Are You an Entrepreneur or an Employee? Here Are the 4 Biggest Distinctions.

Not everyone is a natural for the entrepreneurial role, but the mindset needed can be learned.
Are You an Entrepreneur or an Employee? Here Are the 4 Biggest Distinctions.
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Guest Writer
CEO of Integrity Marketing & Consulting
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many people dream of quitting their day job and joining the ranks of the self-employed; but according to a 2016 Kauffman Foundation Study, only 6 percent of Americans actuallly own their own business.

Related: 8 Differences Between 'Entrepreneurs' and 'Employees'

Of those who aren’t business owners, some have tried and failed, while others are employees who have never ventured further than the boundaries of their job description. Taking the leap into the world of entrepreneurship takes guts, but success lies in understanding the key differences between being an employee vs. being an entrepreneur.

The right mindset

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics described a person’s mindset as the key to determining whether he or she will be happier and more successful as an entrepreneur or employee. An entrepreneur, the study said, tends to be a “jack of all trades” whose interests, experience and expertise cover a wide range of topics that combine to support a new business. The study found that entrepreneurs tend to have a diverse network of relationships which can support them when they start a new business.

On the other hand, employees are paid to perform a specific role or function within an organization. Job security, a stable income and specialized skill sets are often employee priorities. These priorities can make these people loyal and valuable workers who are likely to seek growth and challenges within an organization rather than follow their own path.

But what if an employee chooses instead to be an entrepreneur? Although not everyone is a natural for this role, the mindset needed can be learned. Companies such as TrepCamp help individuals attain this mindset by having them actually study successful entrepreneurs and mirror their key traits.

Work ethic and perseverance

Many employees are clock-watchers, who wait for the shift to end or the workday to be over. They may also not be as resilient as entrepreneurs in the face of obstacles and setbacks.

Related: 9 'Mindsets' You Need to Switch From Employee to Entrepreneur

Workers will likely wait for someone else to step in and fix a problem; they lack the authority or willingness to find solutions on their own.

Steve Jobs once said that perseverance distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones. Members of the former group work as long and as hard as is necessary to succeed and persevere in the face of every challenge. This work ethic and tenacity are necessary qualities for entrepreneurs because the start of a business is speculative, and a positive outcome is never guaranteed.

I recently interviewed Brandon Lewis, president of Win More Patients, about the uncertainties of starting a business. After months of no sales and a lot of resistance from initial prospects, Lewis told me, he had to decide to either persevere or throw in the towel. He chose to continue.

“Month after month," he explained, "we worked long hours, whether it was reaching out to prospects, following up with leads, improving our sales strategy, redesigning our website, improving our offer -- whatever it took. Finally, revenue started rolling in, and we haven’t looked back since.”

The company, which helps physicians broaden their professional profile, has recently expanded into a larger physical office space.

Commitment to lifelong learning

Anyone can become a lifelong learner by choosing to commit himself or herself to developing an interest or skills. Employees who choose this path often continue to develop specific skills within their field, to move up the leadership ladder.

Entrepreneurs may take a different approach, learning how to stay relevant in an ever-changing market. Prioritizing lifelong learning allows entrepreneurs to be flexible and resilient as they grow their businesses.

I spoke with chiropractor Billy Cheong, who's founder and director of Elite Spine and Health Center in Houston, Texas. Cheong said he believed that anyone seeking success as a healthcare entrepreneur must view that goal as a lifelong journey. "As a medical provider, you have the responsibility and obligation to keep up with the latest medical news and constantly work on your craft to be the best doctor,” Cheong said.

This "lifelong journey," he said, is also reflected in the need to learn new ways to reach your audience and innovate customer service. Being in it for the long haul, Cheong said, is critical to keeping your brand fresh and engaging.  


In a work environment, employees must tout their personal successes and show off their hard work, to achieve a promotion or pay raise, especially when they're part of a large department or company. Without blatant self-promotion, many workers simply get lost in the crowd.

This level of self-promotion is damaging to entrepreneurs, however. Instead, developing humbleness is the key to success. Cultivating true humbleness requires allowing others to contribute to a company’s success, and builds stronger teams. Humble entrepreneurs don't believe that only they can do something the right way; instead, they learn to delegate and trust the people they’ve hired.

During a conversation with James Fowler, co-founder of Fowler Law Group, in Sarasota and Bradenton, Fla., I learned about Fowler's emphasis on practicing humility in his duties as leader of his staff. “I don’t feel the need to micromanage my team, which frees my time up to concentrate on being the best lawyer I can be for my clients,” Fowler told me. Humbleness and trust, in short, allow Fowler to focus on what he does best.

Related: Employer vs. Employee: Who Runs Your Workplace? (Infographic)

Bottom line

Employees and entrepreneurs differ in several key areas, from mindset to humbleness, but anyone can switch roles by understanding these differences and showing a willingness to change strategies. Success is possible in either arena. An individual just has to choose which one to play in.

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