When I quit my job as an in-house content marketer, I was excited about my freelance career. I would get to be my own boss, make my own rules, and even have the flexibility to take a day off to visit my mom. I’d get to work with a variety of clients—and I could take a beach day whenever I wanted.
It’s been a year, and while many of my freelance writing dreams have come true, I find myself feeling lonely, confused about what steps to take, and unsure if I want to keep freelancing or go back to work at an in-house job.
When I’ve looked for online insights into freelance career moves, I’ve read many pieces that assume freelancers quit in part because they’re running out of funds. For successful freelancers, this is far from the reason they want to throw their hands up and quit. In fact, I make much more money through freelance content creation than I did with my traditional, full-time job.
So, what can you do when you want to give up on freelancing? Should you go back to work, or forge ahead and freelance for the long term? Here’s my advice.
It might seem like every content marketer you know has a cool job at a high-growth start-up. But unless you explore all the options, you’ll never know whether these jobs are as great as they seem, or if the grass just looks greener on the other side of the career path.
As I try to assess my feelings about freelancing, I’m working to see what options are available to me, both in freelance writing and at more traditional marketing jobs. I’m talking with other content marketers about their experiences, partnering with other freelancers, taking time to reflect on what I want my freelance business to be, and evaluating the writing jobs that are open in my area. I’m even going on a trip with another freelancer this fall. I’m exploring—and I can take my time.
When I first started feeling the pang that I might want to go back to in-house work, I applied to content marketing jobs in my city. I sent out my resume, wrote cover letters, and was then surprised when these companies got back to me. My applications were meant to be exploratory, but I panicked when these companies were interested in me. Was I interested in them? Was this the right move?
I’ve talked with a few companies, and I plan to talk to more, but I’ve realized that I should be more deliberate in applying to jobs. I don’t want to accept a position just because it will temporarily make me feel less lonely or slightly more fulfilled. If I do decide to go back to in-house work, it has to be for a job I’m excited about. That’s something I recommend all freelancers do if they’re considering the jump back to nine-to-five employment: Make sure you’re truly excited about an opportunity before you take it.
Soon after I started feeling down on freelancing, I realized that I was bringing a lot of that negative emotion on myself. I was working with a lot of clients that made me feel bad, I was chasing down too many paychecks, and I was spending too much time defending myself. All that extra pressure left me feeling exhausted.
So I stepped back, and tried to take some deep breaths. Instead of taking every job that comes my way, I’m focusing on the reasons I started my freelance career in the first place—freedom, flexibility, and authority over my life. I’m working out in the morning, riding my bike in the afternoon, and focusing on building a life for myself outside of work.
A few weeks ago, I told a fellow freelance writer about my feelings of frustration and fatigue. “This doesn’t feel sustainable,” I told her. “How can I keep going?”
My friend asked me about my clients, and we talked about how working with difficult clients can tire a freelancer out. These clients require a ton of emotional energy, and even if they pay well, they might not be the best fit for your business.
I made a list of my favorite clients, then wrote a number of adjectives to describe each. I realized that my favorite clients are those who care about me as a person, pay me well, respect my work, and are kind and understanding about edits and revisions. Other clients, however, were argumentative and made me feel bad about myself. I decided to focus on finding more favorite clients, and pledged to say goodbye to difficult ones.
After exploring your options and carving out time to take care of yourself, you might realize that freelancing is worth all the hard work and time you put into it. No job is without its stresses, but once you hone your personal brand and prune your client list to those that afford the greatest value for you, it might become clear that you were born to be a solopreneur—you just had to go through these exercises to confirm that for yourself.
But, at the end of the day, freelancing isn’t for everyone. As a freelance writer, you don’t have a team or the resources that come with working at a large company. You’re on your own, and it can be draining and difficult. It’s okay to feel like you don’t want to keep freelancing, and you shouldn’t see going back to work as giving up. Remember that freelancing doesn’t have to be the end-all of your career; instead, it can be a stepping stone on your way to bigger and better things.
Is your freelance career giving you the blues? Share your thoughts (or your strategies for snapping out of the funk) in the comments.