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I was sitting in a camper, in North Carolina, in the absolute middle of nowhere. I was with my fiancé, who is, yes, a real-life race car driver. We were at the home of his engine builder, prepping for a race further down south later in the week.
It was late winter, snow still flying in Connecticut where we’re from, but here, signs of spring were quite literally blooming already. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, the flowers were budding. And I could be here, because I didn’t have a “real job”. Dream come true right?
I was a freelance graphic and web designer, I could work from anywhere! I didn’t have a real boss, I didn’t have to report to an office and I could make my own hours! WOO WEE! I’d already been at this for over four years, and I kept telling myself this was the freaking dream life.
Here’s a little secret. I lied.
It wasn’t quite my dream. And not because I had to brush my teeth using a water bottle and pee in the woods at 2 AM outside the camper for a couple weeks. That part was fun.
It occurred to me as I nauseously panicked over the spotty internet (how will I answer my emails! People are asking for stuff NOW!) and cell service ( OMG OMG I have to call this client NOW before I’m fired!), and flitting around trying to find power to connect my laptop to nervously….this ain’t it.
This ain’t freedom.
Contorting myself into the one corner of the camper where my phone would actually work, I ferociously Googled variations of “how to start a real business” and “how to not launch myself off a cliff because of freelancing stress” for the 3040th day in a nervous row, looking for the answer to my persistent career anxiety .
And there, with my future mother in law sitting at the tiny camper table behind me , and a delish box of Cracklin’ Oat Bran to my right, I found it.
I’ll never forget the one line that came flying off my phone screen and sliced into my brain like a sharp shard of glass, piecing into my subconscious and jolting me awake.
Things would never be the same for me again.
You probably wanna know what the hell I read, don’t you? Suspense is fun though, isn’t it?
It went (something like this, anyways)…
“If you have to be at your desk every day, and find new clients consistently, and if you left your business behind for a month and you wouldn’t make a cent, you don’t have a solid business. You have a job with many bosses. And the pay probably sucks”
Oh. My. Gosh. It slapped like a ton of bricks.
I didn’t even have a solid business.
Instead, I had a self imposed job and a lackluster one at that. That line put into words all the things I’d been feeling and struggling with for the past few months.
In that Coachmen camper, surrounded by racecar parts, mentally breaking down over internet reliability, I learned the difference between freelancing, and true entrepreneurship, and which one was going to give me the lifestyle I TRULY desired.
I felt lied to and clueless.
But hey, how was I to know?
Like most people, I went to public school and learned how to be a good employee, and did, in fact, become an employee for many years ( although the “good” part is debatable.)
I don’t want you to spend 4 years panicking monthly over finding new clients, wondering how the #$%^ you are ever going to convince someone to pay you 4 figures for THAT and if they do, YOU STILL HAVE TO DO ALL THE WORK too, sobbing in the airport because you just cannot finish a project and the internet won’t stay connected, and begging your partner for use of their phone hotspot because yours JUST WILL NOT WORK again and your client already asked 4959 times for the project revisions.
If you’re a biz perfectionist like me, terrified to let anyone down, not answer on time, or tell someone “tomorrow”, you need to know this.
So I’m going to share with you what I wish someone had enlightened me on years earlier. The differences between freelancing, and entrepreneurship.
NOW Y’ALL. Just a little disclaimer here. I’m talking about ME and my experiences here. YOU might love 1-on-1 client work. You might thrive on it. I’m sure there is a hell of a lot I did wrong that left me not making the money I wanted to make or living the life I wanted with this business model. I KNOW that.
But, the whole point here is to create the life YOU want, and if you love to travel, and you’re burnt out of taking on clients, and you want to be able to scale and you value your time freedom above all else, hopefully my experience resonates and helps you. This is what I would have wanted to read about 4 years ago.
So let’s jump into the main differences between freelancer and true entrepreneur.
1) Freelancers sell their time, Entrepreneurs sell products.
As a freelancer, you are your business.
I even named mine Tamara Morrison Graphics, (ughhhhh, 0 points for originality). If you aren’t working, you aren’t making any money. The product you’re selling is you and your skills. (and often, your soul…) Your job is to secure work and clients, and then perform or execute that work, as well as perform your other business related tasks, like marketing, taxes, and invoicing.
If you want to make more money, you’ll have to raise your rates, and/or find more work. Usually, this means trading more time, since there is only so much you can charge before people think your rates are kuku for Cocoa Puffs.
