Like It or Not, You're an Entrepreneur: Learn to Think Like One

By Business.com Editorial Staff
Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Self-employed? You’re an entrepreneur, too. Now start thinking like one. Here's how.

You meet someone, and the inevitable question comes up, “So, what kind of work do you do?”

Is your response: 1) “I’m self-employed” or 2) “I’m an entrepreneur”? 

Should you answer with #2 when you actually think of yourself as “just” self-employed?

Of course you should. Not because it might sound more impressive, although two-thirds of adults worldwide think entrepreneurship is a good career choice, but because, whatever you do as a self-employed worker, you are as much an entrepreneur as Mark Zuckerberg (or the 310 out of every 100,000 adults in the U.S. who start new businesses on average each month).

Of course, your net worth isn’t as much as Mark’s, but as entrepreneurs you both approach your business in similar ways.

The distinction most frequently made between self-employed and entrepreneur is that the self-employed hire themselves out to others to perform a specialized task, while entrepreneurs are establishing a business that employs people and takes certain financial risks in ownership.

But as Harry Red points out on HuffPost Business, “Whether you see yourself as an independent musician, a painter, or a developer selling your own software, these days, you must learn the craft of entrepreneurship.”

Related Article: 6 Characteristics of a Dynamic Entrepreneur

Because even if you are just self-employed, i.e., you don’t employ anyone, don’t own physical assets, or carry any liabilities directly associated with a physical business operation, you are doing essentially the same thing as an entrepreneur.

You’re selling a concept, a service, a product to someone who can use it. The only difference is that as a self-employed entrepreneur, what you’re selling is yourself and your particular skills.

Here is is how the self-employed can learn to think like an entrepreneur.

Passionately Seek New Opportunities

In "The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating", authors Rita Gunter McGrath and Ian MacMillan define as a characteristic of the “entrepreneurial mindset” the pursuit of new opportunities with “enormous discipline.”

As a self-employed entrepreneur, you can’t be just sitting around waiting for an agency to find you a contract, or expect your resume to get read because you submitted it on Indeed.

It means being constantly on the lookout for how you can help people and organizations achieve their goals.  

Get a Mentor

A mentor can also help you pursue new opportunities and put your name in front of prospective clients and business leads.

In addition, a mentor can be a cheerleader to help you overcome the inevitable “down periods” when it seems as if no one is interested in you. But perhaps a mentor is most valuable to provide an unbiased perspective.

“Mentors aren’t your parents [or] friends... [They] tell you what you really need to hear... [T]heir real value is in the objective, unvarnished advice they can provide,” wrote Amy Barrett in an article for Bloomberg Business.

How do you find a mentor? Here’s some advice from Servcorp: “First, determine your needs and keep in mind that your mentoring needs will shift as you build your business.

If you’re having trouble with numbers, consider a mentor with a background in finance.

If you’re considering using a virtual office, find a mentor who already rents one. Build a wish list for your mentor, laying out which skills and support you’ll need.”

Related Article: Are Entrepreneurs Nothing More Than Problem Solvers?

Focus on What’s Important

“It’s easy to become scattered and distracted,” Michael Burcham, founder and CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, observes.

“Successful people develop the ability to focus and concentrate to maximize their resources and effort.

They are constantly educating themselves and gaining experience that will lead them to the goals they desire.”

Keep Learning, Develop New Skills

Market and customer needs are constantly changing. You need to be on top of those changes with the latest skillsets to address them.

Entrepreneur and innovator Gurbaksh Chahal notes that, “An entrepreneur never stops learning.” Nobody is going to hire you because of what you used to do for them, but what you can do for them today and help them do tomorrow.

Consider every new challenge as an opportunity to improve and get better at what you do. 

Develop Your Brand

There may be hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who do what you do. As personal finance expert Catherine Alford notes, “It’s not enough to be a videographer or a writer or a singer.”

Like any entrepreneur, you need to distinguish yourself as a brand that defines what you do as an expert and an invaluable resource.

To define your brand identity:

  • Get a website where people can easily learn about you, what you do, and how you do it.
  • Define a niche. You’re not just, say, a writer. You’re a writer who specializes in technical topics in the telecommunications industry. 
  • Promote yourself. Nobody is going to do it for you (good references help, of course, but nobody asks for references until you first get you customers’ attention, and that’s where promotion comes in.) Use social media to discuss your area of expertise and make contacts that could lead to work. The more you “put yourself out there,” the more people notice you.

Related Article: The Top 10 Qualities That Define an Entrepreneur

Whether you are self-employed by choice or by circumstance, you need to recognize that you are as much a businessperson and entrepreneur as anyone running a startup company.

The more entrepreneurial you are in getting and helping your customers, the more comfortable you can feel about telling people what you do for a living. More importantly, you’ll be making a better living at it.

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