I see this conversation a lot on various comment boards and blogs: When you start a business, are you truly going to start a “business,” or do you just have a “job?”
Technically, there’s a big difference between starting a “business” that later becomes a self-sustaining operation, and being a freelancer or consultant where you have a series of small “jobs,” but you ultimately have to be there for the work to get done. The goal of starting a business is to build a company that will scale and grow and take on momentum of its own.
It seems that many entrepreneurs look down a bit on people who freelance or consult, saying that these people don’t really run a “business.” They say, if you have to be there for the business to earn money, you don’t really have a “business,” you have a “job.” Real “businesses” involve creating systems and processes and layers of management and succession plans, so that the company can run even when the owner is away. Anything less than that, and you’re just practicing a craft; you’re not truly “running a business.”
Although I agree that this argument is true on a certain level, it’s ultimately a matter of semantics.
I’m a freelance writer. I go from project to project on a daily basis; I don’t really have a “job” in the sense of having a place to go to every day, with a boss and an employee handbook and a job description, but I also have to be there, doing the work, for my solo business to be profitable.
However, I still tell people that I have my own business – and I don’t feel in any way dishonest for saying that. I built this business from nothing. I started with a single $200 project from a client I met on Elance, and two years later I’m making more money than I ever used to make when I had a real full-time “job.”
Does a successful dentist running his own dental practice not have a “business?” What about a solo lawyer or consultant or corporate trainer?
I consider myself to be a “business owner” because I have a book of clients who continually come back to me for help with projects. My online presence and my own “safety net” of clients support me and keep me in business.
Yes, it’s true – being a freelancer doesn’t scale. But neither did my old day job. And yes, the Holy Grail of running a business is that one day you’ll be able to walk away from it and earn “passive income” while you sleep – but most entrepreneurs I know don’t operate this way – they work hard every day not just because they need to, but because they want to. As George Carlin used to say about retirement, “Why would people want to spend their lives doing something that they can’t wait to get away from?”
The vast majority of people on Earth will never be able to earn a full-time income from “passive” revenue sources – that’s not “running a business,” that’s called being a wealthy investor. I’m sure that earning nothing but passive income is a great life if you can accomplish it, but most of us still need (and prefer) to work for a living – to be involved with clients, to talk with our customers, to have a hands-on presence in the day-to-day life of our business.
So sure, as a freelancer, I don’t have scalable “passive income” business model, and maybe I don’t have a business, maybe I just have a “job.” But even if this is just a “job,” then that’s fine with me – it’s the best job I’ve ever had.