If you know me, you know I love doing batch work.
So if you’re listening to this episode, know that I have recorded several podcast episodes, at the same time. All with the content previously outlined that I did in another work session of bashing work. So I really do practice what I preach when it comes to bashing your work and splitting things up. It is so much easier for me to record two or three podcast episodes at a time. And it definitely makes it easier on everyone else when producing them. So think about how that concept of batch work could play into your freelance business as well.
The title of this episode is “Why I’m Not Freelancing Full Time Anymore”.
If you have followed my story for a long time, or listen to this podcast, then you know that I have been freelancing full time since the summer of 2013. So that is a full six years of working full time. Many of those years I was putting in a lot of hours, especially at the beginning to get things off the ground.
And it’s part of the reason that I’ve been incorporating a couple different interviews with people who have taken less traditional freelance paths into the mix with some of these podcast episodes. Because I’m seeing it not just with me, but with many of my private coaching clients as well.
For some of them, freelancing full time is the dream like this is what they’ve worked for. They love it. And they’re happy to do it. But for others, it’s interesting because they will start coaching with me for the purpose of scaling their freelance business and then the process of working together, realized that’s not actually what they want. At least anymore. For some of them, that means intentionally scaling back their freelance business altogether. And that can be a little bit surprising for people who have put in so much effort to build up a freelance side hustle, potentially even leaving their day job.
What I want to emphasize here is that you always have the opportunity to change and adjust your business and your life, as a freelancer, as a creative as a person, as much as you want.
Because there are different seasons in life. There are seasons in life where you may be focused on other things like taking care of an elderly parent, or perhaps you’re a new parent yourself. And the focus of your life has really shifted from that all hustle, all-in mentality towards being a new parent. Or maybe you’ve just moved in with your significant other or whatever it might be.
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One of these life changes and shifts that I’m seeing happen a lot is people who build their freelance business up and then go, “Okay, what’s next?”
I honestly can speak to that from experience. Because, for me, I’ve loved being a freelancer. I’ve loved doing it full time. And I just hit a point when I wasn’t sure that that was fit for me anymore. I’ve taken a lot of care and a lot of work to adjust my business in light of that.
So I started seeing the signs that it was time to change. In early 2019, I was really set up for a big year freelance wise. I took on two enormous freelance contracts. I was like, “This is easily going to be my biggest year yet with freelancing.” And I did those for about three months.
Then both of those projects came to an end for different reasons. None of those reasons were negative or anything. but I was relieved. Normally when I lose a contract or a client, I’m like, “Oh, I have to go replace this client. I’ve got to go find another situation that’s going to fill this time.” I started feeling relief at letting go of some of those projects and intentionally not replacing them.
So those two contracts ending around the May time period, and I was getting really close to my book launch to we were getting ready to move on. I really started to feel like the perfect storm situation where if I was going to scale my freelance business down, then it was the time to start. And it really was! To be honest with you, having so many contracts and so many irons in the fire, it took me a full four months to intentionally scale my business back. It was by no means an overnight process.
So there were a lot of signs that it was time to change. From those contracts ending and one of those clients randomly decided that they were paying writers too much and wanted to cut their prices and rates by 50%.
So all of a sudden, it was like, “Wow, what a weird conversation. They’re not complaining that anything’s been done wrong, but they want to pay all three of us freelance writers working for them across the board much less.” We also went on vacation in May. It was a very healing and transformative vacation.
We took my sister in law with us. We were all over Europe. I emailed a client I had been with for years to say I wanted to cut my workload in half with them doing some of the editing work and still stay on with the writing work. I realized that when I came back from vacation, I didn’t want to start doing the editing again. So I revised my original statement and said, “Can you just pull me out of this altogether?”
So I gave up a good portion of income in order to do that, but it felt like the right decision.
And it really was. If you’ve never written and published a book before, whether that’s self-published or traditionally published, there was so much work that went into that behind the scenes. The book was launched on July 16. And I wanted to support it as much as possible because I knew I would not only set myself up for success with this first publication, but I was very intentional when I brought on an agent in 2018 that I wanted to write multiple books. She even stressed to me in our early conversations that the opportunities for future books would very much be based on what I could pull off with the first one.
So I felt like the door of opportunity was knocking and I had to take it.
I really did not want this book launch to fall apart for any reason. So I had put together a marketing plan that I created over the course of four months. I implemented that marketing plan over about six to seven months.
