be free, lance / lessons learned

My work ethic has always been a huge part of my success as a freelancer, but sometimes our best qualities have their own faults, too. This post is hard for me to write, simply because it’s a mistake I wish I wouldn’t have had to deal with. But that’s how lessons are learned, right?? And perhaps it will be of help or insight to others. This lesson is about expectations, being walked over, and maintaining your work ethic.

I’ve always prided myself in being an efficient and focused worker throughout my life, as it’s gotten me swiftly + safely through many things. However, somewhere between starting my own business and this past summer, that very same drive crossed a line. I knew, at the young age of 24, that there was no way I could maintain my work ethic for the next 20 some years.

The base of my mistake was always about how readily available I made myself to, well, everyone. A people pleaser at heart – I would respond to emails within the hour ( mostly within minutes ), complete same day revisions for easy tasks, and sometimes agree to unfair timelines. As a result, I literally and unknowingly raised the bar too high for myself. People grew to expect instant emails and fast turn arounds from me, simply because it’s what I had been doing all along. Expectations were set with nobody to blame but myself.

With that said, I quickly realized I had to dig myself out of my own hole. Although I was fine with my process & working pace, I knew I needed to intentionally slow things down a bit for growth & longevity. And finally, set a new standard for myself … one that I could achieve and be proud of not only longterm, but on a daily basis.

I no longer respond to emails RIGHT away, complete instantaneous revisions, or agree to unfair timelines. Although it possibly sounds like I’m this gigantic slacker now, that’s absolutely not the case. I made all of this happen without sacrificing my closeness to clients + projects. I still make myself available and will probably always be a quick worker, because that’s just me. By implementing subtle changes, I’ve created a business lifestyle that I can maintain.

My best advice for you would be to always set boundaries. Do what you need to do to get things done, of course, but never sacrifice your own well being. You know … bend over backwards within reason. Always be happy with what you’re doing.

  1. Nesha says:

    I feel so happy to read this right now. It’s perfect timing, because today I feel in over my head right now. I hate myself for chickening out when clients ask for various things that I KNOW I should be refusing, or charging more for. I feel so stressed out, and there’s no way I can continue the next 10, 20 years feeling the way I feel at the moment.

    Good advice, thanks so much Bre!

  2. This is fantastic advice! I feel like it’s also completely applicable to those who aren’t freelancing. Setting boundaries with your employer is also so hard, but so necessary for your own health and well being!

  3. Casey says:

    This really is great advice and I can definitely relate. My business is just a side business but any time I get a request from a client, I jump on it so quick (even in my day job, I tend to do the same)! I know that if this ever turned into a full-time gig, I would have to revise that behavior so that I do not go insane. Great post!

  4. Even though I’m not a freelancer, I’m marketing analyst with a 8:30-5pm job, and I too set the bar too high for myself when I started working at my current company. I answered emails immediately, got projects out ridiculously fast yet efficiently, but I felt the burn out. It is all process and recognizing that you have to take a step back is a great thing! =) It makes it all seem more realistic and you honestly feel like you can take a much needed breath! =)

  5. Kory says:

    This is some of the best advice I could receive today. I had to be harsh with a client last night about possibly discontinuing my service and working with a different designer. It was so hard, but I’m learning that I don’t want my designs to be dictated by my clients. I’m actually considering a post on this topic! Thanks, Bre. Yet again, you are a great help.

    • breanna says:

      I feel ya! It’s taken me a good while to make sure I’m always doing what is best for not only my clients, but myself, too. It’s such a fine line and sometimes really hard, but always worth it. :)

  6. Jon says:

    Haha I have been going through this exact same situation since I started freelancing on the side in the past year and a half. It’s actually really become more of a issue just in the past month. I’m also in the process of setting more reasonable expectations as my projects and clients grow. Nice article!

  7. Ann says:

    I needed to hear this today! After talking with a client at 10PM last night about changes that are to be turned-around ASAP (always) I woke up this morning thinking, “Something has to change.” And that is ME. Thank you for writing this and being so open about the struggles of being your own (very tough) boss. For someone just starting out in the freelance world and still trying to juggle my full time agency job, this is a great reminder to slow down before I burn out. You are a great inspiration!

