Podcast Episode 33: How to deal with a crisis of faith

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Freelancing can be a really tough business. While it’s a common preconception that working from home and working for yourself are an easy ride, like any other job being a freelance copywriter has its ups and downs. In this solo episode, Lorrie discusses what to do if you feel like your freelance writing career has reached crisis point. She talks about how to tell the difference between a career crisis and a temporary blip, and outlines a number of helpful solutions to common freelancing problems.

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Show Notes

How To Be A Happy Freelance Worker: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2011/nov/04/arts-happy-freelance-tips

27 – Dealing With Feeling Overwhelmed: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2013-02-26T03_00_00-08_00

Episode 21 – Managing Freelance Projects And Planning Your Time Effectively: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2013-01-08T03_00_00-08_00

Episode 11 – Overcoming Isolation As A Freelance Writer: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2012-10-23T03_00_00-07_00

Episode 9 – The Sad Smell Of Desperation: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2012-10-12T04_05_24-07_00

Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 33 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where you can chat to me and my co-host Pip, ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far. At the Podomatic page, you’ll also find links to my websites and social media feeds, as well as those of the lovely Philippa.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today’s episode is a solo one, so tune in next week to hear from me and Pip as a dynamic duo – if you click on subscribe, you’ll get a notification the next time an episode is posted.

Day 23 - STRESS

Day 23 – STRESS (Photo credit: isabisa)

This week, I’m going to be talking about what to do if you feel like your freelance career is in crisis and everything’s tumbling down around your ears. Feeling like your career is failing is a horrible, awful thing, and when you work for yourself, the isolation can increase the sense of panic and confusion a hundred fold. When you’ve got no one to bounce ideas off and share your worries with, it’s easy to imagine yourself standing at the edge of a really bad decision with no one to tell you otherwise.

First off, breathe.  Career fear is something everybody goes through at some point or another. It feels real at the time – it is real – but that doesn’t mean you won’t get through it. No matter what happens, it won’t last forever. Decisions about a job won’t mean the difference between life and death, and hopefully this podcast episode will help you to put your worries into perspective a little bit and face a tough decision with your logical head on. If the worst comes to the worst, you can always come and have a chat to me or Pip (or both of us – we work well as a pair, as you might have worked out!) and we’ll do our best to advise.

When you start to feel like your freelance career is flagging, and the red flags are going up, and  a little voice in your head is saying, “Maybe this isn’t working?”, it’s important to determine whether it’s a crisis or a just a really bad blip.

Ask yourself how long you’ve been feeling this way. Can you think of anything that triggered it? If there’s an event that seemed to start you off on this train of thought, is it work related or something else? Either way, you need to ask yourself whether stopping freelancing will be a solution to the perceived problem.

If you’re not sure what’s causing the general negativity, a good exercise is to get a pen and paper and do a spider diagram. Jot down words that represent how you’re feeling on there – it doesn’t matter what you write, just keeping scribbling for a couple of minutes and see what you come up with.

You might notice that you’re just generally fed up, in which case it might not be your career that’s the problem. Maybe you’ve had a bad time of it recently in other ways – family worries, relationship trouble, depression, anxiety, boredom – all of these things can make you feel like you want to abandon ship. Whether jumping ship will help solve your problems or add to them is another matter, so even if you feel like you want to throw in the towel now, now, now, be a professional. That’s going to be a common theme throughout this episode – it’s important that you conduct yourself as a professional, no matter what decision you come to. So make yourself go through the motions – sit down and have a good hard think.

Blips aren’t always tiny little hiccoughs – sometimes they can feel horrible, and sometimes they can go on for ages. What I mean by a blip is a period of negative feeling, a temporary problem or a resolvable one. If you’re having a down period in your freelance career, it might be time for a reality check. Reassessing your expectations of freelancing will do you good whether it’s a blip or not – a lot of people have a wobble about three to six months into a freelance career when they’ve got over the novelty period, realised there really is nothing good on TV and started to come to terms with all the not-so-great bits of being self-employed. Feelings of overwhelm can start to settle in, and you need to work out what your freelance career is likely to entail in the long term in order to determine whether you’re going to be able to hack it.