I had brought in an additional VA to help me with that. And I hired a publicist to help me with that. I rebooted my podcast. There were so many things going on in connection with the book and not one of them do I regret! But because I made that decision, I had to scale back other things in my business.
I also started to feel like I just wasn’t seeing the room for growth for me with freelance writing.
There was not another form of freelance writing that was exciting me at the time. I started dipping my toes into the water with public speaking by doing some workshops. I also expanded my freelance coaching business because I started to realize that I really did not want to be writing eight to nine hours a day.
And there is an excellent video you can watch here. It is like the motto of 2019 for me. It’s an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and multiple other books. I strongly recommend her book “Big Magic” if you haven’t checked it out. But in this interview, she talks about the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.
So she talks about the fact that writing will always be her vocation, even if it is not her career. She talks about all the other jobs she’s held where she wasn’t writing, but it gave her the mental space to be a writer outside of those hours. So for me delving into nonfiction into fiction, into doing public speaking into coaching, all of those, to some extent, involve additional writing.
I was also getting pressure to finish up my PhD.
Talk about a massive writing project writing a doctoral dissertation. I could see the writing on the wall at the rate that I was going with the volume of clients that I had. And I could not do all of these other writing projects, and also be writing six to nine hours a day for clients.
So I actually had my best freelance month ever, in 2019, nearly $30,000 in freelance income.
And I also had my worst freelance month in recent years in August. So I believe that the best one was April. And then in August I had my worst month that I’ve had in years in terms of income wise. But in terms of how I felt about things and how intentional I was in the way that my business looked, I view it like the opposite.
Because I had this huge month in April, and then I went on vacation. Honestly, I was starting to get burned out. And I could really sense that. I was experiencing the early signs of burnout. And I knew that that was going to be a problem for me . So I went from that best freelance month saying, “Okay, is this it?” I had a great freelance month. I don’t necessarily feel like from a $10,000 month to a $30,000 month. But there wasn’t more happiness or peacefulness. I honestly feel kind of tired a little bit burned out. So for me, this is not the direction that I want my business to grow.
As you know, freelance income can fluctuate and it’s also up to you to decide if consistency or other options are more appropriate.
There are seasons in your freelance business. And there’s been seasons where I’ve outsourced all my writing work. There have been seasons where I did not advertise my coaching practice at all because it was completely booked through word of mouth. And there have been seasons where I’ve said that we are not filming YouTube videos for four months. Or that I’m taking a year and a half break from my podcast. Things are always in flux.
So in other businesses, it’s harder to adjust your business to your life, but that is not the case with freelancing because it can open other doors.
Some other doors started to open, as soon as I started to intentionally scale down my freelance business. And I was having a conversation about this in my freelancing group, which you can check out. It’s Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura. This idea came up of, when you have filled your schedule with other things in a way, you can actually be limiting yourself from better opportunities or opportunities that you want.
So people might wonder how that makes sense. I feel like if there’s something in the back of your mind that it’s calling on you to do like writing a book or opening another business entirely, but you fill your schedule with what comes easily to you, which could be bringing on freelance contracts, you’re kind of denying a part of yourself. You’re actually limiting your personal and business growth.
I’ve said this a lot and sometimes people won’t agree with me, but I don’t believe that it is all about the money.
Because if you bring in great money, but you don’t feel good about it, or your start to feel like I did, which was just like I needed to complete my projects because I was on deadline. But I had several clients where I was not excited to work on their projects at all. I was really just doing it to get things done because I had made a commitment to work for that client.
I realized how dangerous that was. And I was not doing the best thing for me. I’m not doing the best thing for my clients. So I did a very careful inventory of all of my clients on my current roster and said, “What can I change? And how can I make this more in line with where I want to go?”
Now it’s hard to say no to a really good thing. I’m so grateful for my business. But writing is not something I want to do 40 hours anymore. And it’s actually a gift to have been a writer for full time for the last six years because I’ve been able to expand into other skill sets like selling courses and doing project and content management for clients that requires more communication skills than writing. Doing public speaking and coaching, writing books, doing TEDx talks, it’s opened other doors and made me see that this is not all that I am limited to. So rather than feeling like I’ve taken it as far as I can take it, and let’s just wake up every day and do the same thing over again, I started looking for new challenges.
So how do you tell when it’s really the right time to move on or to make a big decision about what’s next for you?
