So You’re a Failure

Everyone comes to a point in their life where they feel like a failure. Nothing seems to go right, does it? It’s even worse when the failure has to do with your freelance business, as that means everything in your life is in jeopardy–from the mortgage to putting food on the table.

So what do we do when we begin to get the tugging feeling that things aren’t going quite so well? What if we’re already at the brink of quitting?

Everyone fails at something, but the trick is to keep trying to make it a success. No one is a failure until they give up, and there’s always a way to learn from your mistakes and turn the issue into success.

Figure It Out

The first thing you need to do is to figure out why you feel like a failure. Are there real issues in your business, or are you just feeling the normal anxiety of periodic issues and slowdowns that come with freelancing?

What you need to do is to step back, take a breathe and assess your business. If you’re feeling a slow down, perhaps now is the time to update your portfolio and work on some new marketing efforts. When was the last time you sent out some guest articles or helped someone out on Twitter? Instead of sitting around during the slow times, take the time to get your name out there, as the slow down could just be the result of you being too busy to keep up with the community.

If you’re to the point where you’re getting ready to default on bills, now may be the time to break out the emergency fund (you do have one, right?). This is the time where freelancer start to question their decision to go it alone and wonder whether they should begin looking for a new job.

Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker.
– Zig Ziglar

Continue to Risk or Find a Job?

I’ve heard plenty of stories from people who left freelancing for a full-time job because they couldn’t “find” work. If you really decide that you hate freelancing, then great, go back to a regular job. Some people just don’t like working on their own and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If, however, the reason you’re contemplating going back to a job because “you have no choice,” then I caution against it. Sure, a job can bring about a steady paycheck, but there’s really nowhere to go from there. All of the advantages you get from freelancing just don’t exist at a job.

If you’re having issues finding work, it’s not because there’s a shortage of it. It’s because you’re looking in all of the wrong places. I’ve had developers who do the exact same thing as me and charge less complain that they have no work, when I’ve had so much I’ve had to give some away. How then, are the clients getting lost between us?

I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.
– Thomas Edison

Assess What You’re Doing Wrong

If you’re feeling the pinch of no work, you need to figure out quickly what you’re doing wrong. If what you’re currently doing isn’t working, it’s time to explore other options. Have you been looking around town for clients? Perhaps it’s time to hop on the web and look for clients in other states and countries. There are so many ways to find new clients, depending on the ones you want. I always suggest choosing a type of client and marketing to them only. You can decide to work with only small businesses, only with food industry businesses, only with agencies or any type of client you’d like. Find out who needs you and go after them.

Think also about the kind of work you’re doing. Is it something that’s in demand? Do your skills need to be polished? No one wants to hire someone who produces work that looks like it was made in the 80’s, so take an active role in keeping up with the new skills and trends in your industry. Try to learn something new and see if it takes off. Perhaps, you’re just offering the wrong thing to potential clients.

What about your portfolio? Is it up to date and easily navigable? Are you even listed on Google yet? Or would it take someone scrolling through 500,000 search pages before they came to your site?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

The Secret

The secret to being a successful freelancer is an easy one to remember, but the hardest thing to do. Be found. That’s it. Everything after that is just using common sense by offering great service. The majority of clients for freelancers usually come from referrals, or from their name being mentioned several times, whether on Twitter, Facebook or through blog posts. Make sure people are talking about you, otherwise you risk becoming obsolete.

Remember, if you’re just starting out, it takes time to be known. It took me a full two months when I first started to have steady work. It took a year or so of being active on Twitter and writing articles for several popular blogs before I started getting the “we’ve seen you everywhere!” kind of work.

The secret of success is consistency of purpose.
– Benjamin Disraeli

Stop Making Yourself a Failure

Turning your failure around into a success isn’t hard, you just have to change your attitude. Stop blaming your failures on everything else but yourself. It isn’t the economy, it isn’t your computer, it isn’t your family. It’s you. The sooner you realize you are in complete control of yourself, you’ll realize it really isn’t that hard to go out there and be successful. You may never get to be famous, but who cares?

Success is being happy with your work and able to pay your bills
– Me

Your Thoughts

What have you failed at in life? How did you overcome it?

Image by fireflythegreat


  1. says

    Brava, Amber! You’re saying what I’m always saying to the freelance editorial professionals whom I mentor: There is plenty of work out there for everyone, but *you* have to go out and get it. *You* have to make yourself visible. No one is going to walk up to you and hand projects to you out of the blue.

  2. says

    Thanks Amber for your great article; I think I am doing things right and have been on SmashingMagazine for my business card design amongst other places but yet I still get little work. I am too tenacious to give up and found a few good tips and pointers in your article; the thing that ‘scares’ me though is if I email or phone potential clients and studios does that not make me a Spammer?

