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Being A Freelancer Is Not The Same As Being An Entrepreneur. Here’s Why

Be careful, otherwise your work life will become your entire life.

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BY Nicolas Cole - 03 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The dream before you take the leap to become a full-time entrepreneur is to have "work-life balance."

I remember back when I was working my 9-5, a little over a year ago. I had to commute an hour to work each way, which made my commitment closer to an 8-6. And then some days I would need to work late, which meant I wouldn't leave until 7, or sometimes 8. I'd finally make it home, throw my backpack onto my bed, and sit in my desk chair with the sullen realization that the day was over. I had enough time to cook dinner and do a little late-night writing before passing out and repeating the same dance all over again.

Becoming an entrepreneur, I thought, would give me more time to enjoy some of my other passions.

Being a freelancer is not the same as being an entrepreneur--and here's why:

Right after taking the leap, and making it known that I was a freelance writer open for business, I quadrupled my income--I am not exaggerating. After building a strong personal brand on the Internet, and mastering the "fast-paced voice" that have driven many of my articles to viral status (100,000 views or more), finding clients wasn't an issue. Part ghostwriter for CEOs, part copywriter for big brands, and I could work 2-3 hours per day and out earn my previous 9-5 job by a large margin.

That lifestyle lasted all of 3 weeks.

"You have to take the leap," I said to one of my closest friends. "Let's build a company."

I was under the (naive) impression that building a company was something I could do in those same 2-3 hours each day--except with more upside.

Not even close.

When my friend (who is my co-founder) took the leap, our first venture failed. And while we kept looking for our next idea, I worked 14-hour days to support both of our overheads. Suddenly, all those things I had originally wanted out of my leap--the freedom to wake up and enjoy the morning sunrise with a warm cup of coffee--were thrown out the window. Instead, I was up waiting impatiently at Starbucks for them to refill my coffee so I could get back to working so we could both eat that month.

I felt personally responsible for the both of us.

About 4 (exhausting) months later, we found it. We called it Digital Press, and finally, finally, things started falling into place. We made our first hire. And then our second. And with every hire I just kept wondering when that 2-3 hour per day schedule was going to come back around.

Until we hired our 5th person--and I realized I was lying to myself. I wasn't a freelancer anymore. I was a founder of a rapidly-growing company. And I had just signed myself up for a building process that would take years, not months.

I share this because I notice every aspiring entrepreneur has the same faulty expectations.

You think entrepreneurship is going to be easier than having a 9-5. It's not.

You think entrepreneurship is going to give you more time to yourself. It's not.

You think entrepreneurship is going to make you more money, faster. It's not. (You're going to end up reinvesting it all into your business.)

You think entrepreneurship is going to give you more freedom. It is, and it's not.

And your biggest challenge is going to be the thing you assume will be the easiest thing of all, which is work-life balance.

Instead of starting your work day at 9 a.m. when you walk into the office, it's going to start at 6:30 a.m. the moment you refresh your email on your phone.

Instead of your work day ending at 5 p.m. when you leave the office, it's going to end at 1:00 a.m. after you've just worked through another chunk on your never-ending To Do list.

And instead of you having some semblance of separation between your "work" and the rest of your life, that line is going to become blurred entirely. You're going to work on the weekends. You're going to think about clients while you're with your family. You're going to have trouble being present with your significant other. Your entire life is going to be thrown upside-down, and it's going to be on you to do the hardest thing you've ever done in your entire life.

"I'm not working right now."

Every entrepreneur struggles with this. I see it now more than ever--since I've become one. It sounds so easy to draw that line in the sand, but the truth is, we all struggle with it. And we struggle because we care. We care about the work we do, about our partners and our employees and our clients and the future of the company. We care to the point where it becomes obsessive, and eventually that caring starts to turn stressful.

If you want to become, or are about to become, or have already become an entrepreneur, then you need to admit to yourself that you have no work-life balance. That is the definition of entrepreneurship: you are your work. Without you, the company wouldn't exist, your clients would buy from someone else, and your employees would work elsewhere.

Which means, as difficult as it might be, you need to intentionally create that space between yourself and your work--and trust that in doing so, it will actually make the work you do, better.

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