Mindset work is key. I have done more mindset work in the last six months than probably the entirety of all of my life before that. For you, mindset work might look like prayer, sitting there quietly journaling, doing meditation every day, or bringing up new hobbies. All of it helps you to honor your purpose.
As a freelancer, we are hearing communication, thoughts and ideas daily. Your business can easily overtake your brain because it is something that you cannot really shut off and confine to an office. It’s usually your entire home. When you’re out running or exercising or doing errands, you’re thinking about your business. So there’s a lot of noise.
It’s very hard sometimes to honor your purpose when there’s so much noise coming at you from so many different directions. So being intentionally quiet, sitting down and making that effort to learn more about what it is you really want to do and what your next step is, can allow you to hear some of that inner intuition. Even if you’re doing this through prayer, hearing from the spiritual portion of your life getting some wisdom about what steps to take next.
That was critical for me.
I had filled my business with so much noise and interference that I could not tell what it was I wanted to do anymore. I had a whole bunch of obligations, and maybe only about 65 to 70% of them were things that I wanted to do. So I had to start really honoring that and start exploring new avenues.
The minute that I started that process, which was super messy, and took me the entire summer and is still ongoing, I started to see other doors opening. I got some wisdom and intuition about what my next steps were.
We humans tend to initially resisted it. I was like, “Yeah, I’m not doing that. That’s not the next step for me.” But starting to pursue these different routes was really helpful for me to start thinking about what I want my business and life to look like going forward and how I can continue to change things and allow this to evolve.
So just because you built something to the point where it’s successful and doing well financially, that doesn’t always mean that that is your end point. Many of the most successful business owners and freelancers that I know are evolving. They are not afraid to say, “Okay, I did this. It was great. Now it’s time to move on. I have a new dream or I have this other dream in the back of my mind that I’ve always wanted to do. And now I’m going to live it.”
I think as creatives a lot of us are called to freelancing because we want to do something creative. But when that becomes our job eight to nine hours a day, being creative for other clients, it’s really hard to apply that same level of creativity to our own projects. So for me, some of the best writing and side hustling I ever did, was the year that I ran my business as a side hustle while I had a full time job. Because I had to be very specific about what I did in my off hours. A lot of my job was very menial. To that extent, it was boring. But I also didn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting with my brain during the day.
So I still have that creativity and excitement to come home with and as a writer, a business owner, and freelancer, you play multiple different roles.
So you’re the CEO. You’re the VP of Marketing, management, hiring, and human resources. And you’re the CFO. You’re everything. Even when you have a VA or a couple of people on your team, you are still making a massive amount of decisions, And so that might not be right for everyone running your business at that level.
So for me, a lot of the guidance that I got was to scale my freelance clients down to 10 hours a week. And it was so awkward and weird to do this. It was weird to turn people down and to fire clients after test projects when I couldn’t see how they fit into my new 10 hour a week model, and to allow contracts to come to a natural end and to not try to replace them. It was weird because I never really done that purposely before.
All of my previous goals in my business were very much financially based.
I found that honestly that got very empty for me because it was like, “Oh, great. We had a good month, but I didn’t feel like my purpose and my passion was coming through at the level that the money was.” So it was something where I knew that if I want to have a bigger impact, if I really want to help people then there had to be changes. I really felt that I needed to change some things about the freelance side of my business to make that happen.
So my first recommendation for you is to get quiet.
Do the mindset work. And do it every day for one to two hours a day, if you can. I spent so much time walking, journaling, talking things out with my husband, my mom, or other people in my life. I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to change this, what is this going to look like?”
I did a talk a couple of weeks ago, very similar to this topic. I was at my alma mater in Virginia. And I talked about the power of the pivot. So a lot of times we ignore signs from our body that it’s time to move on when something no longer fits you in the way that it’s currently structured.
So I will probably always freelance. But for me I was able to scale my business down to still be a six figure writing business, but only about 10 hours a week by being very picky about the clients that I do have.
So you have three main options available to you when you recognize that freelancing isn’t fit. You can:
- Scale it down and find a new side hustle or full time gig.
- Find a new full time position and phase it out entirely.
- Start a new business and go in a totally new direction and let freelancing bridge the gap for you.
So maybe you want to launch your own company, write a book, or get a whole new job, but you know that that’s not something you can do tomorrow, so maybe over six to 12 months. Freelancing is how you can bridge the gap. You’re taking on a couple of projects to float you financially.
