Marilyn Wo
Mar 13 · 4 min read

When I started getting paid for my first gig, I thought I was considered an entrepreneur.

I was getting money for selling something.

Am I not doing a real business and call myself an entrepreneur?

Labels aside, I realised that as a freelancer, I was just a solo contractor, working on the graphics, making the changes and also looking for clients and presenting my portfolio to them.

I was literally trading time for money.

Freelance Graphic Designer to Becoming an Entrepreneur

The first step towards being an entrepreneur for me was to understand how to run a real business.

Having been a successful freelancer for 10 years, it took massive effort and inertia to become a business owner.

That’s when I started outsourcing some of the design and administrative work to a virtual assistant.

As a business owner, I was still doing the design work, but much less than before.

Most of my time was spent on reading books to become better at marketing and sales, forging partnerships and creating better ways to help more people in my niche.

I can still do creative and graphic design work.

The big difference is I can use the time to choose what I truly love to create (for myself) rather than only for clients.

I am also building an asset, where if my personality were to be stripped away from the business, it can be run by anybody.

How It Started

It was only when I had my first baby in 2013 that I realised I couldn’t do so many things at one time; for example, feeding the baby and working on a design piece at the same time.

And if I can’t do that, my business can’t run without my presence which means I can’t be with my kid more than I wanted as well.

That’s when I decided to grow my business, MeetAnders to a point that it has the system to run on its own.

Which means, I had to find a way to remove myself from the day-to-day work for others to take over.

I realised it was time to stop trading time for money.

For this to happen, I must have the mindset that there will be a shift in my responsibilities and roles. This was the time when I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone at that time was to get up every morning to work on the next client’s task.

My life was purely on reactive mode, everyday.

I’ve been working on everything, from clicking the mouse to adjust every pixel I see on the computer to pitching ideas.

Who else can do these other than myself?

I couldn’t imagine myself trying to explain how to design every little detail to someone else.

Another designer may be talented, but they may not understand what I want.

Wouldn’t it be faster if I do everything myself?

These thoughts made me afraid to pass on things that I’ve done for years.

Then I started to imagine myself being with my kids while my team of designers are the ones delivering quality designs to my clients.

Since then, everything changed.

Sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free. ― Robert Tew

That said, here are the main differences that I’ve discovered between being a freelancer and an entrepreneur:

As a freelance graphic designer

  1. 80% of my work time is trading time for money
  2. Using technical skills to provide the service to make a living
  3. Do pretty much everything to keep the lights on
  4. No income if I stopped working
  5. May fall into my own trap of a 9–5 job

As a graphic design entrepreneur

  1. 80% of my work time is devising ways to innovate and scale the business
  2. I’m ready to sell the business if I want to
  3. Get paid even when I stop working or sleeping — something like “passive income”
  4. No direct involvement in the production if I want to
  5. “Can I remove myself and the business will carry on as per normal?” If I answer “Yes” to this, then I am an entrepreneur.

When I was a graphic design freelancer, I actually considered myself as an entrepreneur. Though I wasn’t even close, this mindset was a good start to getting there.

The next step I took was to chunk down this big hairy goal into baby actionable steps and started doing them.

What have you learned?

Being a freelancer for 10 years taught me that I’ve created a job for myself.

While the journey to becoming an entrepreneur made me a better version of myself.

That said, being a freelancer is great!

There’s nothing wrong with being a freelancer if you know this is what you want and it brings you to your destination.

Most importantly, it’s not about labelling our profession.

It’s more about what works best for you to solve problems and help people as much as you can, while you lead the lifestyle you wish you had.


Originally published at marilynwo.com.

Marilyn Wo

Written by

Writing about how to build a design as a service business like MeetAnders.com • Learning to go from freelance designer to entrepreneur at MarilynWo.com

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