  8. Hi Breanna, I read a fantastic post on the topic the other day from Lara:
    http://laracasey.com/2013/01/14/making-things-happen-in-2013-create-boundaries/
    She gives some great advice on how to actually create boundaries. Thought you might enjoy it:)

    • breanna says:

      Thanks for sharing that link with me! It’s pretty much in line with what I’m doing, but a great read for anyone else in this comments section. Going to link to it in a post for tomorrow – thanks!

  9. Alicia says:

    Story of my life!
    I did the same thing….one of my very first freelance clients I still work with now on an ongoing basis is so spoiled! He send me stuff and expects them the next day. Why? I spoiled them, I am 100% responsible for it. I had to e-mail him a few months ago, explain I am working a full time job and need more time for changes. I can’t keep his deadlines if he e-mails me 3 hrs before it’s due.
    I now always give a buffer. I am not lazy either. I got a request the other day and could have done it right away but I didn’t want this new client to get into the same habbit.
    Replying to e-mails is another thing. I am always tempted to reply RIGHT AWAY but I’ve had to step back from that too. A while back I had a client all worried and wondering of my whereabouts because I hadn’t replied to her e-mail with in 3 hours. Again my fault for “training” her badly and spoiling her.
    It sucks admitting to these mistakes but at least you are aware of them AND you know how to fix them and hopefully will!!
    People that don’t understand what freelance life is like will always think your lazy. Us other fellow freelancers know your not lazy and totally get why you need to create these boundaries.

    • breanna says:

      Thanks for the reply, Alicia! I feel like you and I were in similar positions and it’s all so so so true. Don’t worry about writing three comments, ha. Loved reading ALL of them!!

  10. Alicia says:

    I also hate the idea of implementing rush fees but lately I’ve had to say it to a few clients. Usually they say no because it’s not worth it and they are ok waiting and extra day or two, however I have had clients accepting the rush fee, which meant me staying up till midnight to finish it but also getting paid time and a half to complete it.
    I think even just explaining rush fees and “threatening” with them helps clients understand.
    I work full time and do most of my freelance work on weekends and evenings. It’s tough during the week but whenever possible I try to not work past 10pmish. If I get an e-mail at 9pm asking for something it will probably have to wait til the next day.
    I can’t wait to go full time freelance!!!!

    • Ann says:

      I totally feel you! I am in the exact same position. It is exhausting, but will be worth it. I am just waiting for some sign or number in my bank account so I can go full time solo :) Good luck to you!

    • alicia says:

      Yay for freelance! Ann, I’d love to see some of your work! Your site seems to be password protected…still working on it?

    • Ann says:

      Shoot. Yes, still in the works. Will be up in the next couple of weeks. I will update it here if you are interested. Would love to see your’s, too. Yay for the internet!

  11. alicia says:

    It’s so funny how we have this strong, rigid and strict work ethic which is really awesome but then ends up not always 100% working for the best.
    I guess it all comes back to being about balance and figuring out what works for you.
    Btw, sorry for posting like three comments in a row. I totally feel you on these freelance posts and always have something to share. I get very into it :)

  12. Jin says:

    As I was reading this, I felt like you were writing for me also..I’ve been going through the EXACT same thing..doing too much for too little. I’m too embarrassed to even mention how much I’m getting paid for what should be a minimum of $3,000 project. Now, clients expect to hear from me within minutes..make revisions quick etc. One crucial mistake I learned from is not giving them an exact set of requirements of what will be done and anything after that will be charged by hr. Lesson learned and thank you for this column and your blog. :-)

  13. athena says:

    you=amazing.

    I know that we are also friends – but as your client – I would never feel that you were doing LESS for me by not responding instantaneously. And I have never felt that way. I adore you – and your work – and that work takes time to create. And I know that I’m not your only client – but you do a remarkable job of making me *feel* like I am. And that’s what matters.

    You’re destined for greatness, Bre. You’re already walking the path of it. Just keep walking. But absolutely do so at a marathon pace.

    This life isn’t a sprint.

    And you’re more than cut out for the long haul.

    love you.
    xo

    • breanna says:

      Thanks for reading + commenting dear. I appreciate it, especially since you ARE and have been a client of mine. It’s nice to hear that. :)

  14. I can relate to this post so much and I know how hard this was for you to open up about. It’s so hard not to classify yourself as not doing your best when you slow down but it’s what’s best. I’m also a pleaser at heart so I would stay up extremely late to meet unreasonable deadlines. I drove myself into the ground. This year, I’ve learned to space out my responses, my deadlines, and charge rush fees when necessary. I’m learning to value my worth and my time more. I’m glad you’re also learning the same about yourself. I wish you the best to continue on your journeys.

