I stopped doing design work for clients just over a year ago and a few people have asked me about it. They've asked not only why I decided to give it up, but also for any tips on how to recognize when it's time to stop doing something.
So here goes.
1) Have you thought about quitting?
It's OK to have doubts about whether or not you're on the right track every now and then, but if they're popping into your head regularly it's probably time to start listening.
When I got to the point that I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to continue offering design services more than I was thinking about getting clients, I knew it was time to give up.
2) Are you making money?
Yeah, you might say "I'm not in it for the money" but if you're trying to get paying clients, that's exactly what you're in it for. And if you're not making any money, is it worth continuing?
Let's be honest, not many people start out with a successful business. For most of us, it takes a lot of time and effort to even make enough to pay the bills, but we should eventually start seeing the rewards.
So if you've been labouring away for years and you're still not getting anywhere, it's time to either change what you're doing or walk away. Especially if your business is costing you more money than it's making.
3) Is your heart really in it?
A big reason you might be thinking about quitting, or you're not having much success, is that your heart's not in it. Here's where you should be really honest with yourself because clients can tell if you're not really into the work.
For a long time I wanted to be a designer. I loved drawing as a kid - and still enjoy it - and love coming up with ideas, so I figured graphic design would be the way to go. It wasn't.
Instead of developing a liberating outlet for my creative urges, I was boxing myself in to one form of design. Also, as I'm a self-taught designer, it became apparent that my technical skills were wanting in a few areas. It's OK to get people to help on projects that are outside your skill set, but if you're relying on people to do the work that you're supposed to the expert in, that's not good.
4) Are you operating outside your niche?
I love minimalism so that's why the bulk of the design work I did was minimalist.
I say the bulk of my work because in the beginning I thought it would be a mistake to say I only do minimalist design work as it could alienate potential clients. What really alienates potential clients is saying you can do something that you can't.
Specialization is a good thing. It shows that you're confident in your work and you know where your strengths lie. Potential clients will choose you because of things like that, so make sure you're highlighting the things you really enjoy and do well.
5) Have you chosen the wrong field?
I still love design. I might not offer graphic design services any longer, but that doesn't mean I don't still enjoy design. It also doesn't mean that I've stopped designing altogether - far from it.
As mentioned above, I simply realized I'd backed myself into a corner and ended up doing something I wasn't really comfortable doing.
If that's how you're feeling, it's worth taking a step back and evaluating how you want to move forward. If you still want to pursue the general field you're working in, just from another angle, then write down some ideas and play with them. I've stopped doing client design work and I'm now working on products that incorporate graphic design, for example.
Choosing to give up doesn't mean you've failed. Quite the opposite, really, as you're probably saving yourself from a lot of hassle down the road.
Knowing when to stop flogging a dead horse could be the best thing you do for yourself and your career.