I had my first day working a 9-5 office job on June 29. It’s been a little over a month now.

The first week or two working my new job, I cycled through anger and burnout. I really felt lots of rage against every single bad freelance client that I’ve ever had. Rather than repressing it, I could barely not talk to my new coworkers about how I hated my clients.

Left unspoken was how furious I was at myself, how I blamed myself for bad clients. I still blame myself for not handling things better, for not communicating more clearly, for not writing the magic words to attract better clients, and for letting disrespectful assholes get to me.

When I talk about “bad clients”, it’s not those with high expectations or even moderately rude people. It’s the clients who pull mindfucks, who manipulate, try to get out of paying by every means possible, who repeatedly press personal boundaries like hitting on me or calling me at 1am for a non-emergency. I’ve had some true ClientsFromHell type experiences.

With the clarity of a few more weeks, a full month of NOT trying to sell my WordPress web-design or content creation services, I’ve become more gentle on myself and my clients. I’ve come to realize these things:

  1. Larger companies with the budgets to afford great work, prefer to work with agencies.
  2. Agencies prefer to work with those who are more specialized than I am.
    This leads, naturally to an honest assessment of my strengths, weaknesses, and interests:

    • I am a mediocre web-designer. I don’t write code. I wish I wanted to learn to write code, but everytime I try, I end up getting super-distracted by mundane things like online ads or FaceBook. Basically the ads in Gmail and email-spam are more interesting than learning to code.
    • I hate setting prices, on anything. I tend to give my time and my products away too cheap when I like someone, because to me products are just things and my time will be spent anyway. I get tongue tied when people try to talk me down (why would I give a higher price than what I want to sell something for?). The finer points of deal closing is something that you need to learn as a small business person, a fact that I did not realize until sometime last year. Dealing with trying to get talked down is the part of sales which really annoys me most; I love finding bargains but I am not a bargainer. I know that price negotiation is a part of gig and project based businesses though!
    • I can muddle through graphic design, create flyers and other visuals… and am probably better at it than I think. I think that professionally trained graphic designers can probably do some kind of magic that eludes my self-taught self.
    • I love writing. I know I’m good at it. I have sold articles in the past, and I just finally got paid for selling one 3 months after submitting it. I looked into regular blog writing gigs, and the pay is third-world unless you have a large fan base and preferably previous high-profile publications. Even if that was a possibility, I have a very difficult time consistently concentrating on writing from home, or even from coffee shops. I’ve tried. Maybe I need to take medications for attention deficit disorder, maybe I lack self-discipline, or maybe now is just not a good time for me to be a writer. If I could make money from lengthy emails, I would be rich!
    • I really like breaking down big projects, like helping small businesses start their websites from scratch, and trying to make the way I do things take the least amount of time. Project and process management seeps into everything I do and have ever done, and breaking big ideas into smaller measurable steps is a skill that I’ve used my whole life: Case-management and behavior management (from my third job working with mentally challenged people), goal setting, lesson planning (from my first three years of college), organizing fundraisers, figuring out how to most efficiently file away a huge stack of papers, designing online courses with subject matter experts, organizing estate sales, founding a nonprofit … I never knew that Project Management was a career, or that it was even a legitimate job/work skill.
    • Product photography is zen to me. I love taking true fashion photos, based around an outfit and just happening to include a model who is truly just there to show off the dress or accessory. I love making things look good. The focus on the inanimate, noticing little details, mentally writing descriptions as I photograph every single angle… product photography relaxes me in ways that taking photos of tree-leaves affects one of my friends.
    • I’m interested in video, and it’s an accidental skill that I’ve learned out of practical necessity and curiosity the past 15 years or so. I never set out to be a video producer or editor, but I know enough of both just to be useful. This is also something that I want to explore further.
    • Search Engine Optimization and Marketing: This is a skill and knowledge that I can legitimately kick myself in the butt over not pursuing. For years, I taught myself photography and marketed my vintage clothes and did webdesign, learning about search engine optimization on the side and only very occasionally subcontracting it or doing it for others (and when I did, they were extremely happy with the results). I did things ass-backwards with those years of trying to make money with photography and having search engine optimization and marketing as a hobby! Search engine journals, articles, and technical manuals are that perfect level of interesting for me to read before bed. They’re an alternative for when I don’t feel like reading Wikipedia. Fueling my fascination for reading about SEO and SEM, practicing it on my side projects, is the realization that being able to attract search engines is true power, especially as consumers increasingly interact in online bubbles (need to cite that article I read here). Search engine marketing has just enough constraints to be intriguing, is constantly evolving, and is that perfect level for me of creative and yet technical.
  3. The work required to efficiently design websites for small businesses with equally tiny budgets, is possibly more than that required to design sites for businesses with bigger budgets. Between 50 and 90 percent of new businesses go out of business within four or five years. Every reason why this statistic is true is what made small businesses challenging customers for me to work with. Knowing “who” you are as a business is important, as is having realistic expectations what kind of website and service you can get built if your budget is less than $5000.
  4. The fact that I lasted over five years, living solely as a freelancer, makes me more successful than about 90% of businesses. Not that it matters or is anyone’s business, but my boyfriend only covered the expenses that he had before I moved in, and my phone bill because to add on to his plan was only $25 for my line which saved me around $120 a month. So I’ve not paid rent or phone, but every other bill, my car and health insurance, web-hosting, new equipment, bird supplies, clothes, lunches out with friends, special groceries I want, etcetera… I’ve paid for myself. I did have a small amount in savings, starting out, and I went through more of that between May 2015 and May 2016 than I did in the first four years!

Things could have been better, things could have been worse.

I really should have sought full time employment in March of 2015, but then I would not have been able to be there for my boyfriend when his dad suddenly got sick, died, and his life fell apart. I’ll admit that I spent the first part of this year in denial about the profitability of continuing as a freelancer, and wallowing in an insidious haze of low-level depression that overwhelmed and paralyzed me.

I had a lot of good clients as a WordPress web-designer and freelancer, and with the burned out anger feelings fading into the past, I’m better able to appreciate all the wonderful people and other small businesses who were the reason why I “made it” for over five years without having a “real job”. I learned invaluable “soft” and demonstrable skills during these past five years, thanks to everything! The further away from freelancing for full time income I mentally get, the more grateful for awesome people and good I feel in general about this adventure learning WordPress and attempting to offer my design services.

My main take-away from the first 30 days of working a 9-5 job is that this was the right decision at the right time for me to make. In accepting my current position, I do not have any qualms about going with my intuition, curiosity, and logic. It’s been a surprisingly easy transition in almost every way. It feels good to get away from the constant pressure to sell my services, and to have the “space” to explore other interests and develop new skills. I go to work and I laugh now, which is something that I’ve not done in quite a long time!

Edit: I should add that I only got burned out on webdesign clients. I got creatively bored with doing glamor/boudoir photography and sick of trying to convince women with low self esteems that they were beautiful. The vintage clothing market is soft, and long term it is a dead-end career field.

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