  15. i’ve done all these things at one time or another. we want to make the client happy and often times sacrifice too much. its good to take a step back and put your ‘business’ first. maybe we just need to be reminded more often that we deserve timelines that help us be as creative as possible. we deserve to be able to focus 100% on what our task at hand is. it makes us better designers and business owners in the long run too :)

  16. Nicky Willis says:

    It’s like you’re reading my mind – thanks for sharing :)

  17. well said! couldn’t agree more. at 32, i just started to do this myself (constant work in progress) but for you to discover this at such a young age is beautiful!

  18. Kayd says:

    I feel like you are me. Or I am you.
    Either way this is a great post. I am typically over eager and can produce small design requests within the day. I even worked the day before my wedding because I didn’t want my client to be disappointed with me. Ummmm HELLO. That should have been the first sign that I was completely nuts. Even though I still design nights and weekends I hold off sending anything until 8am Monday morning. (which leaves a little fun out of the fact that clients don’t know I’m working on their design until 3am).

  19. Dawnielle says:

    This is a great thing for anyone to hear. I’ve learned through experience how important it is to look out for and take care of yourself, no one else is going to. If you continually give every last drop of yourself that’s how much they’ll always expect from you. I’ve also learned that its equally important to take the time to know exactly what you want and then to ask for it. You can’t demand change if you don’t know what needs to change to make you happy. Great post!

  20. Carlie says:

    Great post, and one I can definitely relate to. I think that setting boundaries is so important for the creative process and for the creator’s sanity. Your clients hopefully respect you and your work enough to understand what you need and deserve, and if not just let those well articulated boundaries do the explaining for you!

    • breanna says:

      Carlie! Thanks for stopping by and commenting with your thoughts, I appreciate it. But all is true, some people think creatives are just so flexible and go with the flow, which isn’t the case. We’re running a business, too! xx.

  21. Amy Carriere says:

    This is such a great lesson for everyone that owns their own business but especially for those new business owners out there. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

  22. Hey Breanna! I just discovered your blog recently, and I’m so glad I did! :) I went through the same thing with my designing. Because I started freelancing at an early age (I started my business at 16), I was extremely eager to work on projects and respond to potential clients’ emails. I dedicated so much time to work, my personal and social life started to take a backseat. After my workaholism was brought to my attention by a few friends, I reassessed my work ethic. But I still sometimes think I have a hard time balancing overworking and being lazy. Reading posts like this are encouraging though!

  23. […] • When it comes to your freelance business, it’s up to you to set boundaries. […]

  24. […] I talked a little bit about hard things I’ve learned along my freelance journey in my post yesterday, but Lara goes a bit more in depth with it and even gives some examples! A great […]

  25. Noor says:

    This is a really great post. I think I started out selling myself short. I was working so hard at all hours and was not getting what I deserved back (I probably still don’t lol). This past year with all the business I have had I started implemented new rules and not being overly nice bc I feel like a lot of people take advantage of you when you are. They think oh shes nice were friendly I can get her to do this or that.

    I started making a queue, being realistic, making faq set up for customers and trying to be very detailed bc if your not that ONE person will find it and make your life hell in some way lol. I still need to set up a better system for myself though I think that’s the first step with freelancing and then you can help your clients better once you do.

    I love the direction of your blog and have loved seeing it grow. I love that you write stuff like this and your now the only design blog I tend to follow. The other ones I once loved have sold out and went commercial please STAY this way.

  26. Josie says:

    Great post, Breanna! I’m struggling with those things right now. I keep saying yes to any opportunity that comes my way and I’ve noticed it’s hard to maintain. This post has come at the exact time I needed to read something. Thank you for sharing!

  27. […] How do you say “no” to friends asking you to work for free? Lessons Learned B School A Personal Brand Exercise For Sharing Yourself […]

  28. Really, beautifully put.
    Been there, done that. The only thing it brought me was me getting stressed, overworked and having no family time.
    I feel I’m falling into the workaholic mode again, so reading this (and the Lara Casey post you recommended) made me fall back into my priorities for 2013.
    Thanks! :)

  29. Alisa Benay says:

    Great post. I actually just changed my business model based on this exact topic. I make wedding accessories that I sell online, but I was also taking on freelance custom bridal gowns for local clients. I found that the local clients felt that they had access to my time 24/7/365 & the ROI on time spent for each client was minimal. I’ve completely shifted my entire focus to online sales only. It feels awkward to be turning clients away, but almost instantly my sales have seen an increase. Boundries do create a successful business!