  3. says

    @RobbyDesigns It depends on how the email or phone call is worded. I’d go with email versus calling places, as it gives the client a chance to ignore you or respond on their time. You’re not calling in the middle of something. If you word the email well, make it personal to yourself and the client, it’s not spam. Good luck!

  4. says

    Look for a new job??? Where do you think that they are going to find it.

    Now we are back to the 90% of sales is done by 10% of the sales force question.

  5. says

    That’s it ! Great article, the real deal is to continue your efforts even when you think things aren’t going well. Big success isn’t built in a day !

  6. says

    @Gold In our industry (the web), there is never a shortage of jobs. I’m always coming across businesses who can’t hire enough programmers, designers, or copywriters. You just have to get out and look.

    @Loic Thanks!

  7. says

    @Amber- That is not my industry. How can you say our industry. If work was as plentiful as you suggest, why would one have to look?

  8. says


    Well, according to this article there are no external forces at work whatsoever. Philosophically speaking, this article is half right.

    So it goes…


  9. says

    I love how this post addresses realistic problems but somehow leaves you feeling good at the same time. I can vouch for the solutions you mentioned and appreciate the encouragement about not going straight to the full-time-job world just because you feel like you have to. Often, desperation lights a fire under your butt and things seem to turn around. :-)

  10. says

    I failed at moving to Japan.

    I sent out about eight applications and had five interviews before I finally landed it. Since that experience, and with a few job changes, I learned some interviewing skills and a lot more about the way business works. I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve screwed up as much as I have.

    When you slip and fall on your @$$, don’t blame the ground for the pain, blame yourself and buy better shoes.

  11. Kris says

    It’s important to handle a job search like a project that cannot fail, never stop the project until the goal in completed and by any means necessary. There are tons of job listings out there but make an attack and focus on more specific details in not only yourself but in your future benchmarks to achieve the ultimate goal of your project, like get a job, find the job is just a step to the goal.

  12. says

    When the author says “It isn’t the economy” that could be a reason for the work slowdown, I have to wonder. Last time I checked, we were in a full-on recession,
    at least in my business.

    In any case, perhaps the photography business is different from the business you are in. All I know is that my skills get better and better, the quality of my work gets better and better, my ability to keep in touch with clients and would-be clients gets better and better, and yet the boat is filling with water faster than I can get it out. And, yes, my website looks modern and is well-organized.

    But when everyone who owns a camera seemingly thinks that they can do my job, that impacts us photographers greatly. “DIY” means putting a whole lot of other people out of work.

    Beth H /

  13. says

    @Beth We’ve actually been out of a recession for quite a while…almost a year now I believe (if you’re based in the US). I know Photography is a bit harder, since you have to be physically present, which limits your clientele area. I actually have a great photographer friend who does a lot of traveling and makes a good living out of it..not sure if you’re up to that.

  14. says

    Amber, I just *knew* someone would mention that we are “out of a recession”! I regret placing those words in there, because it may be technically true, but many people still FEEL like they are in one.

    As the old Eastern joke goes: This is all an illusion, but if we hit that wall over there at 60 miles an hour, it’s going to feel really REAL. ;-)

    I happily travel for work, if people want to hire me – No problems there.

  15. says

    @amber – You told me that there was a lot of jobs out there. All that I had was to get out and look…”Because jobs just don’t fall into your lap”.

    So What is Look or Move?

    @Beth – My suggestion is that you develop your website to enhance your mailing list and then can you use it to sell something. Then when photography picks up you work that and your affiliate business should continue to be making money while you are taking pictures.

    There is a saying that anytime you have more that 10% or your business coming from any one source you are in trouble.

  16. says

    @Gold Not sure what you’re arguing with me about…are you expecting for work to just knock on your door? If you’re in an area with “no work” (I highly doubt that unless you live in the middle of nowhere) and your job is somehow unable to be done over the internet (like Beth’s photography), then well, yes you’ll have to move.

    Ask anyone who’s ever succeeded and they’ll offer the same advice as I had. It would be very wise to invest in as many business/social media/industry books as possible, especially in something like 37signal’s books, as they’re invaluable for learning from other’s mistakes and successes.

    If you’re expecting me, or anyone else for that matter, to give you the golden ticket for being successful, you’ll be sorely disappointed in life.

  17. says

    @Amber – Your very funny. I thought that would get your goat. You have some good thought. Maybe they’ll work and maybe they won’t. As for reading the books, I write them.
    After more than a half a century of freelancing I’m still learning.

    I’ll tell you a little secret. As you get older your opinion and thinking changes.

  18. says

    Reading this article was like reading poetry. Maybe you have some undiscovered talents, Amber :)

    I think that things I’ve read here are pieces of much greater puzzle that bothers people in general, not just freelancers. Things like alienation, depression, “risks of being alive”, changing daily routines, engaging in conversations, etc.

