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What is Self Employment? Everything You Need to Know

Article by Thomas J Law

Interested in self employment? Great!

Becoming self employed can be exciting, scary, and rewarding. You can be your own boss, set your hours, work from home, and spend more time with your family!

No wonder self employment is on the rise.

According to a 2019 study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, more than 57 million Americans were engaged in freelancing  in 2019– one of the most popular types of self employment.

Upwork/Freelancers Union Report on Freelancing in 2019

But what is self employment? What exactly are the advantages of self employment? 

In this article, you’ll learn all about self employment and types of self employment. And stick around until the end for a list of 50 top self employment ideas.

What is Self Employment?

The term “self employed” means that someone earns money by working for themselves instead of for another person or company. In other words, it’s like being a one-person business.


Here are five quick examples of self employment:

  • Freelance writer
  • Independent business consultant
  • Local handyperson
  • Food truck owner
  • Farmers

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you’re considered self employed if you:

Now, let’s take a closer look at some common types of self employment.

Types of Self Employment

People who work for themselves go by many different names. Most prefer the general terms “independent worker” and “self employed.”

However, self employed individuals go by names that provide more insight into the type of self employment they’re involved in.

How freelancers describe themselves graph

Let’s take a closer look at some different types of self employment.


A freelancer is someone who provides services to clients with no expectation of ongoing work. Many freelancers work with multiple clients at a time. Common examples include freelance writers, designers, and photographers. With nearly two-thirds of freelancers finding work online checking out remote job sites where you can find this type of work easily should be your first port of call.

Independent Contractors

Independent contractors provide services under the terms of a written or verbal contract. These contracts can be project-based or time-based. 

Some independent contractors work full-time for one company and resemble an employee. However, as an independent contractor, they’re responsible for paying their own Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Common examples include realtors, web developers, and project managers.

Small Business Owners

The term small business owner is broad and can apply to any small business that sells products or services. Generally speaking, most small business owners work to develop a sustainable business with systems and processes.

Common examples include owners of mom-and-pop stores, independent cafes, and ecommerce businesses.

Side Hustlers

This type of self employment refers to people who earn money working for themselves while also being employed by others full-time or part-time.

For example, a journalist employed by a newspaper might also write freelance articles for other publications. Or a full-time employee could work 10 hours a week doing something they love like getting a photography business up and running.

Advantages of Self Employment

Why be self employed?

According to the study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, most full-time freelancers prefer to be self employed because it allows them to have a more flexible lifestyle.

Additionally, the self employed want to:

  • Be their own boss
  • Work from the location of their choosing
  • Choose the projects they work on
  • Have a schedule that enables them to pursue their personal goals.
  • Be in control of their financial future
  • Have independence from factors such as office dynamics
  • Be free to pursue work they’re passionate about or find meaningful
  • Have the ability to pivot their skills and projects when it suits
  • Spend more time with family

Why people choose to be a freelancer

Self employment also opens up opportunities for individuals who would prefer not to work for a traditional employer due to personal circumstances, such as a disability, the need to take care of a loved one, or being a single parent.

But isn’t self employment insecure and unpredictable?

You can think of freelancing as volatile and risky, or as flexible and opportunity-rich,” said Sara Horowitz, author of The Freelancer’s Bible. “Doesn’t having multiple sources of income and multiple money-making skills sound less risky than putting all your eggs in one employer’s basket? Freelancing lets you shift gears when the world does.”

The Downside of Self Employment

It would be unfair to say that there are only advantages to self employment. There are some disadvantages to it also. 

For instance you need to find clients, and work on your sales abilities so you can generate profit, and pay the rent. 

You also need to be a jack of all trades also. From marketing, sales, project management, client management, customer service, payroll, invoicing, and so much more, self employment forces you out of your comfort zone, and into learning new things every day.

Finally you might work alone most of the time, so you may not have a good support system in place, like if you were working within a team of people. This can lead to mental health issues, that you need to nip in the bud as soon as possible. Signing up for mindfulness classes, attended events for people in similar situations, and maintaining a good physical and social calendar can help to ensure your mental health doesn’t suffer when you become self employed.  

50 Best Self Employment Ideas

Interested in self employment opportunities? Here’s a list of 50 self employment ideas to inspire your journey!

Self Employment Ideas That Allow You to Harness Your Internet Savvy

  • 1. Join an affiliate program
  • 2. Become a social media influencer
  • 3. Model for brands and creators
  • 4. Start a blog
  • 5. Be a YouTuber and make money
  • 6. Manage social media campaigns and accounts

Sell Goods Online with These Self Employment Opportunities

  • 7. Sell products online with Shopify
  • 8. Dropship products online with DSers
  • 9. Sell print-on-demand products online
  • 10. Sell your homemade creations on Etsy

Self Employment Opportunities That Take Advantage of Your Work or Career Experience

  • 11. Teach English online
  • 12. Tutor maths, sciences, or the arts
  • 13. Edit and proofread for students
  • 14. Write marketing and sales copy 
  • 15. Create web content for businesses
  • 16. Write an ebook
  • 17. Create and sell an online course

Offer Your Professional Services with These Self Employment Ideas

  • 18. Sell your graphic design services
  • 19. Offer web development services
  • 20. Become a portrait, event, or wedding photographer
  • 21. Sell your stock photos on Burst, Shutterstock, Pexels, and iStock
  • 22. Edit photos, audio, or video
  • 23. Become an interior designer
  • 24. Keep books or do accounting
  • 25. Consult on marketing, management, or advertising strategies
  • 26. Create IT solutions for local businesses
  • 27. Repair home electronics

Self Employment Ideas That Utilize Your People Skills

  • 28. Coach others on their careers
  • 29. Be a motivational speaker
  • 30. Coach people on public speaking

Put Your Organization Skills to Work with These Self Employment Opportunities

Self Employment Ideas That Allow You to Employ Your Life Experience

  • 33. Babysit or nanny
  • 34. Walk or sit pets
  • 35. Tailor clothes and other household items like curtains, drapery, and linen
  • 36. Clean houses and commercial spaces
  • 37. Offer decluttering and organizational services
  • 38. Pack and unpack for movers
  • 39. Be a gardener
  • 40. Be a personal cook or food caterer

Put Your Training to Work with These Self Employment Opportunities

  • 41. Teach yoga, pilates, or dance
  • 42. Be a personal fitness trainer
  • 43. Work as a freelance barber or a hairdresser
  • 44. Do professional make up for special occasions, events, or film sets
  • 45. Be a personal shopper
  • 46. Become a massage therapist

Self Employment Ideas that Allow You to Work With Your Talents

  • 47. Do voice-overs
  • 48. Create a podcast
  • 49. Sing or dance at events and venues
  • 50. DJ at parties or events

Summary: Becoming Self Employed  

Self employment is the process of earning money from your own endeavors, instead of being employed by someone else. 

Self employed individuals go by different names, such as freelancers, independent contractors, and small business owners.

There are tons of advantages to self employment, too. Many people enjoy being self employed because they can be their own boss, have a flexible schedule, and work from home.

All in all, employment isn’t for everyone. If you’re one of these people, you might agree with businessman and speaker Farrah Gray, who said, “Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

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