Why I’m quitting freelancing after 4 years
I have been a freelance Shopify developer for the past four years. It was a great ride. I am forever grateful for everything I got to experience during this time.
One of the main advantages was the ability to choose the projects I worked on. As ecommerce is such a diverse field, I got to discover various industries: music, fashion, decoration, etc. I built and customized Shopify stores for clients such as LVMH, Universal Music and Balzac Paris.
I also had the flexibility to work from wherever I wanted. Originally from the suburbs of Paris, France, I travelled and spent a few months in different cities like Nice and London (two complete opposite weathers!). Rather than seeing a lot of countries in a short amount of time, I preferred taking my time. It made me very happy to discover each city and be able to show my friends around when they came to visit.
The flexibility of freelancing also showed in the freedom I had to organize my days: my schedule was entirely up to me. Aside from my freelance Shopify developer activity, I dedicated some days to teaching web development at Le Wagon and IESEG Business School. I dedicated other days to building side projects such as Shopify Cost Simulator to help merchants find the most profitable Shopify plan for their business, and Shopify Finder built with my friend Alexis Lepresle to help merchants find the right Shopify freelancer or agency for their needs.
Last but not least, being a freelance Shopify developer allowed me to earn a good revenue. With a rate of 600 euros per day, I was making more money than I would have if I was a salaried developer in a company. Not being a big spender, I saved the vast majority of this money and was able to invest in things that are meaningful to me.
All in all, during my first three years, being a freelance Shopify developer was all I needed professionally. But this year everything gradually shifted, eventually leading to my decision to quit.
Why? This is exactly what I’m going to explain.
First, it was increasingly difficult for me to disconnect from work. The time where I was taking weeks and weeks of vacations during my first year of freelancing seemed very far away. I struggled just to disconnect during weekends. I found myself constantly thinking about work and the tasks I needed to complete. My brain did not have a “switch off” button anymore, I felt like it was always working in the background. My mental charge was higher than ever. Being unable to disconnect also meant being unable to rest properly so I accumulated tiredness. When I realized that I was having a hard time just enjoying the present moment with my loved ones, I decided to take action and change things.
The second reason why I’m quitting freelancing is because I noticed I started having trouble focusing on a single task for a few hours. I had multiple clients at the same time and most of my days were split between them all. This constant switching between tasks was mentally exhausting and, at the end of the day, I often felt like I hadn't accomplished much. It wasn’t rewarding. Reading this, you’re probably thinking “You should have refused some of those missions!”. You’re right. But I chose to seize these opportunities as they were really impactful for my freelance career. Also, did you realize that it’s when you start refusing new clients that the best missions arrive? There must be some kind of ironic rule in the universe. Anyway, I worked on great projects but I still took on too many of them. Their schedules also overlapped each other, making it harder for me to find time for a much needed break.
Third, I felt like I was not gaining new coding skills quick enough. As a freelance Shopify developer, coding was not my main activity. I had a consultant-like position: a lot of my time was dedicated to advising my clients on how to solve their challenges. I understand now that, in ecommerce, technology is not the hardest part. The real question is how do you build a brand that will solve a problem, inspire trust and satisfy its clients enough for them to come back for more? Once you think you have the ingredients of success, then you put the technology at the service of your vision.
I learnt a lot about Shopify as a platform and ecommerce in general. It’s an area I’m really excited to evolve in. However, I now feel the need to step away from the consultant position in order to focus on the developer one. There are so many features and tools Shopify released that I didn’t have a chance to touch on yet.
Coding wise, the missions I learnt the most on were the first ones because I got to discover a lot of aspects of Shopify. I spent countless hours in the documentation to learn how to build features for my clients. But with time, missions follow one another and started to look alike. To gain new skills, the best strategy I found was to take on projects where I did not know how to do half of what was asked. This way, I was able to learn on the fly. It was thrilling and rewarding but I don’t see myself pursuing this type of learning forever.
If I think about it, I only studied web development for 9 weeks at Le Wagon. I started my freelancer journey right after and I always coded alone. After approximately two years of freelancing, I randomly contacted several fellow freelance Shopify developers on LinkedIn and I got very lucky. I met a bunch of talented, caring and kind people who are now good friends. I didn’t experience the freelancer’s loneliness that I often read about. However, I felt like it would have been nice to be part of a team. We did take on a few projects together as a collective but it’s not completely the same.
In conclusion, being a freelance Shopify developer was an amazing experience. I worked on great projects and had both temporal and geographical flexibility, whilst earning good money. However, after 4 years of freelancing, it became increasingly difficult to disconnect from work. My mental charge was higher than ever. And I wasn’t gaining new coding skills quick enough. These are the reasons why I’m quitting freelancing.
Of course, these disadvantages of freelancing are not inherent to the freelancing model itself, but rather to how I approached it during the past year. What I mean by that is that you could very well be a freelancer, work 5 days per week, 5 hours per day and be perfectly happy. But personally I did not manage to set this type of discipline for myself in a durable manner. In the end, I always found myself working too much on too many topics again.
Today, I feel like I need a complete shift to lay out new ground rules that will allow me to be happier. I’m closing this chapter of my life and I’m opening a new one, which I believe will be immensely fulfilling.
For those of you reading this and thinking of the word "burn out", I would not say that I burnt out but I would certainly say that I came close to it. I felt the first signs and made big changes to avoid it.
Professionally, 2022 was a great year: I worked on awesome projects and made great connections in the Shopify ecosystem. 2023 will be similar because I'm still working on amazing projects inside the ecosystem. But it will be fundamentally different: now I'm taking care of myself first.