I have crossed paths with many people who have gone through “the freelance cycle” as I like to call it. And no, I am not talking about the feast and famine cycle – if you read my blog regularly, you know I strongly disagree with the necessity of such phenomenon in the life of any freelancer.
I am talking about the early signs of “since I was fired from my day job, I have tons of work to do!” and what follows after that. All the stages a freelancer goes through between day 1 of his or her freelance career and the moment they finally achieve work-life balance. Here’s how it went for me.
Freelance cycle stage 1 – euphoria and never ending energy
I had just found there’s a way to make money online. “Being a freelancer” they called it. I registered on a few freelance job boards, completed my profile, and started taking skill tests… I was reading job posts and writing cover letters restlessly.
I was going to bed and waking up in the morning with the single thought of what great opportunities I have before me as a freelancer. If I succeeded, that is. I was looking for work and pitching clients 8 hours per day, every day, without a day off. And I was excited all the time, I promise!
Freelance cycle stage 2 – the doubts
After I completed my profile, took all the relevant tests I could think of, looked through all the 49678 job posts available on freelance websites and wrote more or less the same amount of customized cover letters, went to several interviews and did not land any jobs, the doubts inevitably came. Now what?
Is it worth it or are my efforts going in vain for some reason? Maybe this whole freelance thing is a very well-crafted scam? Do I need to be connected to the president of a small country somewhere to succeed as a freelancer?
I am doing everything right but nobody seems to care and nobody wants me on their team. Why is that? Am I that stupid? Was it a mistake that I tried to become a freelancer at all?
These are the type of thoughts I had in my head… truth be told, this is the moment when majority of wanna-be freelancers fail. They simply give up on their dream to become freelancers – for different reasons:
- they don’t believe in their skills and success
- they lack self-confidence
- they don’t have their friends’ and family’s support
- they don’t have enough money in the bank to cover their expenses while trying to break through as a freelancer and they end up needing a paying job here and now.
Whatever the case – this is the very first real test your fragile freelance soul is put to – will you give up or will you keep on trying?
Freelance cycle stage 3 – humility and being humble
I didn’t give up at stage 2 (duh?!). I was now officially humble. I realized not everything is in my control and I should just make the most of the situation.
If you are like me, you will still be enthusiastic about being a freelancer but you will get up in the morning more like yourself – you know, unwilling to leave the comfort of your bed just to read some more job posts and write some more cover letters. That’s how normal people feel. 😉
Although I looked through less job posts and sent out less cover letters, I still strongly believed in my success. I began to be proactive. I knew my success may not come today or tomorrow but I did not doubt even for a second it will come someday.
When I look back, I realize that when someone reaches this level of humility – that is when they land your first gig! And then the second, the third…
Freelance cycle stage 4 – euphoria and never ending energy
Nope, it’s not a mistake – it’s the same old euphoria and never ending energy you felt in stage 1 of the freelance cycle 😉
After landing a few projects and having some positive feedback under your freelancer’s belt, you again wake up in the morning eager to pitch clients and work. At some point, clients even start reaching out to you! A variety of projects are offered to none other but you, specifically! Everything is very interesting, very exciting, very satisfying… you feel appreciated and super, super happy!
And then it comes – the next stage…
Freelance cycle stage 5 – awfully a lot of work and accumulated tiredness
While you were so excited and euphoric and tireless, without noticing, you started working 60 hours per week! Yes, sure – you make tons of money; money which you didn’t dream of earning a few weeks back. You work on very interesting projects, with very cool people. But end of the day – 60 working hours per week are just that sixty working hours per week.
More often you decline friends’ invitations to meet for a beer because you have a pressing deadline. You see less and less your family although you live in the same house. You spent less and less time improving your skills, not to mention never acquiring any new ones.
I know you love what you do – but accumulated fatigue takes a hit on your performance. You feel tired all the time, you don’t feel well, you do your job more mechanically than with desire and enthusiasm. The light motive of your day becomes the thought “this is so not the freelance life I was dreaming of…”
Freelance cycle stage 6 – being insightful and reaching your balance point
And one fine day (in my case it was just a couple of days before New Year some years ago) you wake up with a single thought in your head – “Enough is enough!” You are determined to put in order both your personal and professional life. You even dedicated that same day to analysis – what active projects you have, which of them you can end, on which you can update your prices, and so on.
You have an action plan. Even just having a plan brings you balance and peace. Come the evening, you sit back and sip from your wine glass, enjoying a nice quiet evening with your significant other – because you know tomorrow you’ll start putting your life in order.
Freelance cycle stage 7 – all is perfectly well!
And I really mean all. You don’t remember the meaning of stress or lack of balance. You work only on projects which interest you with people you like. You have not applied to a job post for months – not for some other reason but because people are looking for you and you hardly have time to decline their proposals.
You have plenty of free time – for traveling, hobbies, friends, love, whatever you think of and want to do. Everything is perfectly well and going exactly as you plan it and want it. Until the next stage comes…
Freelance cycle stage 8 – being lazy and demotivated
Maybe because you were planning so well and did such a great job putting your life in order, that now everything is predictable and you lost interest.
You still live your dream life and make plans for even better life (yeah, right, as if that were possible!). But in fact, you are stuck in your comfort zone and you want to leave it under no circumstances.
This stage of the freelance cycle is a very happy and problems-free period in your life but still – you feel unsatisfied most of the time because your life lacks challenge and surprise. In reality, you just stopped elevating the bar; you stopped growing – personally and professionally.
Freelance cycle stage 9 – a new beginning…
And one fine day, just like earlier in the freelance cycle, you wake up with the thought “enough is enough!” You realize you don’t challenge yourself, you have put the bar too low and this burdens your otherwise perfect life. You stopped growing and this prevents you from being the successful freelancer you always wanted to be!
And again, you stop to analyze and re-evaluate your goals, your active contracts, your life. Again, you draw out that blank sheet of paper and start making your plan how to bring the sparkle back in your perfectly organized, balanced freelance life. And you already feel better – tomorrow you will start taking small steps toward executing the plan.
The stages in the freelance cycle tend to repeat themselves – just so you know…
When I reached my breaking point, here’s what I included in my “new beginning” plan:
- I decided to start this blog. Three months later I did start it indeed 😀
- I decided I want to move to Spain – to practice my Spanish, to explore Spanish culture and way of life. Nine months later I did move to Spain, as you might recall.
- I decided I want to write a book to help fellow freelancers succeed – and a year later, I did start it (I even finished my first very raw draft the other day, yay!)
- I decided to see through the startup idea my boyfriend and I had – and a year and a half later, we are completing the product beta test and about to make the product available for purchase to everyone.
These are the new ventures I took upon to elevate the bar and challenge myself. As I achieve my goals one by one, I know I will fall victim of my comfort zone again, unless I proactively do something about it.
What I am saying is – we always have our ups and downs. History does repeat itself – I still have moments when I feel demotivated and don’t feel like working at all. I still have days when you cannot take me away from my computer for anything – I just sit there and work, restlessly.
And it’s ok. That’s all part of the freelance cycle and success, I guess. As long as you are aware of the stages and know you can control every single one of it, you’ll b fine!