Get clear: do you want to be an independent contractor, free agent, small business owner or entrepreneur?

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I flash hit me today as I was making my daily bagel and peanut butter for lunch.

A lot of people who want to quit corporate careers get stuck knowing what "working for yourself" really means.  I think there are at least four distinct categories, each with their own implications.

Independent Contractor:  A common scenario in the technical fields, independent contractors look, act, and behave as employees, without the benefits. They are often subcontracted by an agency and tend to work for one company for a long time, until their funding gets cut, or the company gets worried that they might get sued for treating them like employees, like Microsoft did awhile back.

Free Agent:  This term became very popular in the late 90’s and early 00’s when the economy was booming and there was a great scarcity of talent.  Free agents usually are a bit more marketing-oriented than independent contractors, and tend to work for multiple clients.  They crave freedom and don’t necessarily want to create a lot of business infrastructure.

Small Business Owner:  This term fits people who want to create an actual business with infrastructure.  They often will have an office or storefront and a concrete business plan, complete with competitive market analysis, marketing and sales plans and the desire to hire employees as they expand.

Entrepreneur: This term seems to fit people who are passionate about bringing a great product or service to life.  They may have some of the same characteristics as a small business owner, but if they call themselves an entrepreneur they want to be known as highly creative and risk-taking.

As you think about venturing out on your own, which model would work best for you?

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