By Georgina Laidlaw

3 Warning Signs Your Freelance Future’s On the Rocks

By Georgina Laidlaw

We all know it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes, freelancers are so focused on clients and jobs and deliverables that we forget to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

Yet that perspective can highlight issues with our freelancing businesses that can really undermine our long-term potential—issues that, while dangerous, could be solved easily enough if only we noticed them before they got out of hand.

Here are three signs that your freelancing career could be headed for trouble.

1. It’s difficult to prize yourself out of bed in the morning

If you have trouble getting up each day because you’re worried about, or dreading, what you have to do, you have a problem.

It might be that you need to take action to save an ailing project, decide to cut ties with a client, or change your business focus. Alternatively, the problem might be something to do with the way freelancing does—or doesn’t—fit in with other aspects of your life.

Whatever the case, if you’re not enthused about getting up most days, you might as well go back to working for the man. Freelancing’s supposed to be more enjoyable, right? If it’s not, it’s time to reassess.

2. You’re constantly short-tempered

Anger, frustration, and stress make us short-tempered. Cursing errant keystrokes or mouse-clicks, telling yourself your client’s a buffoon, and barking at anyone who interrupts your work are pretty common examples of the kinds of behavior that can belie mounting trouble.

Again, you’re supposed to be enjoying this, so if you’re feeling anger or frustration, something’s likely amiss. Instead of pressing grumpily on, have a think about the possible sources of that stress, and ways you might be able to reduce it.

3. You’re always broke—or near to it

Since freelancing puts us in control of our own financial destinies (at least to some degree), it’s not likely to stay satisfying for long if you can’t earn enough money to put food on the table.

The feeling that you’re always broke can be stressful, but even if it’s not, in the long-run it can foster growing dissatisfaction—particularly if your salaried friends enjoy nice bonuses or pay rises the likes of which you can only dream of.

If you equate freelancing with a lack of funds, you probably won’t stick with it for long—especially if you have any financial goals.

What should you do?

These three signs don’t need to signal the beginning of the end—but they might if you don’t attend to them as soon as they crop up.

While we can’t expect to bounce out of bed every morning and gleefully immerse ourselves in luxuriously remunerated work, if these kinds of tensions go on for any length of time, they can damage your enthusiasm for feelancing, and your ability to make a go of it.

I tend to use these signs as motivators to change my business—to try something new, or experiment with a different approach. Sometimes, even entertaining ideas about ways I could solve a problem gives me a sense of control with or understanding of it that removes the tension.

Freelancing is a choice, and you can change your mind. But if you like the benefits freelancing provides, these ideas should help you avoid making knee-jerk decisions about your freelance career.

What signs tell you that you need to rethink what you’re doing in your business? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Simeon.

  • Doug Johnson

    The first two are also signs of depression, which can cause the third.

    If the problem happens in the winter (northern hemisphere) and the summer (southern hemisphere) but you are amazingly productive the opposite season, look at SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It is a real thing. Until I finally figured it out I was hell to be around in the winter unless I got to go skiing in Colorado….which didn’t happen once I had my own business and on tight funding rations.

    Now I use a light specifically for the problem and my winter isn’t as bad as it used to be (still most productive in the summer) and my wife and I have instituted a “no major life decisions between October and March” policy. I’ve lost thousands of dollars because of bad decisions that in retrospect were just there to make the “bad feeling go away.”

    It bugs the tar out of me that I can be feeling sluggish at 7P at night and then turn on a little blue light for 30 minutes and feel better again. I don’t want to be a slave to my body, but denying it won’t help, so I just suck it up, turn on the light and move on.

    If 1, 2, and 3 are caused by your business, then yes, it might be time to reconsider. But if you love your work part of the year and hate it another part of the year then look at SAD relief. Or move to Cancun.

    • Clive Hislop

      Doug, you beat me to it.
      As one who has suffered from depression, the first two jumped out at me. I agree with you regarding SAD, especially for those living at extreme northern or southern latitudes. I would urge anyone suffering from these symptoms to seek medical help, especially if the anger part has come on quite quickly and is out of character.

  • hagbourne

    It’s “Prise”, not “Prize”.

    God that makes me so mad. I’m so short-tempered.

    • You’re also wrong. Our US friends use “prize” and “prise” interchangeably in this context. You might prefer to use the British spelling, but it’s only preference. Don’t get mad, get real.

      • Michael

        Not to be-labor (be-labour) a point, but I believe it instead may be instead “pry”.

        Unless of course successful freelancers give themselves a reward for getting up in the morning, there’s no “prize” at wakeup. Unless we’re all mistaken and it’s a case of idiom-itis.


        On point article though, thank you Georgina.

      • Michael, “pry” would be acceptable, although unusual. “Prise” would also be acceptable. “Prize” is also acceptable. Every US dictionary I’ve found includes “prize” as a verb meaning to force open. For references, you could start here: http://www.onelook.com/?w=prize&ls=a.

        BTW, there’s no hyphen in “belabour” or “belabor”, and I’d recommend using “labour the point” or “labor the point”.

  • LT

    Freelancing can be challenging when working on your own. We are strong advocates of joining a co-working space, even if just a couple days a week. Look to Loosecubes.com to find spaces in your area. And other issue with freelancing is the stress of finding the next job while you are swamped with existing one. To stay in the game, create a work profile at Hourly.com and let work find you.

  • Good article. You could even say that this becomes a vicious cycle. If I’m always broke, I certainly would be short-tempered and not want to get out of bed in the morning … which means I’m probably not out looking for new clients, which leads to more of being broke.

    In a commencement address at Stanford Univerity in 2005, Steve Jobs said that for the past 30 years, he had looked in the mirror every day and asked himself, “If this were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” I’ve been thinking about the practical implementation of that. Life is full of things we “don’t want to do,” but if those things ultimately get us to where we want to be, then that, I assume, is why we do them. Sometimes, the most important thing to change is our attitude.

  • Wow, I read those three and thought, “That’s me…me…me…” Holy smokes! I was just talking with someone about this very thing just before I read this newsletter. I’m in my early sixties, free-lancing since 2000, and it’s getting harder to keep up with all the latest technology. I just mastered CSS and tableless layouts, and now we’ve got HTML5 and CSS3, mobile platforms, variable screen resolution, and lots and lots of Javascript. I started out as a designer, and I think like a designer (not a programmer, which is an important difference). I’m thinking it’s time to return to my roots. Outsourcing the code so I can concentrate on design would probably be a wise decision.

    I do live in a cold northern climate. Maybe SAD is part of the problem (thanks, Doug), but I know that blue light won’t improve my Javascript skills! I’m no better at it in summer than in winter, so SAD is not the whole answer. Thanks for the wake-up, and a very perceptive article.

  • Consistency is our help. Every day I write an article for my web pages, at least.

  • Jen

    I live in sunny southern california and I still go through the winter doldrums. My two major challenges are how to keep the work flowing in, where to find new clients and consistent clients more importantly. Another challenge is keeping my clients on deadline with their revisions. I have two clients who think they can drag their projects on forever. I love freelancing but for me when there isn’t enough income, it takes the love out of the game.

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