One Saturday afternoon, Brian sat at his computer. His most important client had a Monday deadline for a design revision, and he hadn’t even started yet. The day before, he’d had to decline his friends invitation to go camping. That whole week he’d been insanely busy. Brian had sorted hundreds of emails, managed social media accounts, monitored some ad campaigns, tweaked some designs and created a new WordPress website. Now he had to give up his weekend to make sure his biggest client kept paying him. How did he get to this point? Getting into business was meant to be about freedom, not being a slave.
The slippery slope to overwhelm
Brian started out building websites a year ago. As he built more sites and gained more clients, he naturally started to get requests for all kinds of other services. After seeing his great work, clients asked him to design social media profiles, write copy, perform SEO, run ads and so much more. As a new business owner, all of these seemed like a new opportunity to grow the business and make some money. It only made sense to say YES to everything! At first it was great to get that extra cash. But as more and more different work came in, Brian had to keep up to date with so many different things, from web design trends to social media algorithms. After several months of this, things started to get bad. Because of the slow change, it was hard to notice.
Eventually, Brian always seemed to be stressed, working nonstop and splitting his massive work weeks between countless different tasks.
Now here he was, sitting in his spare bedroom home office, missing out on a weekend away and totally overwhelmed. There was no one else to blame for his new lifestyle but himself.
The burnout recipe
Brian’s situation is way too common among design freelancers and small agencies. I personally know enough Brian’s that I need more than two hands to count them. A few of them are totally OK with their lifestyle (this sentiment probably isn’t shared by their partners), but the rest of them are simply overworked, stressed and don’t know what to do next. Once upon a time, I was a Brian. I know how it feels, In hindsight it’s really obvious what led to that point. It comes down to two main things.
- Not having a clearly defined service offering
- Trying to take on every single opportunity that comes your way
These usually stem from a combination of needing the revenue and FOMO (fear of missing out). It can work for a little while, but it quickly turns your life into one of overwork and burnout.
How to avoid it
As a freelancer, there’s no way you should be doing more than one or two main services. If you’re a designer, you shouldn’t be managing Facebook accounts. If you’re a developer, you shouldn’t be creating business cards. Instead, choose one or two things and become really damn good at them. Subscribe to blogs and publications about that thing. Constantly improve and hone your skills. That way, you’ll always be on the cutting edge. Soon enough, you’ll be the “go-to” guy/girl in your space. Being an expert demands higher rates and puts you in the position of power in your client relationships. The end result is doing less work for more money. Who doesn’t want that?
The one exception
There is one exception to all this. You can provide a large range of services to your clients If you have a series of contractors or a range of full time staff that do all of the ‘grunt’ work. You should simply act as the project manager. This is a totally valid business model. But it only applies if you aren’t getting caught up in the detail.
Have you been a Brian?
Have you ever been completely overworked and burned out? How did you get through it? Let me know in the comments