Years ago, when I first ventured into freelance writing, I thought my experience as a newspaper reporter would mean that the assignments would just come to me. I put the word out that I was looking for freelance work, pitched a few ideas and … nothing.
I struggled through the first year, barely making ends meet, and then accepted a staff position again. Turns out, freelancing wasn’t the panacea I expected. It’s a lot of work.
A few years later, I was ready to give it another shot. That time, I lined up several clients before giving my notice at my day job. Once I was devoting all my time to freelance writing, I dove in full force. It was a constant hustle — and one I relished. I was making more money than I had as a staffer.
I was so grateful for every long-term client I had. I valued them — and the paychecks they provided — tremendously.
But even as a successful freelancer, it wasn’t a panacea.
There were times when I worked 80 hours a week and felt like so many important things fall by the wayside. There were weeks where it seemed like there could never be enough time to finish the work. There were times when I had to miss events to ensure that I met my deadlines.
And for all the work I put in, I also learned that even contract clients come and go. Losing a long-term client — especially a contract client — is rough. But over the last decade and a half, I’ve learned that sometimes an end is really the beginning of something fresh and new.
When an end is a beginning
Over the years, I saw many contract clients come and go. Projects end, goals change, budgets shrink. But there’s one long-term client relationship ending that really sticks out to me as a bittersweet moment in my career.
When I received the call that my contract with this client was ending, I remember looking out the window as the news was delivered. It was a sunny January day, and my kids were just coming home from school. Even as it was ending, so much else was happening. I thanked them, and that was it. I was sad to have the gig end.
I’d been with the publication for more than two years. It paid well. And yet, the end of the contract didn’t come as a surprise — just a disappointment.
When I had started writing for the publication, it was brand new and looking for direction. My experience was tapped repeatedly as they grew rapidly over the first 18 months. As the site developed a niche and a voice, it began reaching an underutilized audience. At the same time, the site changed its needs. They developed a distinct visual style different than my own. Meanwhile, the tone of the writing also changed from a knowledgeable source to edgy, young fun friend.
Being authentic is so important to doing good work. Though I could certainly mimic what they wanted, it wasn’t me — not the writing and not the visuals. Still, we’d tried to make it work for a while. I loved working with the publication.
Still, I wasn’t finding the same joy in my work that I once had. It felt like (accurately) my value to the organization had waned.
So on the day the contract ended, I was okay. The breakup, really, was probably overdue. The publication and I were no longer on the same page.
It’s been several years now. When I think back to my time with that publication, I am wistful. It was a fun group that did good work together. Still, the end of the contract gave me opportunity to really evaluate what I was doing — and what I was passionate about. In the end, I finally realized that in everything I do, I want to inspire people in their everyday lives through my writing. I want to be the voice that says you-can-do-this without saying it.
Parting ways with that client was hard, but finding my overarching joy and passion in writing again was a blessing.
A Last Thought on Long-Term Freelancing
When a long-term assignment ends, it’s natural to be upset. But it’s what happens after that really matters. Do you let it grate on you and hold you down? Do you let it eat at you? Or do you pick up, fill the gaps and take a closer look at what really matters and what you really want?
The latter is the way to go. It will lead to something better. It will give you that new beginning.