Entrepreneurs sell products.
It doesn’t always have to be an iPhone or some fancy “product”. Almost anyone who works with clients, could create a digital product, be it a course, template, app, software, or info product to sell. Of course many entrepreneurs do create physical products too. Its up to you!
The key here is that you can build it once, and sell it an infinite number of times. Your job isn’t to do custom work, your job is to build systems (which can include hiring other people) to continue to produce and sell what you’ve already built. Your job is to listen to your customers to improve your offerings even more.
Your systems, processes, and funnels are your foundation. The bigger your audience, the more content and products you produce, the more you can sell! A freelancer only taking client work can only handle so much….a huge demand might cause stress in that case.
You can build a real, living business to the sky on your foundation. Freelancers have to knock down the house and start from 0 with every new job.
You’ll still spend a lot of time working as an entrepreneur, but your time will have a very different return. Your reward for creating will be more sales and a bigger audience. Eventually, you might even be able to scale BACK your time commitment, and take a break to do something else while your business keeps running.
As a freelancer, even with a healthy client roster or repeat clients, finishing each custom project means starting over. Your reward for completing a project, is unemployment, and having to score another job!
Again, if you truly love what you’re doing as a freelancer, more power to you! Nothing is wrong with enjoying client work, or wanting to keep doing it. It’s all about the lifestyle you desire, which brings us to our next point…
2) It’s harder to travel and live an unpredictable life as a freelancer
I can’t tell you how much anxiety trying to find internet would give me when I was freelancing. So. Much. If it was Monday-Friday, people pretty much expect you to be working. Just like someone at a normal job would be. Clients are often at work during those hours, so you’ll have to be pretty available.
When I got together with my fiancé, I learned about his erratic (and fun!) schedule that didn’t fit society’s narrative. Remember how I said he’s a race car driver? Well, his actual job is driver coaching, he’ll work with clients, and car manufacturers. He might work 7 days in a row, then not work for 2 weeks! Meanwhile, I had to be at my laptop as if I was working a normal office job.
My laptop suddenly began to feel like a ball and chain.
We also travel a lot. My fiancé’s work affords us the incredible opportunity to travel all over the country for a veeeeery low cost. Being a hater of routine and a lover of adventure, you can bet I was not about to, and never will, say no to that. I’m going to seize that chance to live our dream life. I thought, seeing as I work from my laptop, that would be easy.
Finding new clients pre-COVID, required in person networking events. Doing the work required 40+ hours a week during normal business hours at my laptop and phone to answer calls, and take meetings and of course, actually do the design work. Never mind that I was surely undercharging, because some money was better than no money, right? It’s kill or get killed in the freelance forest.
Oooof, this was starting to feel a lot like my old corporate job that I thought I left behind….and I started to hate it.
I started to look for a better way, amongst almost daily anxiety attacks, stress, feelings of being totally lost, and misery. It was a rough period for me. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there.
True entrepreneurs have a little more freedom built in.
Especially in this digital age, where you need nothing but a laptop and the internet to sell a product. Now, my life looks totally different. I can not even open my laptop for a couple days, and my products are still going to make me money. I make money 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I still work a heck of a lot, don’t get me wrong (goodbye “passive income” BS).
But, now, I choose when. I choose 10PM or 2PM. I choose Saturday or Tuesday. My plane lands, and I pop my phone out of airplane mode, and I’m no longer nauseous wondering who wants what from me, who is demanding what, and what I missed.
3) You can scale your business to infinity and beyond as an entrepreneur. (That means more money, in less time!!)
In 2019 I burnt out. It felt like summiting Mt. Everest to just write an email to a client, much less design a website, or logo. I just. had. no. energy.
I effectively hated what I was doing.
I didn’t always hate being a freelancer for the entire five years I did it full time, but gosh, it was time to break up with Mr. Freelancing for the life I personally wanted to live, and I was having a rough time thinking I’d ever meet anyone who would support me like he did, much less any better.
The thought of what felt like begging one more person to give me work I didn’t even want to do, just for money I told myself I didn’t even care about anymore turned sour fast. I resented my clients, I resented money, I resented myself.
Now you might be thinking I was obviously tackling freelancing all wrong with that attitude, no wonder why I was failing, and you won’t get an argument from me.
