How to Avoid Freelance Burnout
When it comes to running your own small online business there are 2 possible (opposite) dangers: freelance burnout (when you work yourself sick) or failing to do any serious work, since you’re too relaxed with your new lifestyle.
I have personally noticed that most freelancers tend to actually care about their small biz, so many are facing danger no.1: overworking themselves.
16 hours per day is not how you build a business, it’s how you dig an early grave.
For years I boasted with how much work I’ve put into my online business.
I started web design in 2002 out of sheer passion.
In 2 year’s time I was running a small websites network, designing sites for few clients and also working full time as a radio DJ.
I’d spend at least 8 hours/day reading tutorials and articles, tweaking websites, posting in forums, learning and doing a lot of webmaster work.
And then, after losing my job in 2009 and going freelancing full-time it got worse.
It wasn’t just a passion anymore, it had to pay my bills and debt.
I had to work.
For 3-4 months I’d slave for 14-16 hours/day.
And I was proud about it.
It took me almost 7 years to finally understand it was wrong to work this much. I was close to getting sick, overtired, underfed, stressed out.
This is not how you build a lasting business.
This is not how you survive your business.
And then motherhood changed my business.
After my daughter was born I was still trying to work 8-10 hours and also care for a newborn. As she grew older and started moving/walking, the time I could spend for my business got even smaller.
Last summer it dawned to me that it’s impossible to be the type of mother I try to be and also work full-time on my business.
And, weird enough, I saw the solution.
Instead of trying to work many hours (which was impossible, if I wanted to also sleep at least few hours during the night), I had to make EACH HOUR COUNT.
You’d think that settling for about 2 hours/day has ruined my business. That would be the logical consequence of not working 4-5 times more, as I used to.
And yet, by becoming more productive, I managed to slowly regain control over my deadlines, build this freelancing course, get my personal finance blog into a pretty nice position and still have enough time to keep on learning about how to run a successful online business.
Am I close to freelance burnout anymore? Not a chance. And here is how you can also avoid this danger:
Don’t schedule life around your work, but schedule work around your life.
Years ago my priority was to work as much as possible. Yes, I would routinely give up fun just to sit at my computer and do online work.
While I could never feel bad for the tens of thousands of hours I’ve put into this, since it was and still is a huge passion of mine, I now understand that life is not all work.
My schedule now revolves around our 2 year old.
I take care of her, cook for our family, play a lot, go to the park, run and do mother stuff all day. Then, when she’s napping or in the first hours of her night sleep, I sit down and do some online work. I can sometimes work for an hour, sometimes I can work for 3-4. On average, I work 2 hours/day.
Instead of feeling bad about not working ‘full time‘ anymore, I appreciate the fact my daughter has me to care for her and that I can also earn a pretty decent income as a stay-at-home mom.
Freelancing means being free to schedule your working hours as you like to, it took me years to understand that my business should not be my priority and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed of not working 16 hours/day anymore.
So don’t be that type of freelancer who foregoes any joy in life just to work. Sure, you cannot build a successful business online if you’re not putting in the time and effort.
But, working SMART, can allow you to achieve bigger goals with the same or less effort.
Ditch the time-wasters
Years ago I’d run a 40 website network, do a lot of low paying client work, trying to chase each client I could get my hands on.
Yes, even those who’d expect to pay few bucks for a custom WordPress design or expect the next Ebay for 10 bucks.
Closing down/selling my prized websites was painful.
But it had to be done.
I kept only those that brought me clients or revenue and said goodbye to everything else.
Try to look at your own to-do list and projects. What does have REAL potential? What seems to just eat up your time with no foreseeable benefits?
Give up everything that doesn’t work right now and focus on 1-2 things that bring you the best results. We have an entire lesson here about how to find the most profitable services/projects you work on and focus on them, plus a template spreadsheet to use yourself.
Increase your rates
Low rates don’t mean a successful business, although years ago I thought it’s great to do 10 website designs/month. I was in demand, right?
But why not work on 1-2 projects every month and earn more than before?
MOST freelancers price themselves too low.
I did it and still do, occasionally.
But, setting up rates more appropriate for someone who’s done web design for over 14 years allowed me to still earn a pretty good income and not have to slave for 16 hours/day anymore.
So, take a good look at your rates. Increase them NOW to reflect your talent and expertise. By earning more per project you can work less time and enjoy life as well.
Ditch the huge to-do lists
Months ago I was frantically looking for yet another productivity app. Something to allow me to write down all the stuff I need to be doing. Deadlines, small ideas, stuff that ‘has’ to get done.
After realizing it takes more time to update the dang list and tweak all those details, I decided to give it up.
My ‘to-do’ list now is just a small word document that lists the 2-3 things I REALLY need to do.
- Send x client the workflow for our new project and what I need from them to start working on their website.
- How to Avoid Freelance Burnout (this article)
- Interview for David M.
- Guest post for PF blog no.1
- Guest post for PF blog no.2
I don’t need to write down anymore that I should promote my stuff via social media. That I should update my plugins or do blog commenting / forum posting. It’s common sense.
I don’t schedule stuff that brings me no benefits anymore.
So, ditch the huuuuge apps, lists and conversations. Make it easy for you, work on what needs to be done and give up stuff you don’t really have to do.
Learn to say NO
Phew, this one is hard.
I’m the type of person who cannot say no easily. I’m ‘wired’ to try be nice and helpful.
Which is, of course, very wrong, when you have limited time and wouldn’t want to spend your entire life working for peanuts.
Refuse the projects you don’t really like. The customers you don’t ‘click’ with. Refuse to work for low prices, even if it feels like a wasted opportunity.
By chasing great clients and projects, you can benefit more than trying to do 5-6 times more work for the same money.
Another tough one, especially for me, with my ‘god complex’.
While I cannot and will not delegate my email communication (I feel it’s too personal and want to handle it myself) or my design work, I have successfully delegated content marketing tasks, data entry or data mining jobs.
And it was great .. While I worked on some of my few but important tasks someone else was helping me achieve even more goals at the same time.
Learn to enjoy life as much as you enjoy work
OK, for some people this sounds weird, but some of us are so enthralled with our work, that we enjoy each second of it. It’s addictive.
And still our work doesn’t define who we are and should not occupy each and every minute of our lives.
While I absolutely love doing web design for instance, I also try to remove myself from the online world and be present in the real one, together with my family.
I play with our daughter, we take vacations, I cook etc.
Freelancing for me is a way to earn my money, it’s not who I am.
Try to reach your financial goals and build your business, but don’t forget to set time for your own fun and relaxation.
One thing I tried to achieve with our freelancing course is to teach people who to work smart and earn more money. Freelancing itself is dead-easy: find a service to provide and someone who needs it. Get paid. But you can waste years doing low-paying work, chasing the wrong type of clients, not promoting your business properly etc. This is where I try to fix it for our students. With strategies and shortcuts that would help them achieve more with less effort.