are you a freelancer or a business owner?

Freelancer or BizOwner? | Dotted Design While on the surface this topic may seem like semantics, changing how I answer this question has truly changed how I feel about my work. I first discussed it in an edition of my Dotted Line newsletter, but I felt the pull to expand it into a full post here and see what you think!

A bit of background: when I started doing design work for clients, it was on the side from my full time day job. I considered this freelancing - taking on extra work outside of my regular job. As I slowly built up a client base, I started to dream about being a full time freelancer.

Once I was finally ready to go full time, I felt my whole life switch. Suddenly, what used to be my "on the side" gig was now my livelihood. I taking on more clients, getting serious about marketing strategies, paying quarterly taxes, and doing things like filing for an LLC. Exciting things!

Now, the term "freelancer" didn't quite seem to cover it. I was making business plans, connecting with awesome people, doing work I was proud of - shouldn't I be a business owner now? {psst: if you want more info on owning a design business, see here!}

I was also learning how to talk about what I do, and saying "I'm a freelance designer" didn't seem to cover everything I was doing. I felt odd saying it and also felt like it didn't leave room for me to grow anywhere.

Though many freelancers do their work full time, it has changed my outlook to start calling myself a small business owner. Here's why:

  • It gives me the control: With freelancing, it felt like I was simply seeking out the next project, wherever it might come from. As a business owner, I am seeking clients and building something bigger than a single project. I set my schedule and my boundaries, and I feel more confident in sticking to business hours when it comes to client communication.


  • It feels more intentional (and legit): Whether we like it or not, freelancing can sometimes have a negative connotation - that this is a temporary thing until you find work, or you can't find someone to hire you so you are taking whatever work you can get. As a business owner, it means I am building something with goals and plans, and I take more ownership and pride in my work.


  • It allows me to say "no": As a freelancer, I felt more compelled to say "yes" to any request because who knows when the next one would come in? As a business owner, I have defined goals and ideal clients I want to work with. I have a mission and people I want to serve. I can limit myself to projects that fit those business plans and goals because I can see how it will affect my business's future.


  • It leaves room for growth. When you're a freelancer, you tend to say, "I'm a freelance _____ [designer, photographer, etc.]" and that is that. When you're a business owner, you can expand your services, offer a course or book for passive income, or take on team members as you get busier. If you are a freelancer, it can be confusing when you offer too many services, whereas a business can grow as needed to serve constituents. A business can evolve as much as I need it to.


It is amazing how your mindset can truly have an effect on what you do. When I still called myself a freelancer, I felt much less focused and was more likely to push off admin items. Now, I designate "business (or admin) time" to take care of things like accounting, invoicing, planning, etc. It inspires me to take ownership of what I'm building and get excited about it.

It can also depend on the type of client you want to work with. I do know some designers who do contracted work for agencies or studios, and I would still call this freelancing. Someone else finds a client and then brings you in to help execute the concept. As a business owner, I find the clients and help them bring their plans to live myself, which is a model I feel much more comfortable with.

I'd love to hear: do you call yourself a freelancer or a small business owner in your field? There is no wrong answer here, but I still wanted to share how my mindset has greatly impacted my work. You have to find the sweet spot that works for you and your goals!

business lessonsLaura Huebner