• Community, Advice

Avoid freelance burnout by being pickier about the jobs you take

When I first started out in freelance writing, I was excited. Finally, I was going to get paid for doing something I loved: writing.

I finished my first job quickly, got paid quickly, and my excitement grew.

I hopped onto every content mill and freelancing site I could find, bid on every job that was listed, and started sending my resume and proposals to every company out there, regardless of industry.

The way I figured it, I was a good writer. Anything else I could just figure out.

So it’s no wonder why I burnt out so quickly. Within just a few months, my awe and fascination with freelance writing was gone and it started to feel like work.

Not like a job – you can love a job – like work.

It no longer felt like I was getting paid to do something I loved, it felt like I was barely scraping by. I felt underpaid and undervalued (because I was).

And guess what? I blamed everyone else.

· The clients were cheapskates.

· The freelancing websites were biased toward their cheapskate clients.

· Other freelance writers were working for peanuts and dragging everyone's value down.

I was absolutely ready to quit, convinced that the entire industry was doomed to fail due to all these problems.

Then, out of the blue, I got an email asking me if I could meet and discuss the possibility of writing a book.

I took the meeting over Skype and absolutely fell in love – with the project, the writing, the client. Everything.

Then came the time for me to tell her how much I was going to charge her to write this book. And I froze. I was really excited about this project, and she and I meshed so well. I needed the money, but I didn’t want to chance chasing her away. So, I bid the absolute lowest I thought she would pay. And I do mean I bid low.

She didn’t take it.

Instead, she gave me a bit of the side eye and said to me, “Look, I know you said you were new to freelance writing. But there’s no way you can actually live off this bid, is there?”

And before I could formulate an answer, she gave me more of her story. As a freelance SEO specialist, she knew how hard it was to price out her services. And then came the line that changed the way I looked at freelancing forever: “No matter how much you love what you do, if you’re not making enough to live on it, you will end up resenting it.”

Let that sink in a bit.

I love writing – and loved getting paid to write. But I was resenting everything about it. Not just because I was underpaid, but because I was undervaluing myself.

Since then, I have learned to be really picky about the jobs I take and the clients I work with. And, sure, sometimes it feels wrong…in a slow economy, how can I feel good about turning down a paying client? Am I crazy?

Nope – it’s not crazy. In fact, here are three very good reasons to turn down paying clients and get pickier about the clients and projects you take on:

1. It’s not enough to enjoy what you do, you also have to enjoy the project you’re working on.

Chances are you got out of your 9-to-5 for a variety of reasons, one of which is probably so you can get paid to do what you love. But do you love chasing clients down to pay you? Do you love writing about topics you hate? Do you love clients micro-managing your time for the little money they’re offering?

If freelance writing has turned from getting paid for doing something you love into grunt work, then look at the projects you’ve been taking on. Do they excite and inspire you? If the answer is no, it’s time to look at different topics.

2. A job needs to do more than just pay you – it needs to be worth your time.

This is really just a numbers game: quality versus quantity. The lower the pay (quality) the more projects you have to take on to cover your expenses (quantity). And vice versa; the higher the pay, the fewer projects you need to take on. Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking on more than one project at a time (I frequently have 3-4 projects I’m working on simultaneously), but the more projects you have to juggle just to pay your bills, the higher your risk for burnout.

Additionally, when you’re working on a project that isn’t paying you enough, it’s really easy to let yourself get distracted and avoid working on that project. We tend to think, “I’ll just finish it quickly and move on to something better,” but it almost never happens that way. So it’s usually better just to not accept it in the first place.

3. It’s not enough to simply work on projects you love – they need to help further your career in some way.

A lot of freelancers end up getting stuck because they spend all their time working on their clients’ projects and don’t give enough thought to their own career. Sure, finishing up that blog post or that landing page might give you a nice entry to add to your portfolio or a nice testimonial for your page somewhere, but what else is it actually doing for you? And what’s more, if you write about everything, why should you write about anything?

Like it or not, niches matter. If you’re picky about the projects you’re taking on, every project will contribute to your knowledge and expertise. Then, your portfolio won’t just be a collection of writing samples showing off your grammar skills and writing abilities – it will showcase your expertise in that industry. And believe me, clients will pay good money to have industry experts writing for them.

All in all, getting pickier about the types of projects you take on will help keep you motivated, happy, and moving forward as a freelance writer.

Then you truly will be getting paid to do what you love!

Naomi Nakashima Naomi is a freelance B2B Ghostwriter and social media analyst.