply by itself. A true entrepreneur has a different mindset.
- An entrepreneur has an idea.
- invests time to put in practice
- may borrow money to start
but let’s assume s/he does not for the sake of simplicity of understanding. This person won’t get paid from the start in many cases.
An entrepreneur has to invest time and work without being paid at first or not much.
Then later the entrepreneur expects that the investment will pay off. The investment pays off once the product the entrepreneur has developed gets sold. I say product not service because the latter again requires your time to be sold.
The product can’t be time of the entrepreneur. Remember, a worker would sell time but not the entrepreneur.
The entrepreneur wants to sell something, be it a product or service that is scalable and can be automated. Today we can automate production with ease.
Any digital product can be reproduced endlessly without a major effort.
Even services can be automated to some extent as repetitive tasks do not have to be performed over and over, think of templates etc.
Automation is one reason why SaaS (software as a service) is a common business model these days. You sell subscriptions not your time then.
To become an entrepreneur you have to to think like one. Your mindset is more important than having capital.
A worker would spend the money after a while and stay a worker. An entrepreneur would invest it.
You don’t have to read Marx (I never had) to know that today we – the workers – own the means of production. The
- even pencil and paper
are all means of production. In the West everybody can afford a desk, a computer or a pencil and paper.
It’s not the means then that hold you back. You already have them or they are within reach. You use them right now!
What’s your assembly line?
Most of us stay workers, even as freelancers. We keep our assembly lines going and we tend our tools, we care for our
We buy new versions of Photoshop, we keep on updating and securing our WordPress, we please our search engine the not so cute Google monster.
It’s the entrepreneurs behind Photoshop, WordPress and Google who make the money off your work.
They don’t force anybody like the capitalists of the nineteenth century. We’re just too dumb to earn money like they do. They
- sell self replicating products
but not time. You can’t fight them like the workers did hundred years ago. You have to join them and I don’t mean working for them as your employers.
Change your mind
Change your mind. Become an entrepreneur. You don’t need capital, you don’t even need workers. You mainly need a different mindset.
The means of production are already yours. Thus I ask you again, like I ask myself ever since I realized this: Hey Freelancer, are you a worker or an entrepreneur?
Last updated: May 14th, 2018.
* (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by Saad Akhtar
Now I wonder what’s the better way from slave labor to entrepreneurism – jump with both feet or make a gradual transition.
I personally have chosen the second way in order to keep eating during the investment phase. I kept some of the clients I serve as a slave laborer but invested extra time into developing a salable product.
It might not have been the right way as this process now takes years already. Had I decided to be hungry I might have found a faster way completely out of slave labor. And being hungry to learn new tricks definitely works for my cat ;-)
Hey Merlin, this is indeed a very important question. It depends of course. It depends on your business model and whether you have a family etc.
I have the same problem, or even a bigger one in a way as I have fantastic clients and I do what I love most for them: writing/blogging.
So I don’t hurry to become really free. At the same time many bloggers who have started at the same time as me are already succesful entrepreneurs.
It’s the same as with real slaves back then. House slaves didn’t want to leave their masters. Only the plantation slaves did. So the worse your situation is the better in a way. You get an ass kick to change it.
I can empathize with this post. I want to be an Entrepreneur. I have a different mindset and have lots of unique ideas. My reality sinks in when I need capital to actualize my ideas. For the meantime, I’ll be a worker but I’m saving to become an entrepreneur.
Michael: I think it’s not about the ideas and the money. You have to actually leave your comfort zone and act. That’s the biggest hurdle. You can be an entreprenur without capital as I said in the post.
Nice post! An entrepreneur definitely knows how to make money work for them, while the worker spends money. Unfortunately I have the worker mentality, with the entrepreneurial dream. I freelance now, but still have ways to go before I can sit back and just collect checks. It would be nice if I could build an empire and have others do all the grunt work, while I handle all the business deals and negotiations, but the reality is — I am just not there yet!
consider this: Does enslaving others end slavery? No. Think of the first “Back to Africa” movement. The former slaves landed in Liberia and enslaved the locals. Liberia is torn by civil war to this day.
