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Understanding Differences Between Contractors, Sub-Contractors and Freelancers

Navigating the world of independent workers can be confusing, especially when terms like contractor, sub-contractor, and freelancer are thrown around. As a business owner, it's essential to understand these roles and their differences to ensure smooth project execution and legal compliance.


  • Definition: Skilled individuals or entities that provide specific services for a defined period.

  • Variations: In the construction industry, contractors can range from solo entrepreneurs to large corporations. They often handle separate projects and can be responsible for the entire project's execution.

  • Working Style: Outside of construction, contractors usually work for one organisation at a time, often on-site, and for a set duration.

  • Industries: IT, engineering, business and finance, construction, catering, and more.


  • Definition: Professionals hired by the main contractor to perform specific tasks that the contractor is responsible for but can't manage directly.

  • Example: In a building project, the primary contractor might hire a plumber and electrician as sub-contractors. However, the main contractor remains accountable to the client for the entire project.


  • Definition: Independent workers who often juggle multiple clients simultaneously.

  • Working Style: They typically work from home, charging hourly rates or daily fees.

  • Industries: Creative fields such as videography, copywriting, design, and web development.

Key Takeaways

  • Titles vs. Reality: The title (freelancer, contractor, etc.) doesn't always reflect the actual working relationship. What's crucial is the nature of the relationship and the terms of engagement.

  • Self-Employment: All these roles fall under the self-employed category, meaning they handle their tax obligations.

  • Contracts Matter: Whether you're hiring or offering services as an independent worker, ensure your contracts are clear on expectations, rates, and deliverables.

If you're unsure about your engagement terms or need legal advice, expert solicitors are available to guide you promptly and at a reasonable fixed price. Always prioritise clarity and protection in your business dealings.


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