Make The Mighty Leap from Freelancer To Entrepreneur

Updated on 26 August 2019

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There is a difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur.

It has a lot to do with your mindset and the way you tackle a project, says Tryphinah Moleke, owner of Moleke Human Capital Investment, a HR consultancy and coaching firm.

Freelancers get paid for their time, as an entrepreneur you get paid for the value that you bring to your client or customer, she says.

Moleke left the corporate world more than 10 years ago and says she freelanced for the first five years.

“Thereafter I ventured into entrepreneurship. I get fulfillment from driving people to a point of realisation of their own potential and equipping them with tools that drive them to be better version of themselves continuously.”

Anyone can own a business. The registration process is quite easy; making it work is something else

Robyn Thekiso is the owner of Robyn Thekiso Consulting and a partner in several businesses – Auhuro and M&R Collective. She freelanced between 2008 and 2012.

Thekiso says she learnt the hard way the difference between being a freelancer and being an entrepreneur.

“I was quite naive as I was ‘lured’ by a client who offered me my then sole retainer. To be honest, it was not freelancing, but rather contract work as all I had done was to replace my permanent employment contract with a consulting one.

“I was comfortable until it came to an abrupt end about a year in. The client told me within a month that he could no longer afford me. That’s when I realised that I had foolishly relied on one source of income. [That has been] my biggest lesson. I eventually moved back into a [more] comfortable space where I had regular work from different sources and was made an offer of employment with a startup marketing agency.”

Thekiso says in 2016 she made the move back into independent consulting.

Looking to make the change from freelancer to entrepreneur? Moleke and Thekiso share how to make the shift in mindset and practical steps to consider:

On making the change from freelancer to entrepreneur

Robyn Thekiso

mindset robyn thekiso sme south africa
Robyn Thekiso

1. Think of yourself as a business and a brand

Your thinking has to shift from receiving an income to making one. This can be quite intimidating. Anyone can own a business. The registration process is quite easy; making it work is something else.

I have a strong marketing communications background, so I’m aware of branding and the role it plays. And as a freelancer, you’re only as good as your last job. You’re the brand. Throughout my career, word-of-mouth has, and continues to be, my biggest marketing tool.

2. Leave behind the ‘security’ mindset

[The fear of not getting a] regular income is the biggest barrier that one has to break. In today’s economy, secured or permanent employment is a euphemism. It’s really just a smoke-screen. Businesses that thrive in the 4IR will rely less and less on fixed human capital and will increasingly tap into the gig economy to be more agile and creative.

I’m a work-in-progress, so I still struggle with some of the challenges of being an independent business owner. In my mind, the irregularity of income is commensurate with the flexibility. It’s the nature of the game. It also gives me the ability to do what I love and work and partner with people I trust. That’s extremely important for me. I also think it plays a role in the quality of work I produce. I really put my heart and soul into what I do. So, that gives me the balance that I need.

3. Master self-discipline

There is no-one directing your daily schedule which can make it very tempting to have long lunches and watch YouTube all day. One needs to be focused and goal-oriented. If you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. And if you’re not getting paid, then you should be using that time for admin, networking, marketing, and the like.

Tryphinah Moleke

mindset Tryphinah Moleke sme south africa
Tryphinah Moleke

1. Make a decision

You need to decide which route you are going to pursue: freelancing or entrepreneurship.

Failure to make this mindset shift will result in lack of clarity and focus, because you will inevitably operate as one thing while wanting to be the other.

2. Know your why

Why are you going from being an employee to being your own boss? If that goal is not clearly defined, the transition will be challenging. Don’t go into self-employment (freelancer or entrepreneur) because your boss annoys you. You are going to deal with many bosses (your clients) who may also annoy you.

3. Know the difference between an entrepreneur and a freelancer

Be clear about your intentions for being an entrepreneur, understanding that the skill sets and resources required are very different from those of a freelancer. As a freelancer, YOU are the business. If you are sick, you have no income. If you go on holiday, you have no income. You get paid to do the work, YOU DO THE WORK. As an entrepreneur, you are getting others to do the work with and for you. You are the business owner, not the business. You utilise other people’s resources (time, energy, money) to grow the business.

On practical steps to make the change from freelancer to entrepreneur


1. Reduce personal debt and save as much [money] as possible before going into freelancing or starting a business. It gives you a ‘backup’ plan.

2. Accept that business is cyclical and understand the rhythms of your sector/industry as you must plan around these. December and January are generally quiet months. That means I only have 10 months to earn my income. In other words, a 10-month income must last for twelve with, hopefully, a bonus for December.

3. Understand that your network is your net worth – [these are] past clients, colleagues, friends, family, associations and so on. Make time to connect with people. A ‘seemingly unknown’ person can have a major impact on your business. Your next project could come from the sister of one of the mothers at school.

4. Prepare to start small. The pyramids were not built in a day. [Starting small] also sets the foundation for sustained growth and stability.

5. Never get comfortable. Complacency is a rival to success.


1. Write down your intentions and goals.

2. Review your goals on a regular basis – ideally with a coach or mentor.

3. Have a network of sounding boards, people who can keep you accountable.

4. Have regular, honest, reflective conversations with yourself. You can lie to other people, but you cannot lie to yourself.

5. Take care of yourself – all aspects of yourself – eat well, get enough rest, EXERCISE!

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