The six tribes of self-employment

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change

Feb 29
Small Business Flower Shop

Self-employment is now at a record high – 4.6 million people according to the latest Labour Force Survey. And the rate of growth in self-employment is particularly strong amongst women. So if you are considering a career change, going it alone is a serious option.

Self-employment and micro-business ownership is a broad field. It ranges from ambitious entrepreneurial start ups, to ad-hoc freelancing, and stops in-between.

Small Business LocksmithResearch from an RSA and Etsy project, The Power of Small, identified six “tribes of self-employment”. These ideas were published in a report called Salvation in a Start Up.

Whether you already run a business or are considering it, these categories offer food for thought. Which tribe could you be part of?


These are optimistic, mission-driven business owners. They may start small, but they are motivated to grow, and are often driven by a sense of purpose, and the desire for greater meaning, and to make a difference. Visionaries typically work long hours, and expand by taking on staff. Running a visionary business can bring both stress, but also satisfaction.


These are normally small local businesses. They offer a service or product to the local community, for example a local plumber or craftsperson.  Typically locals enjoy the control they have over their own lives, and the majority want to keep their business at the same size, and to avoid long hours or stress.


These are entrepreneurial business people, who are motivated primarily by the desire to run a profitable business, and to make the most of their own skills and talents. They may enjoy the challenge of sales. They often work long hours and enjoy doing so, and measure their success in terms of profit.


Survivors are motivated primarily by pay and security, and may have started up their business as a result of unemployment, or just to make ends meet.  They may not really think of themselves business owners, and may end up working long hours for relatively low returns.


These individuals enjoy the freedom of self-employment and are motivated by making the most of their talents, or doing something that interests them. They are likely to be self-motivated, and make extensive use of the internet for selling their goods or services. The majority of independents want to hold on to their freedom, rather than take on staff.


These are typically people who run a hobby business. Dabblers enjoy what they do, and it may be that they run their business in their spare time or post retirement. The income they make is typically quite small, and they are often not reliant on it.

And if you identify with any of these categories, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Felicity is a career coach. She help people who want to change career, start a freelance business, or build their confidence. Felicity writes about career and business development, leadership and personal effectiveness.

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