Failing as a Business Owner and Freelancer

Doors Closed by Covid

Two days ago I officially announced the closure of my web design business. I have not had a new project in eleven months. When the bill for my hosting and domain re-seller account came up due last month, I couldn’t pay it and so my business websites (all of them, including my book website and my writing blog) have been gone since then. But last night I made it Facebook Official.

By admitting it openly to everyone I know, via Facebook, I was finally able to admit it to myself. That has been the hardest part. I’ve been stewing in a puddle of guilt and depression for months because I knew this was coming. I’ve talked openly about my depression, calling it Covid-19 related. And it is. But last night was the first time I was able to admit just how affected by this pandemic my family has become.

You see, I work from home. My husband, as most know, is disabled and doesn’t go out unless he has no choice. So, to many from the outside, since I didn’t have a job that was shut down, it’s just business as usual here. And for the first few months, it was.

My web design business was never overly lucrative. I usually had 5–10 (in a really good year) full website clients a year, and then a couple dozen smaller maintenance or redesign jobs. It was enough to help us keep going, and it was backed up by the usual dozen small freelance graphic design jobs and 2–3 author coaching clients I get each year. However, both of those have effectively gone away as well, with only one small graphics job early this year and one short-term coaching client.

So for me, officially announcing the closure of the “web design business” was admitting to myself that with the official deletion of that business and all of my business and freelance websites with it, 10 years of freelance work, in various fields, has disintegrated. It is gone. I can’t say I am a web designer or a graphic designer or even a freelancer anymore, because I haven’t had a substantial piece of work in any of those areas since June.

The thing is, that finally admitting my failure publicly felt a little triumphant. I know that sounds weird but let me put it another way. I’ve been drowning in a pit of guilt, depression, and despair for months. I’ve generically blamed Covid-19 and politics. But while that was partially the truth, the whole truth was that I knew my businesses, all of them were failing. I knew that I wasn’t getting any new clients because of the impact the Covid-19 shutdowns were having on everyone else in the world. Yet, I was internalizing that as a personal failure. And because of that, I’d become creatively paralyzed.

I couldn’t write anything. The one stream of income I can control as long as I keep putting out books, and I just couldn’t do it. I canceled three book releases because I just couldn’t get them finished. My brain just shut down on me. I’d sit at the computer, open my book files, and then just think, “Why even bother. You can’t make a living at this alone. You’re just wasting your time.” And then I’d shut down the file and play a video game, an actual waste of time.

I recognized this as a sign of depression. And I talked openly about it. But I couldn’t talk openly about the real cause, because I couldn’t really admit it to myself, much less to the world. But then, last night, with tears in my eyes I told my husband the business was gone. When he looked at me I knew this wasn’t news to him. He had just been patiently waiting for me to bring it up. He just said, “It’s not your fault no one can afford to hire you. You are not the only one affected by this pandemic. It’s not a failure when it’s happening to everyone.”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that is essentially what I heard. And then I made the Facebook announcement. And just like that, as if there was spring under my feet and I’d just flipped the switch to make it work, I popped right out of the hole I’d been trying to claw my way out of for months.

I’m still on the edge of it and I can see down into the darkness, but I’m not in it anymore. I’m shaky, but I can feel the solid ground beneath my feet and see the rest of the world around me again.

Covid-19 has slammed a few doors shut, but I live in a house full of windows. I’ve never been one to have all of my eggs in one basket. I still have my Esty store, and as long as the cards, products, and crafts I make on there are at least paying the fees, then I’ll keep that business going. And I’ll keep writing as long as I have energy to push keys on a keyboard. My brain has decided to start cooperating again.

I can’t predict what I’ll be doing professionally this time next year, all I can do is keep going and keep doing what I can do. It’s what has gotten my family through the last ten years, and it’s what will keep us going for however long we have together on this earth.

This has been a very “me” centric essay because I can only write my own experience. But if you are a freelancer or a small business owner and you are struggling, I see you. You are not alone. It is not your fault. Keep fighting.

Writer, designer, maker, body image advocate, over-45 college student and basic June-of-all-things just trying to get by like everyone else.

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