Every job has its downsides and, as Pip and I have mentioned in previous episodes, being a self-employed writer is no different. It can actually be even more of a shock when you start a career that you think is going to be just up your street and you find that you’re experiencing difficulties. Maybe you thought it was going to be easy. Maybe you thought working from home would be less stressful. Maybe you’ve been shocked to find that your writing isn’t as ‘good’ as you thought it was. Or maybe you’re finding that doing something you really enjoy all day every day is taking the enjoyment right out of it. These are all totally normal things, and there are ways to manage them – but it’s up to you to decide if you want to try those. You do, of course, have to have the desire and determination to stick with a freelance career – if you don’t want to, that’s another thing entirely!

Some of the other most common blips are as follows:

– feeling burnt out: taking on too much work, not being productive enough in the time you’ve got, not scheduling enough down time into your days, weeks, months or year and getting to the point where you feel like you need a holiday – preferably a six month one, from life. Some of our past episodes have dealt with how to plan your time effectively and make the most of what you’ve got, so really do go back and have a listen to some of the tips. They’re quite easy to implement but can makes a huge difference to the way you’re feeling. A career’s not about working forever, and one of the biggest draws of a freelance career is that you can achieve a healthier work-life balance if you just get it right. Episode 27 is about how to cope with acute feelings of overwhelm, and episode 21 is more generally about planning your time.

– isolation – isolation can be a horrible thing when you’re a freelancer. If you’re a sociable person, particularly (but even if you’re not) being on your own all day every day for the rest of forever can be  a daunting prospect.  It can feel awful not to have someone there to bounce ideas off or chat about last night’s telly with.  And isolation doesn’t just make you feel lonely – humans are essentially sociable creatures, even if we might not always feel that way, so even if you think you like being on your own a lot, it’s important to make time for contact with others.  Isolation can lead to loneliness, anxiety, depression, jittery feelings and serious cabin fever.

Pip has been known to forget what other humans look like during her busy periods, and I’ve been known to terrify the postman by being super chatty when he’s the only person I’ve seen in days. It happens to us all, so you need to take care of yourself and ensure that you work contact with others into your job, even if that’s just a trip to the supermarket at lunch-time and a phonecall to a client rather than another email. Episode 11 is specifically about how to deal with isolation, because it really is that common a problem, so have a listen and try to take on board some of the tips we share. And, if you’re really feeling desperate, you can always come and have a chat to me or Pip online – or both of us, for that matter: you may have noticed but we do work well as a pair!

– low salary: When you start out as a freelance writer, it’s likely that you won’t be making as much as you did in a salaried position – unless you had a really low paying job or you’ve landed on your freelance feet with some very well paying clients. Either way, it’s easy to have a panic when you realise you’re living on savings and finding work is getting to an urgent point. As I mention in episode 9, the key thing is to avoid coming across as desperate to your clients. There are ways to boost your income and client base, but begging for work, working for free – or next to nothing, and airing your panic on a public platform is no way to do that.

Now, I realise I’ve outlined problems there while directing you elsewhere for solutions, but my point is essentially that none of those things I’ve just mentioned means that freelancing is wrong for you. They all have solutions.

When it comes to deciding whether these problems are terminal for you, you need to ask yourself when you went freelance in the first place. Maybe you’re not achieving some of those aims yet, but have you given yourself enough time? Are those aims still in reach – or could they be with the solutions we’ve talked about? And do they still matter to you?

My Workplace 2

My Workplace 2 (Photo credit: davemelbourne)

If you find that you inherently miss working for a company, for example, and you want to be able to do eight hours writing work a day and forget about the rest of it, it might well be that freelancing isn’t for you. Perhaps an in-house copywriting or marketing position would be better.

But, if you find that you miss the contact you used to have with people but still want to run your own business, for example, maybe shared working space and regular working lunches could be a solution. So try to drill down and find out whether you’re unhappy as a freelancer or unhappy because it’s not working right yet. You probably spent a lot of time and effort getting into freelancing, so really do make sure that you’re not considering giving up for a solvable problem.

If your freelance career is going well generally but you’re falling out of love with it a bit – even if there are no specific problems and everything’s going well – there are a few things you can do to refresh your career.

Firstly, maybe it’s time for new clients. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of the old ones unless those relationships really aren’t working for either party, but targeting new clients can offer you a challenge and remind you why you enjoyed freelancing in the first place. So maybe make room for a few new one-off projects. Similarly, why not try targeting new sectors? If you work in, say, recycling and waste management, renewable energy is a short step. Or, if you work with careers services, lifestyle coaching isn’t too far from that. Alternatively, you could go for something completely new – you’ll need to do a lot of research, lots of training, familiarise yourself with the trade press publications in that sector, plus all the big names. It can be just the challenge you need.

