5 Things that Can Derail Your Freelance Career


When you started your freelance career, you probably thought that the beginning was the most difficult. While a beginning is usually hard, what’s after isn’t necessarily any easier. There are many things that can turn everything upside down.

I wish there were only 5 things that can derail your freelance career but unfortunately there are many more. However, in my humble opinion, these 5 need to be paid special attention to:

1. Fall Behind Technology

With the tempo at which technology is developing, falling behind it isn’t difficult at all. However, when there is no company-sponsored training and you must follow all the latest developments on your own, the task becomes even more difficult.

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In some cases you won’t be able to afford expensive courses or ultra-expensive equipment just to keep your knowledge current but in many more cases all you need is time and effort to follow what’s new. You can make yourself spend at least half a day a week to scan the major news in your areas of expertise. This more or less will keep you afloat. Of course, if you need to use a particular technology, it goes beyond scanning the headlines. You will need to devote the time to master it.

2. Damage Your Health and Be Unable to Work at All

One of the wost things that can happen to you is that you damage your health and not be able to work. Sure, this is also a problem if you are an employee, because in either case it spells lack of income, coupled with dramatically increased medical costs. When one is young, he or she usually doesn’t care much about health, at least not till the moment serious health problems appear.

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Stress, long hours in front of the computer, and lack of physical activity that is so typical for work from home, are major factors that can really damage your health. When you work for yourself, it’s harder to stop because you are motivated to work more in order to finish the project faster or to make more money. But if this is at the expense of your health, it’s really pointless to do so. We just need to learn when to stop and get some break before work breaks us.

3. Work for Money and Lose Valuable Skills You Had

Basically, this is more of a problem when you work for a company because you do what you are assigned to, while when you are a freelancer you decide what projects to take. However, when you don’t choose diverse projects, you lose skills.

When you can’t find the balance between dull projects that pay well and interesting projects that aren’t that generous, you will frequently end up nowhere. When you work for money and don’t decline projects that don’t sharpen your skills or even keep your interest, it is just a matter of time before you lose your valuable skills. Yes, it is much easier to do the same things over and over again than to diversify and keep a set of skills. But in the long run this is kind of suicidal.

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Most often this happens when you stick to a particular technology only. For instance, a friend of mine worked for some time as a HTML coder. The job was called a designer but actually it was just HTML coding because all the other stuff was handled by other employees. At one point she discovered that she had forgotten almost everything about Photoshop and design in general. Yes, she had become an HTML guru and the pay was very good, but was it really worth the price to pay to end one’s career as a real designer? Had she stayed in this job for longer, she would have been out of the market in no time at all.

4. Personal Matters Interfere with Your Work

Personal matters are one huge obstacle for a freelancer. When you work at home, in theory you have more time for your family but at one point this becomes a double-edged sword. When you are at home, you are available – or at least this is what other family members will think. You are not at work and you can be bothered anytime for anything.

Besides, you don’t have set work hours and you can do me a favor now and work later. A landlady of mine was following this principle with her her son-in-law who worked from home and she constantly complained that his business wasn’t going anywhere. When I tried to explain to her that the time she was taking him for all sorts of chores (‘Give me a ride to the doctor’s’, ‘Come and fix something here!’, etc.) is a huge obstacle for him, she couldn’t understand how these tasks could kill the whole day for him.

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Sometimes it is hard to tell your loved ones how even such simple tasks can kill your day and interfere with your work. This is why sometimes it is better to rent an office than work from home, though this still doesn’t help with people like the lady I described because she will still make calls ten times a day for all sorts of tasks. The only solution is to be firm and learn to say ‘NO!’ to all your friends and relatives who don’t understand that even in your pyjamas you are working and you need not to be bothered.

5. Make Unsound Business/Financial Decisions

When you work for somebody, you usually aren’t involved in the process of making business/financial decisions, which means that usually you don’t have to deal – or at least not directly – with the consequences of wrong decisions. When you are a freelancer, it is more probable that you have to make business/financial decisions and if they are unsound, they can box you in a corner.

For instance, a former co-worker of mine bought property close to the peak of its prices a couple of years ago. He already had 2 or more houses but he decided he needed a larger office, though he already had one at his then home and certainly didn’t need to expand. He was also in a hurry because the prices were still rising. I can’t count the number of people who tried to explain to him how stupid it was to buy property you don’t need at prices that looked too high for the quality and the location but he was firm.

Less than a year later, when prices dropped, he was the most miserable man on Earth. His investment went south and he had to start taking projects for money because the mortgage had to be paid. Selling the property wasn’t an option because at the new prices, his loss would have been huge. All this stress led to health problems for him and pretty soon he was a total wreck mentally and physically. This might be an extreme case of poor judgment but it shows how just a single stupid decision can derail not only your career but your life.

It is sad when you learn from mistakes you can avoid but it is worse when you don’t learn from your mistakes at all. I hope these tips that are based on real stories of people I know can help other pros avoid them and to spare their career from derailment.

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