  30. […] Lessons Learned by Breanna Rose How readily available do you make yourself to your clients? Breanna discusses the […]

  31. Taylor-Mary says:

    i wanted to thank you for this post.
    you are a huge inspiration.
    i am not free lance, but feel like this is a topic so relevant today. we want to make it in a world full of big guys, and gain & sustain momentum in business. i have often felt the best way to be the best business person is to be available at a moments notice. it has caused a lot is inner stress that i end up feeling stupid about because at the end of the day, its my own fault.

    thankful that we can see someone who is young, talented and successful share such a graceful approach to business. we only get one life after all!

  32. Ezgi says:

    Ohh Thats just what I needed to hear! I am at that stage now. Answering emails quickly, struggling impossible timelines. Yesterday I realize that I am not happy at all and very very tried. On top of that I am dealing with ugly logos.

    This is not the topic but what do you do, if a web design client comes to you with an extremely ugly logo? and insist on using it on the site. stop working?

    Thank you Brenna, Your posts are always inspiring !!!

    • breanna says:

      Hey! If a client comes to me with an existing logo, I always ask to see it. If it’s not something I think is good or something that I can work with, I simply don’t take on the project. It’s not worth it to work with something you don’t even like!

      Sometimes, if I’m really interested in the project, I will ask them to consider re-branding and tell them why I think it’s a good idea. A few people have actually listened and turned out to be GREAT clients! If you do it in a nice way and explain to them why you think their brand stands to be updated, they will most likely respect your professional opinion!

  33. Ana says:

    I always enjoy when Nubby links to your articles because they hit the right spot each time.

  34. anne says:

    i so needed to hear this today! <3

  35. JacPfef says:

    dude (may I call you dude?), I hear you. I’ve struggled with the very same issue throughout the lifespan of my business and, six years later, I feel like I’m finally getting to a good place. Or, at least clients aren’t texting me at 4am any more.

    power to you, girl. you rock.

  36. KC White says:

    I just stumbled onto this post thanks to How About Orange & her link to your wallpaper freebie (they’re super-cute btw!). Downloaded “Make It Happen.” :)

    Anyway, I’m on a hiatus of sorts for this very same issue. Burn-out caused by a bar set too high.

    I get a lot of feedback from potential clients asking why freelancers rarely give out their phone numbers. Ha! I think many don’t disclose this info for the reason stated in your post — we don’t want others to take advantage of us, so we try to create barriers from the start.

    I’m a web designer, so I once had a client freak out when I didn’t reply to his emails all weekend. It clearly states on my site that I don’t work on weekends, but since I was readily available on weekends throughout his project, the one weekend I had to step away from the office, he flipped out.

    I personally have the issue right now of clients letting their projects drag on forever (which keeps me from collecting any remaining balance) + crazy amounts of revisions. Again, although it’s in my contract that revisions have a limit and projects must be completed within 30 days, I’m too chicken to ever reinforce whatever few barriers I’ve set in place. I could kick myself sometimes!

    Anyway, I had to comment because I felt like you wrote this post just for me. Lol I’m at my own crossroads in whether I want to continue freelancing because client work drives me nuts at times.

    I think the bottom line is that whatever grief I’ve endured is mostly my own fault for not setting boundaries AND reinforcing them.

    As I told my husband this morning, I let a lot of things slide because I keep thinking people will do the right thing — if I give a discounted rate, maybe they won’t walk all over me, or if I reply over the weekend, they’ll understand that it’s a courtesy, not an entitlement. Sadly, this never works out the way I think it should.

    Thanks for writing this. It helped to hear that even successful designers face these same issues. xo

  37. […] Lessons Learned by Breanna RoseHow readily available do you make yourself to your clients? Breanna discusses the […]

  38. […] Setting Boundaries. As creative business owners, we often bend over backwards for our clients. But how much is too […]

  39. […] her posts. She always introduces me to some new artist or thought. And of course, reading about her freelance career choices & lessons teaches me SOOO much about what I am looking forward to in my own sometime […]

  40. David Albert says:

    Thanks for the adorable advise. I am glad to have found this post as it’s such an interesting one. I am always on the lookout for quality posts and articles so I suppose I am lucky to have found this. I hope you will be adding more creative articles in the future.

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