I love the idea when you’re pivoting to take baby steps towards your next purposes.
For me, I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in yet. I did public speaking and I knew just from speaking to some experts and doing some of it already, I did not want that to be my new full time income. I talked to a very savvy, public speaker coach several months ago and she told me how she had spent over 200 nights a year in a hotel room. And with that one sentence I knew it wasn’t for me. I know there’s a need for more great executive and female public speakers and motivational speakers out there. Butthat just felt like it would be trading freelancing full time for doing something that would be even more stressful and require more travel.
So I knew some of what I didn’t want to do at least full time, but I didn’t know which direction I wanted to go entirely, but I knew what the signs were.
I was not motivated to get projects done. I’ve coped with varying levels of anxiety my entire life. And for a long time when I was a child, all the way through graduate school, I was diagnosed with ADD. I was medicated for ADD. It was a real struggle for me to stay focused and organized.
Sometimes people who meet me today are surprised to hear that they think I’m hyper organized. That is a coping mechanism I developed from years of living with severe ADHD. So when I start to notice my ADD coming back and my anxiety bubbling up every day, I start to notice symptoms like headaches, ulcers, and feeling tired more often. That’s usually how my body tells me it’s time to go.
My body actually started to shut down when I was teaching in Baltimore City. That was the point for me to recognize that it was really serious and I needed to step out of that particular job. So I always watch for those types of things such as missing deadlines, making mistakes with your clients, and not feeling excited about getting on sales calls or turning things in hitting a major milestone like having a huge month or bringing on a huge client. It’s much more anticlimactic than you thought. Those are all signs that it’s time to take a baby step towards your next purpose.
On that note, I strongly recommend the audible only book “Take Control of Your Life with Mel Robbins”. The very first case study she does is with a famous teacher who wants to do something in the wine business. But he doesn’t know what yet and he’s essentially paralyzed by all of the choices. She talks about Lego blocks and building blocks that move you towards what your purpose is, when you’re not sure what it is.
So you take little baby steps to try things out. Maybe you have dinner with someone. Or maybe you reach out to people. For me, I reached out heavily to my military spouse, community and all of the networks that I had there to say, “Hey, I’m thinking about changing things up. What advice do you have?” Leaning on other people can be very, very helpful. So check out those books and resources to learn more.
You can also add in more exposure, income, and opportunities by doing other things in your freelance business.
Start a nonprofit. Volunteer some of your free time developing another business entirely coaching other people, either as a life coach or business coach. You can write books, do public speaking, start a podcast, or maybe work in a more traditional employment situation or a full time remote job to pick up newer or better skills.
I felt to an extent like I had tapped out what I could really do with SEO writing. I did it. And it was great. And I’ve enjoyed doing it. There are several clients where it’s still enough of a challenge and interest for me to continue doing it. But I could tell that wasn’t what I wanted to be spending the bulk of my time doing.
So I come to you with this podcast episode because everything is very much still in motion and in flux.
But I wanted to help you recognize that you always have the ability and the permission, for goodness sakes, granted to yourself to change things in your business if it’s not working for you. I will still be freelancing. I will still be making an income from freelancing. But I’m actually setting my freelance business up to reflect more of what it looked like when I first started back when I had a full time job and was a grad student doing other things, so that I can fold in some other things and fold in some more downtime, and get my dissertation done.
So, I just wanted to sort of do this preliminary episode to talk a little about that. I will come back in a couple of months to talk to you more about how this transition has worked out. But I hope that this episode has been helpful for you to see the many different ways that you can alter your life and your business to make sure that it suits where you’re at right now.
It is not dishonoring what you’ve built. And It is not viewing your current business as a failure. But if you feel disconnected, and if you feel like there’s something more out there for you, I really encourage you to make the mindset work mandatory because no one can answer that question for you.
This came up with one of my coaching clients recently where she didn’t know what she wanted to do, but it’s wasn’t freelancing.
She didn’t think she wanted to freelance at all. And that’s valuable information to know, even when you’re working with the freelancing coach. So then our conversations really shifted towards how do we start you building the life you love, working towards the goals that you want, knowing that freelancing might just be something that bridges the gap. It might just be something that opens another door for you.
So I hope this episode has been helpful for you. Please send any questions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks again for tuning in. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.