    A true gem among the sea of “seo optimized” articles.

    Thank You.

  19. says

    @Gold: Amber is telling you that in order to get work, you need to apply effort. In the real world, does a job fall into your lap or do you get one after you go to many interviews? Same shit, different medium. No job, whether in the real world or web just falls into your lap (until you’re doing great work are clients are referring others to you). Since I’m looking for a job now, I should know, right?

    The entirety of the post is saying to stay positive and work hard at your goals, and I agree. I’ve been learning the web for a few years now and after spending some time on a forum, getting to know people, they are asking me to work for them. This stuff takes time, you need to build your recognition/brand and you need a skill set worth hiring you for. Getting your name out there, learning the skills requiring to complete your job, and delivering good work are the keys regardless of industry. If you never seek to get your name out, people will never just be coming to you. That is after you become established.

    Everytime I read one of Amber’s posts, I feel like I want to freelancer more and more. Is it any wonder why she’s successful? I’m sure it has something to do with her confidence in her self-worth and what she has to offer freelancers/businesses. :)

  20. says

    I largely agree with what Daquan and Amber (and others) are saying here….BUT….

    to assume that hard work and talent will definitely result in work is just foolhardy. If life was that way, we would see a more equitable distribution of talented people in all sectors / jobs, and the world would be – dare I say it – fair. We know things are not that way in the real world, right?

    Chance plays a larger part in this stuff than most people would care to admit.

  21. says

    Chance plays a part in everything, from landing a job to competitive gaming, but “chance” is outside of your control. So why not place energy and focus on what is within the realms of your control? Excessively complaining about chance could get you nothing, but working towards your goals has a much better probability, even if they are slim.

    I’d say this applies to any type of work, whether it be landing something in-house or just clients for freelancers. Since chance isn’t an element I can control, there’s no point in me worrying about it. The important thing is to set yourself up for success, and it starts with a positive mindset. Things don’t always go your way, but you need to be persistent. The economy is tough right now, but I’m not about to give up on myself. Not now, not ever.

  22. says

    This is exactly what I’m feeling right now, but at the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking that if I left my ‘insanity’ for the virtual world, I might terribly miss it one day. I easily find crazy inspiring stuff online, so this write up cools down my “Failure” turmoil. ….. The blog I’m running with is with the greater purpose, so my stand is to hold on without expecting anything in return!

  23. says

    Beth, have you thought about selling stock photos on iStockphoto for example? how about writing an ebook with photography tips that you could sell on your website? there may be alternate revenue streams that you haven’t thought about.

  24. says

    Great Post Amber, I really like your quote : “Success is being happy with your work and able to pay your bills”. This is what it’s all about. Sometimes making less money but doing what you love has no price. I’d rather have time on my side.

  25. says

    @Daquan: The creative arts all have one characteristic in common. The buyer of creative services doesn’t have the any idea of what he is buying until is is created and delivered.
    Robert’s book is now available and more information about freelancing may be had by clicking on my name above.

  26. says

    Right on Daquan! I agree with you 100%.

    I just think it is also important to acknowledge chance as well as the *other* stuff. For years – and Amber does not do this, thankfully – we have had all sort of syrupy advice from people telling us that if we just ” think nice thoughts” etc that we will get what we want. At best, this thinking is stupid, and at worst, it blames the victims.

  27. says

    One more (interesting and funny) thing: I was watching a round table of hugely successful Hollywood people and MOST of them said that they did not have a “positive attitude” etc etc and really thought things were not going to work out for them.

    So, while they did “set themselves” up for success, they did not have the requisite positive mindset.

    It was a fascinating window into the minds of these decidedly not-chirpy people. ;-)

  28. says

    Statistics is what it takes and not chance. Here are the facts. You call on 1000 prospects and you expect a certain percentage of successes. Maybe, if you call on ten thousand prospects and one would expect the same percentage plus on minus 1 or 2 percent.
    If you so strongly think that it’s chance, why don’t we see you at the racetrack?

  29. says

    How do you know I am *not* at the racetrack, lol?

    Besides, if you actually READ my comments I said that chance was PART of the equation that should not be ignored, you silly person.

  30. says

    Finding a job can be good for freelancing too.

    You don´t have to freelance all the time. If you are stuck, you can stay out for a year or two and then come back, refreshed and reinforced.

    There is nothing like working from someone else to motivate you towards freelancing again :D

    Great post, keep it up!

  31. says

    Great article, Amber! I’m definitely glad I subscribed to Freelance Folders RSS. I’m just starting out as a freelance. Do you have any tips on finding clients? I don’t really know how to approach businesses to see if they need design work. Any ideas you have would be greatly appreciated.


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