My point is that wage slavery is not necessary, not even capital. In this digital age time, automation and the right mentality can make you a self sufficient entrepreneur.
Wage slavery is a relationship of mutual dependence. Neither the worker nor the employer are free to do what they like. As a boss with many employees you often have to stay long hours just to oversee what’s happening in your company.
That’s not really a solution, it’s just changing roles.
Digital media is not manufacturing. A network of like minded individuals who collaborate with you on the basis of mutual support are better equipped to ensure your independence.
I’ll elaborate on this concept. Plus I will provide practical steps to become an entrepreneur. In a way I will cover my own transformation.
Great post. I can related to your experience in the article. The company I work for just got acquired and everyone in our office got let go. I like the automation perspective and I’m currently working towards that on a few projects. Peace
Yes, automation is key to make the Internet work to your advantage. Of course I don’t mean the kind of automation where people automnate everything. Many so called black hat SEOs automate in such a way. That’s not it.
You must stay human but automate the menial tasks and let digital goods spread by themselves.
Well I agree in addition to financial aspects and ideas leaving one comfort zone is the main issue.We also are afraid of moving out of our safe zone weather we are in a job or freelancing or for that matter of fact anything.
As a freelancer, I still meet the standards of my clients though for me I am the boss. Freelance is a great training for future entrepreneurs because of the need to maintain the standards that my customers had set.
Being a freelancer too I want to be the entrepreneur also, In fact I’ve been thinking of hiring people to do my job for me and profit with their work.
Entrepreneurship starts from knowing each details of business. You cannot achieve anything without giving further efforts for your goals.
As far as I know freelancers are hired to help their boss and not to frustrate them with ass kicking reasons.
I’m a freelance worker and never try entrepreneur.
[…] a while back, SEO blog SEO 2.0 had a post entitled “Hey Freelancer: Are You a Worker or an Entrepreneur?” which really made me […]
In my mind all freelancers are entrepreneurs, some to a greater degree than others. For me it is all about risk and being willing to take a chance, which is why I say that in my mind we are all entrepreneurs. We have all taken a risk to go freelance instead of going to work for someone else, even if that decision was somewhat forced onto us through redundancy. What makes someone stand out as an entrepreneur is the fact that they continue to take risks to develop themselves and their business, something that is easier said than done!
I just resigned from my work recently and starting now as a freelancer. Getting a freelance job is not that easy. There are only a few jobs posted that entertain newbies in this kind of field.
Hi there onreact, came here thru the link you posted @seomoz :)
Just wanted to state I have to agree with your statement here: I’ve been freelancing since mid 2010 and fixing the pricing of my seo services has always been really a pain…
As you and others said, I’ve learnt some of those tips? musts? by the experience and it’s always hard to be objective about “Me & my services/value” VS “3rd seo services”, at least for me (both positive & negative facts).
Sooo…at this point now I was trying to figure out how to value my work, in a better way than now, which is just costs+taxes+margin/hour. I always knew it wasn’t even close to be perfect but didn’t find the key to do it better…and I find your post: pure inspiration.
see you at seomoz mate!
thank you for the kind feedback. I’m not that often on SEOmoz but I’m regularly on Inbound.org the new social niche community created by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz and Dharmhesh Shah of Hubspot. Check it out as well.
Great article – I think there are some, albeit very few, reasons for working for others and still managing to get richer than some entrepreneurs.
Great read though, brings all those feelings of excitement back from the early days of building a business!
Thank you for the kind feedback. Most reasons to work for others arise from economic necessity. Some people need health insurance because they are disabled etc.
In other words some people are still forced to succumb to wage slavery. When you’re free you won’t work for others but for yourself.