A Freelancer is only as good as their mental health. How is yours?
I walk you through my mindset as I battled burnout operating a six figure freelancing business.
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I nearly quit this newsletter and podcast in July.
In fact, here’s a screenshot of a message I sent to one of my buddies, Rob Wormley.
Rob is also a freelancer and if you need a strategic messaging consultant he’s your guy! Rob and I regularly connect online and in person to talk about freelance life and our families... we might partake in a beer or two as well.
So… with 1,500+ email subscribers and 3K+ downloads for the first five podcast episodes, why would I consider quitting something that is obviously working?
I was losing focus.
I was frustrated.
I was burned out.
The good news is that I’m not quitting.
I think mental health is super important. Since this newsletter already tackles a lot of other “taboo” topics like talking about money or the illusion of job security a 9-5 job provides I couldn’t shy away from burnout and how it plays a role in mental health.
Everyone gets burned out regardless if they are freelance or full-time employees. Good employers will monitor PTO usage and even encourage staff to take their time off. As a freelancer, it’s not uncommon to feel that you can’t take time off without repercussions.
I’m here to play the role of “employer” and encourage you to take care of your mental health too! If this post helps just one person it will be 100% worth it!
If you are struggling with burnout, depression and or anxiety please seek help. I highly recommend folks lean on their support system and take advantave of any professional help available to you as well. It’s OK to not be OK. Check out helpguide.org for free resources.
It’s OK to Lose Focus (or not hit your goals)
I’m blessed that business has been good since I went out on my own back in 2020. However, I haven’t been as focused and successful as I thought I wanted or needed to be for the past few months.
If we’ve talked in person you’ve likely heard me explain my first three years of freelancing as such:
Year 1 was about SURVIVING (check)
Year 2 was about THRIVING (heck-ya! check)
Year 3 is about OPTIMIZING (today)
Like most people, I set the absolute highest standards for myself. I haven’t been hitting all my own goals which contributed to working more and eventually hitting massive burnout.
It’s OK to be Frustrated
I have a “pipeline” spreadsheet that outlines the revenue generated from my SEO clients and non-client projects. This same pipeline also accounts for client contracts that are signed through the rest of the year (and into 2023). This spreadsheet helps me better understand my capacity as well as total revenue earned before taxes/expenses etc.
It also has this graph that I have a love/hate relationship with.
The above graph accounts for year-over-year revenue trending back to when I started freelancing full-time in 2020. Total revenue updates every time I add a dollar value to this years month by month section of the spreadsheet.
The grey line in the middle accounts for yearly revenue through revenue collected to date as well as contracted work through the end of the ‘22 year.
The grey line has been below the orange line (2021) since the beginning of the year. It’s been frustrating the &*#$ out of me.
Last year, I worked a lot and rarely said no when I felt the project/money was good. This year I’ve been much more intentional taking on less client work and investing in my personal portfolio of projects that will hopefully pay much higher dividends in future years.
The only problem is that I was spreading myself thin. I was getting burned out.
It’s OK to be burned out
In addition to my freelance SEO clients, I write the weekly #SEOForLunch newsletter, co-own (and manage) SEOjobs.com, The SEO Freelancer newsletter (and its podcast), and I also have another site outside of the SEO space that earns me a few extra hundred bucks a month.
I’m also a husband, father to three children, and at times a decent friend too.
I love my family and I’ll also admit that I love my job too! I consider myself lucky to not dread my job each Sunday night like many. I really enjoy SEO and the clients/people that I work with on any given week.
However, with so many balls in the air, it is easy to get burned out. When business/projects don’t go as expected it’s natural to get frustrated. When I’m frustrated I’m not always the best husband and father. Rinse and repeat until the burnout turns into wheels spinning without any more rubber left.
Are you aware of your burnout?
Queue up the message I sent to Rob about retiring The SEO Freelancer. I was convinced that something needed to go. “This was the only option,” I told myself and later Rob. The SEO Freelancer doesn’t earn me money and is a passion project of mine. If anything had to go, this was it. Right? Wrong.
I’m no stranger to burnout. Historically I would work myself to the bone and only when I become unbearable to be around would I take it as a sign that I needed to take a break.
Nowadays I’m fairly aware of my burnout signs. Tasks that normally take 1 hour are regularly taking 2+ hours. I also tend to take less interest in my non-client-related work. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also inclined to be a bit short-tempered which definitely doesn’t make it any fun for family/friends to be around me.
That leads to taking action. For me, I often solve my burnout through travel.
How do you solve burnout?
I’m privileged to be able to go on one to two vacations per year. This is a time when I’m not physically at home (which also includes my office). I need to be physically detached from my stressors leading to my burnout.
I was lucky that I recently had a vacation planned - we rented a houseboat in International Falls, Minnesota on Rainy Lake (a transboundary lake with Canada).
This vacation came a little later than what was ideal. I hit max burnout a few weeks prior but was able to power through and even get clients set up in a good position to account for my week-long absence.
What are your short-term escapes?
I’d love to say that every time I get burned out (or frustrated) I hop on a plane and sit on a beach for a week with my wife and kids. It’s simply not reality though I know it’s my most effective solution.
Going back to the top of this post. My friends play a big role in my backup solution. Whether you're having a rough day, a difficult project, or simply feeling unmotivated? I ping select folks to chat - online or in person.
Being a freelancer can sometimes feel lonely so if you can build a network of people to have ad-hoc chats - it really helps. You’d be amazed when you’re frustrated or burned out how helpful chatting with like-minded people provides.
Another short-term escape for me is driving. I love cars and enjoy putting the windows down, cranking tunes, and simply going for a drive. It allows me to physically be removed from my home/office and I end up doing some of my best thinking. Yes, $4.00+/gallon gas sucks but the value I get from it is worth so much more.
My point of all the above? Invest in hobbies and take breaks from the daily grind. If you are anything like me you need it to ensure you’re recharged for what awaits you the next day!
P.S. Next week I’ll be publishing a new podcast episode of The SEO Freelancer featuring Kristina Azarenko!
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Unresolved grief is another common, yet misunderstood, cause of inability to concentration or focus. Also, in our society we are often taught that grief can only come from death - and maybe divorce. But the reality is that grief can be caused by many things: loss of trust, death of a pet, moving, major life transitions (graduation, change of job, retirement, new baby, child moving out), and many others.
Finding completion to such relationships can restore that ability to concentrate, find joy and clarity in life, and be able to again move forward with purpose.
Best wishes to you. Happy to discuss further.
I can relate to the depressing fact of not seeing your revenues beat last year's revenues. I’ve seen the same thing when I needed to refocus on more strategic and better-paying projects/clients; you have to take a hit for quite a while. Great to see you back with the SEO freelancer!