A few weeks ago, I walked away from the best client I've ever had.
Through this agency I got to work almost daily with industry-leading designers, fantastically supportive project managers, and spectacularly ambitious tech startups. I was compensated promptly and well.
All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better relationship. But still, after nearly a year of working with this awesome client, I gave it up.
Because I realized that while I was making good money and enjoying myself, the infrastructure of my business was (and is still) woefully neglected. I was spending all my time improving my client's processes and performance, and doing nothing to optimize my own.
Without even noticing it, I'd shifted from independent business owner to glorified sharecropper, 100% focused on tilling someone else's garden.
And deep down, I knew this was bad.
Don't get me wrong: lots of freelancers would be ecstatic to land a big-fish client that filled their days with billable hours, eager to glut themselves on the money and stability these clients afford them. You relish not having to write proposals, not having to chase leads, not having to worry about your next move. You stop investing time (and let's face it, anxiety) into mapping and building your business's future, and instead fall into a comfortable routine of simply reacting to your client's demands all day.
This was ultimately the one part of this (otherwise awesome) relationship that just didn't sit right with me. Spending all day every day reacting, rather than planning and executing strategies on my own terms, in pursuit of my own goals, at my own pace, wasn't the kind of career trajectory I wanted. If it was, I'd be a full-time employee.
I then looked at the Kanban board in my home office, full of Post-Its dangling in the left-hand "TO DO" column. And I looked at our website, an un-optimized relic from 2014 that my husband John and I both hate. And I thought about how I'd been spending my time day-to-day, unable to remember the last time I'd written a line of code or dabbled with design in Sketch. Instead, I'd been doing a ton of research, writing up reports, and sitting in a whole lot of meetings.
So I walked away ... and finally got back to tilling my own garden. Now, instead of rolling out of bed and into an inbox full of immediate tasks & meetings, I spend my mornings writing and coding, devoting at least two hours every day studying data science and analytics so I can get even more efficient at slicing and dicing data (both for CRO and just for fun). I spend my afternoons refining my service packages and value chain behind the scenes. I answer the bare minimum of emails in the evenings, if I feel like it. I go for runs in the rainforests that surround my house, and practice martial arts in town twice a week.
Most importantly, I look at my day-to-day routine now and like how I'm spending my time again.
Sure, the money ain't great, but it will come. In the meantime, it just feels so good to be back in my own garden, getting my hands dirty, sowing my own seeds again.