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Digital Nomad, Remote Worker or Freelancer: What’s the Difference?

As many workers shift their interest toward an online career, terms like remote worker, digital nomad, entrepreneur, and freelancer continually arise. While these terms might seem interchangeable at first glance, they encapsulate distinct approaches to work, each offering a unique blend of freedom, flexibility, and autonomy. If you’re interested in pursuing a job that allows you the freedom to work from anywhere you may wonder what differentiates each work category. 

What Is the Difference Between Each Category?

Here, we explore the differences between each type of work so you can better understand the remote career options.

Remote Worker: If you’re a remote worker, you’ll be working outside of the office for your employer. This could mean working from a home office, café, co-working space, or similar location. While you can save money and time on the commute to the office, you’re limited to predesignated working times. For example, you may work a typical workday that consists of the regular 9-5 hours. 

In this case, equipment is typically provided by the company. This equipment may include a phone, laptop, or other necessary tools to complete your job daily. However, this depends on each company’s budget and is not guaranteed, especially for smaller startups. 

The Freelancer: If you are a freelancer, what you would offer is the creation of projects for other companies. Perhaps you design logos for different clients. Or, maybe you create social media captions for companies. 

There’s generally not a cost to become a freelancer, unlike an entrepreneur who may need to rent an office, purchase computers, etc. A freelancer earns money after each project is complete, while an entrepreneur may not make a profit for a few months or more. 

The Digital Nomad: Digital nomads and freelancers are pretty similar; the main difference is how each type of person lives. The term digital nomad indicates someone that is not tied down to one location and achieves this by working online. Many digital nomads tend to become affiliate marketers, bloggers, vloggers, or a similar category of work. However, this is not the case for everyone.  

There is not a lot of stability in a nomadic lifestyle, which some workers thoroughly enjoy. As you travel the world, you’ll be living in hostels, apartments, Airbnbs, caravans, etc. Freelancers do not need to travel as often and typically have a home base. 

The Solopreneur vs Entrepreneur

Solopreneur and entrepreneur may sound similar, but they contain one significant difference, how many people work for the company. As a solopreneur, you’ll be running everything related to your company, from marketing to services/products, social media, accounting, etc.

This is generally the first step that many take when creating their business. As the business grows and the solopreneur can no longer continue running every aspect of their company alone, they may consider becoming an entrepreneur and hiring a team. 

There are a few other items that differentiate solopreneurs and entrepreneurs. Solopreneurs tend to center around one specific topic, service, or product. For example, an interior designer can be a solopreneur. 

There is also no focus on scaling the business; instead, solopreneurs want to build a sufficient client base to make the business profitable enough for the individual.  

Young Black efemale freelancer in glasses and casual clothes focusing on screen and interacting with laptop while sitting alone on floor in light modern living room

As mentioned, entrepreneurs typically run a team of people. They focus on one area of the business, like managing, and allow their team to continue in their roles to allow the company to run smoothly. 

Entrepreneurs may run multiple businesses or have multiple offerings in their business. Piggybacking off the interior designer example, an entrepreneur may have an agency of designers who also design entire buildings and work with contractors. 

Many entrepreneurs have a primary goal of scaling their business, potentially to sell for a profit later. However, this is not the case for every entrepreneur.

How Do You Know Which Category You May Fall Under?

If you’re already on your path toward a remote career, you likely will be able to pick out which option above most correlates with your duties and intentions. Though, if you’re still unsure, start by answering the question, “Am I working for an employer?” If yes, you’re likely a remote worker. 

Then, consider if you’re running a company by yourself in one niche (solopreneur). Those running a business with employees (or even multiple businesses) are likely entrepreneurs. If you’re creating projects for various customers, you’re likely a freelancer or digital nomad.

For those exploring which path is the best match, the first step is considering your current and future intentions. It’s easy to get carried away with trying to become an entrepreneur right away, though this can become overwhelming quickly. 

Some entrepreneurs start as solopreneurs, freelancers, or digital nomads and shift into entrepreneurs as they build and expand their businesses. This also applies to freelancers – if they decide to expand and offer more services or even create an agency or similar business. 

How Easy Is It To Do Each Type of Career While Abroad?

If one of your primary incentives for working a remote career is travel, you likely wonder which career paths make it easiest to be abroad.

Remote Work: The ease of working abroad as a remote worker depends on your company and its rules. Some companies do not mind workers traveling abroad during the year, as long as they’re available at specified hours.

Other companies may prefer remote workers to remain nearby as it can make it easier to coordinate phone calls and video meetings while everyone is in the same time zone.

Digital Nomad: Digital nomads work to travel, so this will be the easiest career path if you desire to take trips as often as possible. However, it may not be ideal for new digital nomads to travel immediately, as it can be tricky juggling remote work with traveling.

Solopreneur: As a solopreneur, you oversee your business. You can travel as often or as little as you’d like. However, traveling abroad will not be possible if you sell physical products like jewelry, art, etc., that you’re creating by hand. 

If your products or services are being sold online without needing an in-person presence, travel will be much less challenging. However, you’re running all aspects of your business, so it may be challenging to coordinate trips while maintaining your business. 

Entrepreneur: If you’re an entrepreneur, it will be less challenging to travel abroad as often as possible. However, you’ll need to maintain contact with your team members often. Depending on the system you have set up, you can minimize in-person meetings and oversight of other employees.

Freelancer: Being a freelancer also allows you the freedom to travel. There is some control over how many clients you take on every week. So, if you plan on traveling, you can schedule fewer clients during that time to enjoy the area. 

In conclusion, whether you’re  pondering the right career path or already navigating one, the insights aim to help you understand various remote career avenues. Remember, flexibility is key – you can always transition between remote careers to find the one that aligns best with your aspirations and lifestyle. 

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