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I’m Failing as a Freelancer … Should I Give Up?

Table of ContentsUpdated Oct 04, 2023

When you start freelancing, everything feels so exciting. You’re finally working for yourself! You say goodbye to having a boss, attending boring meetings, and commuting every day to a job you hate.

But for many freelancers, a few months or years go by and things start to feel stagnant.

You can’t seem to find new clients, bills start to pile up, you get trapped in a feast-famine cycle, and suddenly things aren’t so glamorous anymore.

Freelancing isn’t working.

And you start to wonder: should I give up? Should I quit trying to make it as a freelancer?

Before you give up…

Before you decide to give up freelancing for good and go back to a job you hate, there are a few things you can do to get out of your freelancing slump, revitalize your business and grow your freelancing to an all-new level.

In this article, I’ll share a few critical things I’ve learned from coaching freelancers on our podcast Freelance to Founder that are almost guaranteed to help you turn things around in your freelance business.

Here are several ways to breath new life into your failing freelance business before it’s too late:

1. Clearly define success in your business

I start with this because it’s important to get clarity on what success looks like when freelancing.

  • Does success mean you’re a freelance millionaire?
  • Does it mean you work with huge brands?
  • Does it mean more time at home with family or loved ones?
  • Does it mean more flexibility to travel or try hobbies?

Can you see how defining success can be critical to your progress? If you don’t know where you’re headed, how will you know if you’re doing well or not?

For example, someone focused on making tons of money as their top priority, may sacrifice family time and personal life in exchange for higher revenue.

To them, money = success.

But someone whose goals focus on flexibility or family would consider themselves a failure no matter how much money they made.

To them, freedom/flexibility = success.

If you’re feeling like a failure or like freelancing “just isn’t working,” ask yourself: Why am I freelancing?

Then make plans that align with your true goals instead of the goals “influencers” or peers inevitably put on you.

2. Graduate from one-time payments

One thing that becomes incredibly frustrating as a freelancer is: no matter how well you do this month, you have to start from zero next month.

But one-time payments are for noobs.

Experienced service providers know the easiest way to go from freelancer to agency (even if you’re an agency of one), is to create recurring revenue.

When you have clients making repeat payments every month, you can:

  • Plan income and expenses with more confidence.
  • Hire based on future client income, not just by guessing.
  • Finally overcome the feast-famine cycle.

You can build a simple plan with our 5-Day Recurring Revenue Challenge video series. It was recorded live with a group of freelancers just like you and walks you through exactly what you need to do in order to build recurring revenue into your business.

3. Increase your rates

You probably started freelancing by essentially making up your prices.

Maybe you asked other freelancers what they charge for similar services. Or maybe you used our freelance rate calculator (if not, you should).

However you determined it, though, remember this: rates are not permanent.

In order to stay in business, you’ll have to raise your rates at some point.

It can be an easier pill to swallow for clients if you raise your rates a little at a time instead of procrastinating until you’re then forced to 2-5x your current prices just to keep your business going.

There are lots of good ways you can increase your rates without losing clients.

4. Break up with your least profitable clients

If there are clients who are not able to pay your increased rates (see above) it may be time to break up with them.

That’s because most of your time may be taken up by clients who don’t pay enough.

This often happens when you have long-term clients who are still paying the lower rates you were charging when you first met.

Because you have a long-term relationship, you spend the most time with these clients but they tend to pay you the least.

This is simply bad business. Here’s exactly how to break up with clients in a professional way. The article also includes some examples and scripts you can use for free.

5. Get a coach or a mentor

Sometimes, we’re just too close to a problem to know how to solve it. This can be particularly true when working for yourself as a freelancer.

That’s why a coach or a mentor may be exactly what you need to come out of your freelancing slump.

A coach or mentor can help you see things about your business you either can’t see or refuse to see. They can help you tackle problems in new and creative ways. They can help encourage you when you feel like you’re fighting this battle all on your own.

This is part of why we do our podcast, Freelance to Founder. We offer free, on-air coaching sessions to freelancers trying to grow. You can even join us for a free coaching call if you want.

6. Build a team (even a small one)

In addition to some help from a coach or mentor, you might want to consider getting some help from a team—even if it’s a small one.

Hiring someone to join your team can be a huge relief and can free up your time to build your business instead of only working on billable projects.

I recommend you start by hiring a freelancer to sub-contract with you. That way you avoid all the headaches of payroll, benefits, and the legal necessities of hiring someone full-time.

Often, managing freelancers can be far more simple than managing full-time employees. Plus, if it doesn’t work out, it’s much easier to sever ties with a freelancer than a full-time employee as well.

7. Add new services/skills

Another way to breathe some life into your stagnant freelance business is to update what services you offer to potential clients.

This could mean learning a new skill, subcontracting out complementary skills, or just adding new services you can already deliver but have never offered before.

Adding new services does two things:

First, it gives you the chance to get excited about your business again by thinking through what your business offers to potential customers.

Second, it gives you an excuse to reach back out to current and former clients with something new to talk about.

8. Take a fresh marketing approach

In order to freshen up your offering, you may not even need to add new services. You might just be able to work on your marketing approach.

Marketing yourself as a freelancer can sometimes be the last thing on your mind. Other times, it can feel a little embarrassing or awkward.

But without good marketing, it’s hard to grow a business.

So if you’ve relied primarily on referrals up to this point, consider what fresh new marketing tactics you can try.

You basically have two options: change your messaging or change your media.

The key to successful freelancer marketing is to continually test, review, and improve your messaging and your media until you find a mix that really works.

Change your messaging

Changing your messaging means adjusting HOW you talk about your freelance business.

You might adjust who your target audience is or revisit your value proposition (or USP).

Take time to adjust the copy on your website (often overlooked) and brush up your elevator pitch.

Change your media

Changing your media means trying a new channel for promoting yourself.

If you’re already quite active on social media, try knocking a few doors in your city or sending out a few cold email pitches.

9. Pay bills w/ a part-time job

There is nothing wrong with taking a part-time job to help pay some bills while you figure out what’s next in your freelance business.

This doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It only means you’re a responsible adult—acknowledging you have obligations that need met while you get your freelance business back on its feet.

10. Take some time off if you can

Depending on how much you have in savings, it may be wise to take some time away from your business. Yes, you can quit a contract job just like you quit a regular job. Sometimes the problem is you’re just working too much.

And taking time away can clear your mind and leave you excited to jump back into problem-solving mode when you return.

Often, those problems we’re too close to can be easily solved by stepping back.

11. Go easy on yourself

Finally, a word of kindness: go easy on yourself.

It can be really easy to compare ourselves with what others are projecting on social media. It’s far too easy to assume other freelancers are making more money than you or working on more projects than you.

It’s incredibly easy to assume a stumble in business is all your fault. Or that you’re doomed to fail.

These are not the kinds of thoughts you should give much headspace or time to.

Instead, remind yourself why you started freelancing in the first place. Take time each day to recognize just how great it is to work for yourself. Consider where you’d be if you never started freelancing in the first place.

Then take a deep breath. Speak kindly to yourself. And dive in. Freelancing is an incredible ride.

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Written by Preston Lee

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Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. His advice has been featured by Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Adobe, and many more.

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