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June 15, 2001
Freelancers Find Success Accompanied By Longer Hours
By Sherril Steele-Carlin

"My problem is that I hate to turn down work." This may be one of the most common laments of the busy freelancer. If you're a fledgling freelancer, too much work may seem like a dream come true, but for many freelancers, it can turn into a nightmare.

In the 1099 article, "Madame IT," freelance IT consultant Tanya Bub says, "When I started out, I had the typical fear of not having enough clients, so I took on too much work." Now, she's nearly managed to balance her workload with her personal life. "I don't talk to clients on the weekends anymore," she says. However, she's still working overtime if her clients have special requests. "I just do it," she says. "I stay up until 2 a.m. and work through weekends."

Bub isn't the only freelancer who works numerous hours for her clients. In an article from, successful composer Philip Glass tells author Porter Anderson, "Be careful what you want. The trouble with my career is I'm finally doing what I want to do. And the reason it's a problem is that I'm doing it all day long and don't have time to do anything else."

It's a common problem among freelancers. You're finally doing what you want to do, but you still have to pay the bills. Many contractors suddenly find themselves working 60 to 80 hours a week, and actually having less time to enjoy their families, even though they are working at home. In another 1099 article, freelance web consultant Rochelle Grayson
said, "I haven't found that working at home has nearly as many distractions as I've read about. In fact I've found it very easy to just do that one more [work] thing, whatever that one thing is. When you are at home, you might break to make dinner or whatever, then you are on the computer till midnight. I find myself spending a lot more time working than I would if I had an office where I might look and see it's nine o'clock and say, 'This is ridiculous. It's time for me to go home.'"

Working at home can be part of the problem, you can never "get away" entirely from your business. However, another big factor in freelance overload can be the freelancers themselves. Most professional contractors are highly motivated to begin with. They have to be, to run their own businesses. This motivation can manifest itself in perfectionism, ("I can't give up control of my clients," is a common complaint by overworked freelancers). It can also show up in the desire to "please everyone" by never turning down an assignment. Freelancers are driven to succeed, and this can add to their overload.

Driven freelancers talk of working 36 to 48 hours straight, with a few "power naps" in between. They speak of faxing at 2:00 a.m., e-mailing Australia at 5:00 in the morning, and working nights and weekends to finish assignments for clients. All of this can lead to stress, burnout, and even non-completion of assignments.

The solution for many overworked freelancers is to call in help. Some have hired agencies to do part of their work, such as an advertising agency to help with PR for web sites, so you can concentrate on the content and programming. Others have outsourced some of their work to other freelancers. They can still take on new projects, service their existing clients, and pass on some of the overload to other freelancers who need the work.

A successful freelance business should be a dream come true, not a nightmare. Taking on too much work may be one of the negative aspects of freelancing. Freelancers who hope to balance their work and personal lives need to learn how to say "no," to some projects. They also need to learn how to give up complete control, and hire an employee or outsourcer to help them with their accounts. Managing time effectively can also help many overworked freelancers.

Too much success can be just as challenging as too little. Wellness counselor Rebecca Nelson says it best in her column at "Try exploring your fears about saying no. Ask yourself if they're rational. Don't shortchange yourself -- you need to trust that if you say no to one client, another opportunity will come along."

Sherril Steele-Carlin is a full-time freelance writer from Reno, Nevada. She's published numerous articles in print and online publications. She's also the author of the new e-book "How to get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park." Visit her web site at

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