it's all in your headYesterday, I came across a really interesting post by John Jantsch that posited “it’s time to purge the word entrepreneur”.

In part, John wrote,

“The issue centers on the notion that if you’re an entrepreneur you care about high growth and if you’re a small business owner you’re somehow destined to struggle to make ends meet while working your fingers to the bone.”

and

“You can view your business as an entrepreneurial high growth machine and still work your fingers to the bone with little to show for it and you can create a little lifestyle small business that pays your handsomely and affords you the time to take in the world. So, what’s the distinction now?”

You should read the post, because it’s very interesting, as are the comments (people offer so many definitions of “entrepreneur” it will make your head spin).

What is interesting to me – and something I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few months – is how we define our own businesses. And when I say “we,” I mean most of the people I know who, like me, are practicing their trade independently, and mostly without employees.

Are we freelancers? Consultants? Entrepreneurs? Small business owners?

Personally, I’ve always gravitated away from “freelancer.” To me, there is an implied impermanence in that word, that one hops from project to project while looking for a “real” job. I also know people who’ve been “freelancing” for years, and are quite happy that way.

Many people I’ve come into contact with over the last few years who call themselves consultants are basically doing the same thing. Got laid off? Got fired? Quit because they got tired? They’ll become “consultants” until they get their next job.

Now, I understand the financial need to do this. But using that word in that context just seems a bit waffly to me (one could always use “professional” instead).

What am I?

I am an independent consultant. And there are extremely large firms that do exactly what I do. They just do it on a much larger scale. No one would hesitate to consider them a “real” business. But by virtue of the fact that I work for myself, and not for such a firm or a “regular” agency, sometimes people assume that I’m doing this while in between jobs.

Here’s the thing; I’m not a temporary consultant. I’m not going anywhere. This is why I also say, on my website, as well as when people ask me “what exactly it is that I do,” that I’m “an agency of one.” Because, for now at least, that’s what I am, and what my business is.

And when it comes to deciding whether I’m an entrepreneur or a small business owner, I’ve simply assumed that I’m both.

Two factors – risk and management – are common to most definitions of the word “entrepreneur” that I’ve seen; some include “initiative.”

Check, check and check

I am a small business owner. Granted, it’s a very very very small business, but it is a business. I don’t play around with my work or clients. I look at my numbers, have projections, pay taxes, etc.

I’ve also assumed that by virtue of striking out on my own – which is a risk – I am an entrepreneur as well. Granted, I don’t have the idea for the next Google+ or whatever, but I am bearing risk and managing my business.

And I do think it takes some initiative to strike out on one’s own.

In my head

For me, thinking of myself as a small business owner has been incredibly important to the way I approach my business. I am not here-today-gone-tomorrow. I run a business which has to turn a profit else I’m up the creek without a paddle. Not only that, I have to figure out how to scale my business beyond the “micro” stage.

If I thought of myself as a freelancer, I don’t think I’d get there.

I want to make it clear that I mean no disrespect to those who have been, or consider themselves, lifelong freelancers. Joanna Pineda‘s post on what kind of business you want to create resonated strongly with me and, as she points out (as does John Jantsch), successful freelancers can live a very comfortable lifestyle indeed. It’s simply not how I perceive myself, or my business.

Whatever your approach, I think it is incredibly important to get exactly who and what you are right in your head when starting out. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to communicate that to potential clients and customers, and your business will get off on the wrong foot.

Positioning doesn’t start on the outside. It starts in your head. And at least as far as your business is concerned, it will be your defining moment.

But enough about me… what do you think? How do you think of your business?

Image: incurable_hippie via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke