Hey Freelancer: Are You a Worker or an Entrepreneur?

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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 sports, partying or whatever.

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 with 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. So you have to do things you hate, sit all day in a crowded room (aka office) with people you often despise and your boss or employer decides about your fate. 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 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 have only a finite number of hours to sell so 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.


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.


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. S/he then invests time to put in practice. S/he may borrow money 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 strives 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. That’s 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 desk, the computer, even pencil and paper are all means of production. In the West everybody can afford a desk, a computer or pencil and paper.


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 Photoshop, our WordPress, our Google. We buy new versions of Photoshop, we keep on updating and securing our WordPress, we hug our search engine the 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

  • automate
  • scale
  • 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 like them. 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: November 13th, 2015.


* (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by Saad Akhtar