If you’re happy with the sectors you work in, why not consider ways you could diversify your service offerings? If you offer copywriting, why not branch out into proof-reading and editing? Again, this isn’t an instant switch – there’s a lot of research and training that needs doing, but there are plenty of online resources that can help you get to grips with new skills like this. Or, get social media savvy and offer consultancy and social media management services. Find services that suit the aspects of your personality. If you’re quite spontaneous and miss chatting with people, maybe a couple of real-time social media management services could be up your street? If you want to write in a more chatty way without dealing with PR crises and customers in real time, how about offering blogging services? Maybe you want to get back to your roots and deal with local firms – why not offer full service marketing strategies for a couple of SMEs? There are always ways you can tailor your job description to better suit you – after all, you’re the boss! Don’t stick with stuff that makes you unhappy.

I’ll finish up with one important point, and that’s self-care. Working from home is tough, so you need to take advantage of the situation to look after yourself properly. It’s easy to get lazy about things like going to bed on time, getting up on time, eating breakfast, having a proper lunch, getting exercise every day, but these are hugely important things – it’s easy to underestimate sometimes how sedentary a freelance writing lifestyle can be and how easy it can be to slip into bad lifestyle habits, like late nights, late mornings, skipping meals, watching day-time TV, working in bed, essentially letting things slide. You need to remember that you’re doing a job and that you need to take care of yourself – and your career – properly.

Sometimes, the solution is time off. That might be a day off a week for the next month, or it might be a week off now before you reach snapping point. Remember, while it’s not good to disappear off the radar, health is priority one, so if you feel like you’re at breaking point, stick your out of office on, pop a professional sounding message on your answerphone and take time off like a responsible adult. There’s a really helpful article from the Guardian actually – it’s a couple of years old now, but it’s called How To Be A Happy Freelancer (I’ll link to it in the show-notes) and it has some great advice on how to keep yourself happy and healthy as a freelancer.

Of course, one other option is to reduce the number of freelance hours you do and seek out part-time work . This could be part-time writing work, say for an agency or as an in-house writer, or it could be something completely different like admin, retail, cleaning or bar-tending. Although part-time work is hard to find, particularly at the moment, you might find that you just need the stability and variety that a different job provides.

Ultimately, the decision to stick with freelancing or call it a day is yours – only you’ll know what you really feel and you’re the one who has to deal with the change of circumstances if you decide to quit.

My advice would be the same to you as it would be to someone deciding to quit a salaried position to go freelance: don’t do anything until you’re on a stable footing. If you do decide to go back to salaried employment, take note of the following points:

–  find a job to go to before you stop freelancing

– make sure you’ve got money in the bank

– make sure you’re not letting any clients down: just because you won’t be freelancing any more doesn’t mean you can flick two fingers to your clients – even the really annoying ones – and ride off into the sunset. There’s a delicate phrase – “Shit sticks” and it’s true. If you let people down, cancel on them last minute or tell them where to go, your reputation is unlikely to recover. So don’t burn your bridges. Give people notice; help them find someone else if appropriate. Finish the work you’ve got on and wrap it up like a professional. This also leaves the door open for a return to freelancing if you decide later on that it suits you or your lifestyle better.

So don’t burn your bridges.  You never know what you’ll fancy doing in future. Your lifestyle or family situation might change. The economy might change – again! You might be made redundant, you might get ill, your significant other might get abducted by aliens, leaving you to look after the kids, pay the bills and sort everything out. You just don’t know.

Do go back and have a listen to some of the episodes I’ve mentioned in this one. If you’ve got a particular problem, as I say, do come and have a chat with me and Pip. We’ll always do our best to offer practical advice – although we obviously can’t tell you what to do, it really is good to talk!

I really hope this episode has been useful in letting you know that you’re not alone when it comes to having freelance hiccoughs. Life isn’t always smooth sailing, and there are plenty of challenges to face and overcome, however you choose to do that.

Tune in next week to catch Pip and me again – we’ve got some lovely new topics to cover and, if there’s anything you’d particularly like to hear, come and let us know on our Podomatic page – alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, on our Facebook or on our social media profiles.

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and Pip and I will catch you next time.

About Philippa Willitts

British freelance writer and proofreader.

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