The Harpoon Blog

6 Reasons Behind Freelance Burnout

by Sylvia Burleigh in Business Tips

Regardless of the industry, burnout is an issue for many freelancers. Suddenly the reasons why you started down this path are beginning to look a little bit fuzzy, or a bit hazy. You’ve lost sight of the big picture. You’ve immersed yourself with every client project and taken on more. Now you’ve reached the point of no return.

You feel yourself spiraling out of control. You’ve suddenly fallen out of love with the very thing that made you whole. The one thing in the world you feel passionate about and there’s no stopping it.

The funny thing about burnout is that it begins innocently. Perhaps you lost or got fired from a well-paying gig. Because when you’ve reached the point of “burnout” it can reflect in your work first before you even recognize it. Your confidence and your motivation may be at an all-time low. You see, burnout can be quite deceptive. It can insidiously hide in your work, not to mention your health and your relationships. Before long, you’re faced with the most dreaded of all outcomes: starvation.

While every freelance situation is different, immediate recognition of when enough has become enough can be difficult to determine. Here‘s a quick list of questions to help assess what may be behind the sudden drift of motivation with your freelance work.

Are you over-committing? 

This is so easy to do, and affects more women than men. Most women, and I shouldn’t say all women, have been raised to be people pleasers. For some, saying no is the equivalent to Armageddon. But “no” can be powerful as well. (Look for an upcoming blog on this topic.) If you say yes to every project, you run the risk of burnout. For a change of pace, consider accepting only projects that interest you. Accepting every project, whether it holds interest to you or not, can quickly lead to burnout and a lower quality of work.

Is it time to reevaluate your freelance goals? 

One way to avoid burnout is to definitively establish a niche. Establishing a niche has been thrown around quite frequently, but it’s also been shown to bring success to many freelancers. Do you have a passion for sales and love writing? Why not become the consummate expert in writing sales pages and proposals for business or a specific industry? If you’re a programmer, do you love developing ecommerce sites and watching small online businesses find their niche? The point here is to really think about it. Take a few days off. Ask yourself what makes you happy? Really think about what truly motivates you while you work at your passion. Would you rather focus on website development or would you rather manage web development projects? Focusing your energies and time on an expertise can be extremely liberating. This can help with defining the type of client you wish to attract. Knowing this one crucial factor makes branding and marketing yourself as an expert within an area much easier. Scattering your energies and focus far and wide can be draining and time consuming. By marketing your skills as an expert in “XYZ”, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you attract the clients who are truly interested and need your specific expertise.

Is it time to find a dedicated work space? 

There’s hidden danger in not having a dedicated work space for your freelance business. Admittedly, there will be distractions. But the more you confine your working hours to that space the better off you’ll be. Make a real effort to avoid merging your home space with your work space. Also, realize that when you are in your work space you’re there for one thing only, your freelance business.

Are you nurturing long-term clients?

Anyone who’s been freelancing for some time understands the enormous amount of work that goes into finding new clients. By establishing long-term relationships with existing clients, you’ll have a steady stream of revenue and lower stress levels. It’s time consuming to have to find new clients, and then spend even more time understanding and researching their industry and customers.

By providing excellent customer service and other benefits to returning clients, you keep them coming back. Offer discounts when they refer your services to other clients. For web designers and developers, having steady monthly billable work in the form of web hosting, monitoring, long term SEO and content maintenance.

Are you prioritizing your tasks for the day?

It’s almost too easy as a freelancer to let the unexpected rule your business. But you can avoid inefficiencies creating a to-do list to stick by every day. I know it sounds mundane, but creating a new one every day, keeps the focus so that you’re not tempted to mindlessly surf or answer unrelated, non-client emails. If nothing else, it gives you a sense of focus, and in the long run waste less of your time. Consider it your go-to list for what you should be working on and what is most important for the day.

Are you taking care of yourself? 

If you’ve reached critical mass, you need to ask yourself if you’ve been taking care of yourself as you should. Exercise, get plenty of sleep and eat right to help manage the stress of freelancing. If you’re not at your best it’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to give your best to anyone else including your clients. It’s also important to spend time on pet projects or volunteer with organizations whose mission you find important to you. Sometimes, just working on something else that holds your interest can be rejuvenating, and who knows it may just lead to more interesting work down the line. 

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