When you’re a full-time freelance worker, you don’t always have the luxury of knowing when you’re going to get paid. A regular full-time employee can easily calculate just how much money they will be earning every single day based on their salary or hourly wages. Unfortunately, freelancers can’t always calculate their salaries in a similar way.
As a freelancer, you don’t always know when your next client will want to hire you again for your work. You don’t always know what the rates are going to be or if your client will even pay you on time.
According to The Freelancer's Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams―On Your Terms by Sara Horowitz, a 2011 survey found that almost 80% of freelancers felt like they didn’t have enough work during the previous year. Furthermore, almost half of all freelancers surveyed went for long periods of time without a single job – an average of 15 weeks. Over one-third of those who went for a long period without work ended up spending some of their savings that were intended for other purposes.
Those are some scary statistics.
Since you don’t have the same peace of mind that full-time employees do when it comes to wages, you need to be proactive and get out there in order to find work. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the market is always offering something.
The bitter news is that most freelancers will have “dry spells” or periods where they simply can’t find any work. These can last for simply a few days or go as long as a couple months. It’s easy to lose hope and even easier to lose money, but that doesn’t mean that things can’t turn around.
The key to surviving these droughts of work is to do something you should already be good at: staying productive. Here are some things you should do when you’re not finding work.
1. Network. Networking isn’t just for unemployed job seekers looking for their next full-time role; it’s for everyone who wants to establish themselves in the professional business world. You can connect with clients, referral sources, other freelancers, and other generally nice people.
Just don’t be that one person who is there just to hand out business cards and leave a conversation when something isn’t going your way. Try to make as many meaningful connections as you can because, at the very least, you might run into someone whom you really enjoy talking to. Be sure to add your connections on LinkedIn and follow up with them when you can.
2. Build your personal brand. Having trouble attracting clients? Maybe it’s time to step up your self-marketing game a little bit. In the same way, a hapless job seeker might use this time to spruce up their cover letter or resume, you too can use this time to enhance your portfolio.
Look over your previous works and decide which ones you really want to showcase. Ask some of your former clients to write reviews that you can quote on your web page. Make a list of all the news outlets that have raved about you and quote them to add some credibility to yourself and your work.
3. Learn some new skills. With the entire internet at your disposal, you can pretty much learn everything that you ever wanted to learn. Now would be a great time to perhaps enroll in a class, be it physical or online, or read a book in order to pick up something new.
You can use these skills to become an even better worker than you were before. Perhaps you’ll learn something relevant to your field or train yourself in something a bit more general such as communication or marketing. Either way, you certainly won’t regret taking the time to improve yourself.
4. Make some cold calls. Remember that one business card from the client who mentioned something slightly positive about your work? Time to pick up the phone and dial that number. What about your former client whom you haven’t talked to in two months?
Well, fire up the laptop and get to sending a few emails. It is up to you to do whatever you can with your network and to make use of all the tools at your disposal. If this means making a few mildly uncomfortable calls, then so be it. At the very worst, you’ll have to sit through an uncomfortable conversation. At the very best, you’ll find a new gig or be referred to someone who can use your services.
5. Take care of the other administrative work. Being a freelancer is more than just doing your client’s work. In other words, a freelance graphic designer will have to know a lot more than just how to do graphic design.
They will need to know how to organize their portfolio, keep track of all their financial statements, keep tabs on everyone in their network, know when to reach out to people, know how to negotiate for favorable terms, have a reliable contract ready for new clients, and much more. Now that you have some free time, you can use it to do some of those other things that have been sitting on your to-do list.
This way, you can tackle everything that needs to be done and be absolutely prepared for your next client.
6. Take up temp work. When in doubt, perhaps you can try doing something else other than your main freelance job. Call up some local temp agencies and see if they have any work for you. Keep in touch with them in case you need to refer to them once again for more work.
Many of them can get you short-term one-or-two day gigs that will help fill your pockets and pay the bills when times are rough. You might even be able to network and meet some new people.
7. Enjoy your slow time. It may be hard to focus on anything else when work is slow, but it’s also a great time to reflect on what’s going well in your life. Maybe you have kids that you can spend more time with, and even though this may be a tough time financially, it can be a great time personally and emotionally.
“I found that with slow times, I’m able to focus on other aspects of my life with more attention and awareness,” says one writer at The Toddle. “Then when things pick up, I know that I spent my down time in a way that helped my family and I stay together and strong. It’s a win-win situation if you look at it that way.”
Being a freelancer certainly isn’t easy, but that doesn’t stop approximately 54 million Americans from doing it as one of their primary sources of incomes. With thousands of new businesses being started every day, the pool of clients has never been bigger.
Whether it’s a magazine looking for a new article to publish or a startup that needs their web page to be re-designed, freelancers are there to help get the job done. The freelance life might not be for everyone, but those who can make it work will reap the benefits of setting their own hours, working at their own pace, and being their own boss.