Freelancing and Home Business: When the Machine Breaks

I’ve been referred to as a “machine.” But what happens to the freelancing and the home business when the machine breaks down?

I’ve struggled the last few months. Motivation has been a serious issue. For the most part, I’ve managed to get most of my freelancing work done. But the last few days have been different. Recognizing that my home business was starting to feel like a job — a job I’m trapped in — I shut down.

I slept for 12 hours straight this past weekend. In my memory, this has never happened. Even when I’m sick. Even when I had my wisdom teeth out and the drugs knocked me out. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I’ve never just not done my work.

Home Business Changes

Obviously, the work is still there, and it needs to be done. And it will get done this week. But I’m thinking. I’m thinking about the direction I want my freelancing and my home business to take. I’m trying to decide what’s next. I’m trying to make time for the projects that are most interesting to me.

Yes, I still want to write for others. I’ve had the chance to do a little more “real” reporting lately, and I’ve enjoyed returning to my journalism roots. I’d like to do a little more of that sort of thing.

Feeling Trapped

Unfortunately, like many people in more traditional jobs, I’m starting to feel trapped. Overall, I like what I do. I enjoy freelancing, and I have awesome clients. That’s not the issue.

The issue is how much I’m doing.

I’ve had some better-paying opportunities, but they aren’t regular enough for me to base my family’s income on. I’ve not wanted to turn down these other opportunities, just in case they develop into something ongoing. But it starts to add up, since I still have all the other work to do.

It’s like having a more traditional job, and then picking up the slack after co-workers are laid off. I’m feeling burnout, and this past weekend it all caught up with me. Over my “career,” several people have called me a “machine,” due to the sheer amount of writing that I do. But I’ve reached a point where quantity is becoming a problem — and I can see the effect on the quality as well.

I’m making time for my family, but other things are falling to the side. My health has been affected. I don’t have time for exercise, or for improving my life. I’m angry and negative on a level that is completely out of character for me. I haven’t meditated in weeks.

I need to make some changes.

But I’m not sure just where to go from here. I feel like I can’t get rid of the regular gigs; I’m the primary breadwinner. It’s that risk. Will my emergency fund bear the strain? What happens if some of the projects I really want to pursue flop? It’s like I’m in the beginning stages of a home business again. Only this time, it matters a lot more because I’m making a lot more money.

I don’t have the answers yet. Only more questions. But I need to figure something out.


18 Responses to Freelancing and Home Business: When the Machine Breaks

  1. I know just what you mean. My BF is a freelancer and sometimes he feels like he can’t turn down work because he doesn’t know if there will be a few weeks where he doesn’t have any, meaning sometimes he overworks himself.

    • Yeah. I have my regular gigs, and my not-so-regular gigs. I’m afraid to give up some of the regular gigs because I worry that others, though they pay more, won’t be consistent enough to make up the lack. Good luck to your BF in his efforts!

  2. I’ve run into similar situations with my business – eventually your time becomes more limited and you need to find ways to keep your best gigs while eliminating time spent on less rewarding gigs (these can include lower paying, more time intensive, or less enjoyable gigs). It can be a tough decision to make, but sometimes culling some of the less rewarding gigs can be more freeing and open the door for other opportunities.

  3. While I would LOVE to sleep for 12 hours….that doesn’t sound healthy. I’m in no position to give advice, but I can say one thing: flip around and make the exercise non-negotiable. It’s the source of your energy, and when that goes away, I’d think the rest becomes a ton more difficult.

    I know it probably doesn’t seem like it, but as a reader, this looks like an exciting time for you. Whenever I have to make big decisions those are the times I look back and think about what critical times those were in my life. Because of your planning today (and your brain is going to plan whether you want to or not, it sounds like!), some good stuff will come in the future.

    • I’ve never been much of a long-sleeper. I like the idea of making exercise non-negotiable. I’m starting this week to add it back into my routine. And thanks for the encouraging words. By FinCon, hopefully I’ll have something awesome to share 🙂

  4. There is nothing wrong sleeping 12 hours here and there. And it is spring so take your vitamins, go out exercise and figure out a way to raise your prices. 🙂

    • I could raise my prices again 🙂 But you’re right that getting outdoors is likely to do wonders for my mood!

  5. I actually just had a conversation about this issue on Skype a few hours ago. I’m learning over time what I really enjoy versus what I don’t and where I want to spend my time. Of course that doesn’t help me right this minute (and I’ve been seriously burned out lately) but I can keep those things in mind going forward.

    This time of year is always kind of blah for me because of the weather, but I think I’ve definitely stretched myself too thin. In my case, my income is the ONLY income for my household so I can’t really cut back without finding a way to make up the income. I hope you find a solution and I really hope you’ll keep us posted – I’m just starting year #2 and I look to the experienced freelancers like you to know what I should do!

    • I think you hit on one of the big issues: When you’re the breadwinner, you kind of have to do what you have to do. And even when you are doing something you love, you can start to feel trapped. Good luck to you, too 🙂

  6. Like Andrea, I’m going into my second year of running my freelance business and I’ve hit some of the same obstacles. I’m the only breadwinner in my family, but I still have a full-time job to fall back on, so I can be pickier about clients. At least that’s how it used to be, until I put in my “two weeks notice” last month. My last day at the job will be May 1st, so I have a lot more pressure now to make up the income.

    One of the biggest things I’m focusing on is how to make more income from my current gigs. How to maximize the content, projects and clients I already have and make it bring in more money. Maybe you could raise your prices (unless of course you’ve already done this), or think of something you’re already doing but not charging money for. That might take off some of the pressure and help you have time for yourself!

    • I’ve raised prices for new clients twice, and most of my awesome current clients have provided me with “raises.”

      That’s awesome that you are getting ready to quit your “real” job and make freelancing your thing. 🙂

      I’m looking forward to some new projects I have in the works, so that’s something. I’ve been feeling much better about things this week. I think getting it off my chest, and even having the break, helped.

  7. This is a common affliction for freelancers. There should be a term for it, like “Freelancer’s Burnout.” Having freelanced for over 15 years now, I find the best way to get back on track is to take a break for a bit, or just slow down for awhile. One can also “recycle” material – i.e., not exactly copy it but do a rewrite and add some new things.

  8. This is something I’ve definitely thought about since I started freelancing full-time a year ago. I haven’t hit burn-out yet, but I haven’t taken a single week completely off in almost a year, either. I haven’t figured out completely how to solve this, but I do know I can’t go on like this forever. Something has to change, whether it be increasing rates or developing other income streams. It’s just a matter of experimenting and finding the time to do this stuff.

    As Andrea said, I definitely look to you as the seasoned veteran. Thanks for the reminder that we’re all still only human.

    • I’ve never had a week completely off 🙂 Although it does help that during the summer I’ll unplug for two or three days to go camping. And when I say “unplug” I mean that I’m in places where I can’t get a cell signal. No sneaking in work time. That really does wonders for me at that time of year. I think that sometimes you really do just need a complete break. But I don’t know that I could do it for an entire week…

      • Wow, never a week off?! As much as I love the lifestyle I’ve created, I feel like never getting even one week off is not something that I signed up for when deciding to be self-employed. Honestly, I get jealous when 9-5ers have the weekend off and I’m working on Sundays. I totally agree that you do need a complete break sometimes, and I feel like a week off isn’t asking a whole lot. Maybe we just need to be more creative in how we find it.

        • I start getting nervous about the email inbox. Really, the only way to keep me from doing a little something each day, even if it’s just checking my email or writing one blog post, is to send me into the woods. Hence the camping trips…

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