There I was, sitting alone in a nearly empty restaurant. I’d just come out of a meeting with a longtime client who informed me that their corporate parent had decided to move in another direction. They were my second-largest source of revenue. I was stunned.
I started thinking about the future and how I’d manage to pay the bills. How could I possibly make up for the lost income? The thought crossed my mind that I may have to go out and get a side job to supplement my freelance business. I was humbled, frustrated and scared.
What I didn’t realize those many years ago was that things would turn out just fine. In fact, the whole episode ended up putting my career on a much better path. Here’s how.
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First, a Realization
To be honest, I hadn’t been exactly thrilled with the work I was doing with this particular client for quite a while. They were wonderful people – don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the work itself no longer fit with what I really wanted to do.
They were actually one of my first clients, way back when my business was just starting up in the late 1990’s. The gig was to design and maintain a series of websites for local radio stations. It was sort of a high-profile client that I could use to cement my place in the market. And the pay was good.
Designing each site was a great experience. While they were just old-school, static HTML entities, I had a certain amount of creative license. The client was happy and so was I.
It was the day-to-day grind, however, that was really getting me down. I’m someone who really likes to know what I’m going to do and when I’ve got to have it done by. Yet, the radio industry was anything but predictable. Projects would come in at the last minute and need taken care of quickly. I was able to do the work, but it was a great source of stress.
Anyway, after a bit of feeling sorry for myself about losing a big client, I realized that this could be a real opportunity. Sure, I was losing some revenue. But I was also gaining the freedom to take things in a more desirable direction.
Knowing that I would no longer feel trapped gave me a much more positive outlook on the future.
Comfort Led to Complacency
Looking back, I see that I’d been stuck in a rut when it came to work. It seemed like I was always busy, but in such a way that I dreaded heading into the office. I never knew what kind of last-minute surprise would be sent my way.
That led to a lot of stagnation and stunted my growth. Sure, I had moved on to building sites with WordPress, and was excited about it. But then there were always these legacy projects taking up precious time that I could be spending on something more fulfilling. But I just accepted it as being how things were then and how they’d be in the future.
Then suddenly I found myself with all of this extra time on my hands. I was no longer quite as overwhelmed with my situation. It led me to re-invest time in learning. And, fatefully, it gave me an opportunity to pursue another passion: writing.
For the first time in years, I started feeling really excited about web design.
A Gradual Change
With a newfound passion for what I was doing, I went about the process of revamping a career that was more in line with where I wanted to go.
The first step was figuring out what type of projects I wanted to work on. I realized that I really enjoyed working with WordPress, and so I marketed myself as someone who worked exclusively in that space. Over time, I began booking more interesting projects and thus increasing my knowledge. Things were going in the right direction.
And, when it came to writing, I started sending in occasional articles to a certain bespectacled design magazine. I wasn’t expecting much. My hope was simply to find a place that would get my voice out there. Apparently, it worked – I’m still here!
That’s not to say that any of this was easy. In fact, it took years of building out my portfolio and learning how to say “no” to projects that weren’t a good fit. And there were plenty of lows to go along with the occasional highs.
So, no, your business probably won’t transform overnight. But if you take anything away from my story, I hope it’s that you don’t have to settle. You can reinvent yourself and push your career in new directions. And, lastly, know that something really good can come out of a tough break. I’m living proof.