Of course I could have done other things to succeed. People DO succeed at it all the time, and make hundreds of thousands of dollars without dreaming of flying to Hawaii, and tossing themselves into a volcano in misery.
But I hated it. I didn’t want to do it. I had fallen out of love with it. It was no longer aligned, and I didn’t have the vibe or energy to pursue it any longer.
It was a struggggggle man. It was late in 2019 when I discovered digital products, selling on Etsy and online, and the wheels started to turn a bit.
I was a graphic designer, and other graphic designers were already creating templates. Why not me?? I was also starting to feel like graphic and web design was becoming more and more accessible to regular people ( a post for another time) and like it truly didn’t feel aligned to ask people to pay all this money for a PDF when they could just snag a template and use Canva to create something easily themselves.
Yep yep, “believe in your worth” and all that jazz I know. But, I believe in reality. And innovation. And evolving with technology. And not slamming my head into the wall of something I didn’t enjoy because of “designer integrity” or some BS that you read from disgruntled graphic designers in the comments section of any Facebook Ad for Canva templates.
I saw an opening to give this template creation thing a real shot.
So I did. I began on Etsy to test the entrepreneurial waters.
With Photoshop templates nonetheless. You won’t really find any of those here anymore, because I quickly realized my audience wanted things to be EASY. They want templates for programs they can and do use with a low barrier to entry, and low cost. Canva (try Pro for 30 days free!), Klaviyo, Mailchimp, Wix. YOU want that, don’t ya? 😉
I was able to learn this quickly thanks to tapping into Etsy’s huge audience.
Hence the switch. And hence the scaling. I now sell on five platforms and my own website as well as my membership site where you can access all of my templates.
This year, I’m set to triple my income from 2019. How’s that for a raise? After years of feeling like I might be able to make more as a manager at Wendy’s, owning what’s looking to hit 6 figures this year in total gross sales revenue, seems unreal.
I’ve traveled more, worked less, and felt happier than I ever have at the same time.
I don’t want to sound like one of those bullshit artists, screaming that the sky is bluer, the grass is greener, next week I’m yacht shopping, and I’ve found Nirvana, but, I’ve seen the potential and the clear differences between what I used to do, and what I’m doing now.
That doesn’t mean it comes without issue, my biggest goal now is building up my own platform so I don’t derive so much of my revenue from other platforms that I don’t own.
Diversify and own your platforms! That’s my biggest fear at the moment (losing it all), and I wake up every day ready to progress towards my goal of remedying that.
Hey, nothing is perfect, no risk, absolutely no reward. Everything is a risk. Including staying stuck doing something you no longer enjoy.
The good news, I’m not asking you to do anything or buy anything (except my templates, if you wanna) and the reason for me sharing my experience, is simply for you to be aware of the options, think about it, and decide if you want to pursue something similar, and know that it’s possible. If you’re feeling any of the things that I was about your client based freelance biz, there are other ways.
You could even do a hybrid of both products and services.
I do still work with a very, very select amount of 1-1 clients because I actually like them as people, I can ask for what is fair to make the project feel worthwhile, and I can even pay someone to help me! Things are just different, when desperation takes a backseat, and you push out “I don’t need it, I want it” vibes. The universe feels that.
This one’s for you, unhappy freelancer or 1-1 service provider.
Crying over Wi-Fi access when you travel, wondering when you’ll ACTUALLY get to take a vacation, wanting a client drama free afternoon with your kiddos, wondering if cloning is viable yet so you can actually take on more work without dying to make enough money to give yourself a raise, like a triple your damn income in two years kind of raise.
I see you, I feel you, I was you.
There is a way out. There is a direction you can go in. And that’s the direction of true entrepreneurship. Today, thanks to our friend the internet, its easier than EVER to test the waters, starting on a platform like Etsy or Ebay or Amazon, and see how you go, get yourself out there, test ideas easily and build your following.
I hope I’ve saved you the four years it took me to even realize there WAS a difference between freelancer and entrepreneur. You’re welcome! Now go on and do awesome things. (like read my other articles on branding yourself so you can create the biz and life of your dreams 😉 )
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tamara is a Graphic Design & Brand Building expert that helps entrepreneurs craft the perfect brand. She gets inside your head to bring your dream brand out and to life! She’s been creative since, well, birth, and she spends her time traveling with her race car driver fiancée and she’s obsessed with her cat.
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