Are you an ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘self-employed’ (and does it matter)?

5 years ago

Before joining the Sage One team I spent 4yrs working for Shell LiveWIRE, the UK’s biggest youth enterprise scheme – managing their website and social media profiles, moderating the discussion forum and talking about the programme on the phone, via email and in person at various events all over the UK.

During that time, I probably said or wrote the word ‘entrepreneur’ several times every day. Since leaving, I almost never use it.

Why? Because I think it’s been so overused that it’s now become meaningless.

Although it still makes sense for Shell LiveWIRE to use the word when talking about their annual ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award’ which has been running since 1986 there are far too many people using the term or calling themselves an entrepreneur when they’re nothing of the sort.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met at a start-up or small business event who’ve introduced themselves as an entrepreneur as in “Hi, my name’s Paul Lancaster and I’m an entrepreneur” but when pressed further they don’t actually have a business and are often still at the ideas stage!

Lord Sugar made a good point in his ShortList interview a few years ago when he said “An entrepreneur is not what you call yourself, it’s what someone calls you in recognition of what you’ve achieved. I call Richard Branson an entrepreneur. Rupert Murdoch called me one. Anybody who stands up and says: ‘I’m an entrepreneur’ needs shooting. You’ll drive people crazy.”

It’s not necessarily the individual’s fault that they call themselves one. I blame the media hype, the politicians whi jump on the bandwagon and yes, the enterprise organisations who use the word ‘entrepreneur’ when it’s inappropriate to do so.

But I can understand why. Why use several words when a single one can be a useful catch all, even if it isn’t being used correctly? Google searches and SEO are also partly to blame for encouraging people to fill their websites and blogs with the word to help them get more traffic.

However, a far more suitable word for the vast majority of these people to use when describing themselves is ‘self-employed’ (but only if and when they’ve registered as such with HM Revenue & Customs through their website at

There are self-employed people everywhere you look in the UK and far fewer entrepreneurs in the mould of Branson or Sugar. So, if you’re starting out in business be proud of the term self-employed (or freelancer) and don’t feel like you have to make yourself out to be bigger or more important than you really are. People are far more willing to help if you’re completely honest about who you are and at what stage your business is, especially if you’re just starting out.

What do you think? Do you agree that the word ‘entrepreneur’ is overused and how do you introduce yourself to others? And what other words do you find annoying in the business world? Tell us in the comments box below.