Whether you call it freelancing, consulting, contracting, or gig work…the independent work revolution is real.
According to Upwork, 36% of the US workforce freelanced in 2020, and the number of freelancers who do it full time went up 8% from 2019. The same report also finds that 58% of workers in traditional settings who started working remotely during the pandemic are now considering freelancing.
During the pandemic, employees and employers found out that (shocker) you can actually do what you do away from the office without your boss breathing down your neck and tracking your “seat time” down to the minute.
And we’ve only seen that trend increase in the last several months as “The Great Resignation” takes the economy by storm. People are sick of office politics, unequal and unfair compensation, and ridiculous expectations, so they’re kissing the 9–5 goodbye to create something better for themselves.
Experts predict that by 2023 the majority of US workers will have engaged in independent work.
Many of these independent workers will fall into the category of “solopreneur” — an independent worker who does what they do primarily on their own, without employees.
The US Small Business Administration says that 81% of small businesses have no employees…81% of US small businesses are solopreneurs.
I also know that “solopreneur” is a pretty broad category and everyone classifies themselves slightly differently.
Whether you’re someone who is just starting the solopreneur journey or a seasoned freelancer dismayed by all the newbies in your field, knowing where you fall on the solopreneur spectrum will help you better understand and explain what you do, and why you do it.
The eight most common types of solopreneurs
Like I said, this is a spectrum — these categories are not mutually exclusive, just an attempt to group similar types of solopreneurs together.
Categorization is always imperfect, so take what resonates and leave the rest.
The Freelancer has a specific skill set (e.g., website creation, administrative support, copywriting, project management) that they market and sell to clients. They typically work on their own and have multiple clients that they work for at the same time.
The Creative is generally a sub-category of freelancer who does “creative” work such as graphic design, videography, photography, illustration, writing, etc. For creatives in particular, working independently is a way they can do the creative work they love AND get paid.
The Consultant generally tells other people how to do what they do better but doesn’t usually do the execution of the actual work.
The Content Creator
The Content Creator starts to cross over from service to product. The content creator takes what they do as an independent and monetizes it in a way that does not require direct one-to-one service (e.g., course creators, bloggers, podcasters). You can also be a “content creator” as a freelancer and create content for other people.
The Side Hustler
The Side Hustler is someone who does any of these things while holding down a full-time job.
The Gig Worker
Any (or all) of the above categories could be defined as “gig worker” but I’m using this category to include those who work for a company that has built their business model on independent workers (e.g., Uber, DoorDash, Postmates).
The Brick and Mortar
The Brick and Mortar has an actual storefront where they sell their goods or services. This category includes (among others) solopreneurs who need to be in-person to deliver their services like massage therapists, estheticians, and personal trainers.
The Agency pulls together either other freelancers who do the same thing (e.g., several VAs) or others who do complimentary things (e.g., ads management, graphic design, copywriting). I still count this as a solopreneur because this usually is more of a partnership model and not a company with employees.
Solopreneurs often find themselves in several of these categories at the same time. I personally bounce back and forth across these categories month-to-month, year-to-year.
That’s part of the beauty of independent work — you can change what you do and how you do it whenever you want.
Classifying these types of independent workers as “solopreneurs” is not an attempt to lump everyone into one bucket, it is an effort to show the similarities between the various types of independents in order to create solidarity amongst those of us who have chosen independent work.
And that’s the key distinction — choice.
A true solopreneur is someone who has chosen to work independently, not someone who was coerced (intentionally or unintentionally) into being a contractor by whoever they work for.
Using the term “true solopreneur” is not a value judgment on the worker (working for yourself isn’t for everyone), it is a way to differentiate between people who intentionally choose independent work and those who should actually be classified as employees. That distinction is the responsibility of the employer to recognize when someone identifies as a solopreneur and chooses independent work for themselves vs. the employer making that choice for them. (Obvious disclaimer about me not being an employment lawyer — consult a professional, etc….)
Solopreneurs have made a choice to decide for themselves what they do and how they do it. Their stake in the economy is huge and will only continue to redefine the way society thinks about work.