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Freelance – how to handle the quieter months

Posted almost 5 years ago by Ellie Tibbs
Freelance 3

It’s an inevitable aspect of freelance life to experience a quiet period. Some months will be so incredibly busy that you eat/sleep/breathe work, but others may be more than a little thin on the ground. This is common no matter what area of freelance you work in, mostly because freelance by its very nature is unpredictable – and that could be the exact reason why you chose it, so it’s important to learn to take the rough with the smooth.

When these dry spells do occur, you should do what you can to be prepared and ride it out. You can use the down time to still be productive and benefit your business. When the bookings slow to a trickle, before you hit the panic button and question your life choices – or with a more seasoned perspective, settle in to binge watch all the boxsets you’ve missed of late – take a look at what you can do to maximise your downtime:

Develop your skills
Take the time to learn a new skill, be it practically, or via an online course. It may have occurred to you to brush up on certain skills but you’ve simply not had the time, or perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to know more about… Getting to grips with a new piece of software, for example, takes time and this is your opportunity to do so. There’s enormous benefit in continuously developing your skills to offer more value to your clients – you can also claim back tax paid for educational materials because it’s a business investment.

Work on marketing
You are your own salesperson so your marketing toolkit is your most prized possession. Do you have a website and social media accounts? You probably should and they need to be kept up to date and used regularly for them to actually contribute to your business. How about a blog? Start one up, add it to your website, or even offer to guest blog for your contacts – it’s an opportunity for you to raise your online presence, showcase your industry knowledge and comment on creative or emergent tech.

Crack open that black book of contacts and try using the time to network with other freelancers and agencies/brands to bolster your relationships with clients – getting your name out there can help you to build a reliable reputation.

A lacklustre marketing plan may well be the reason that you’re having a quiet month so spend the time valuably by enhancing your visibility. We’d advise you to continue actively searching for work even when you’re fully booked in order to avoid a lull in the future – so there’s no reason why you should take your foot off the gas when there’s no work coming your way.

Get your CV/portfolio up to date
It’s our clients’ biggest bugbear – you’ve done lots of awesome work but there’s no hard evidence to be found because you haven’t updated your CV for over a year. Contrary to popular belief, clients do like to see CVs for freelance contracts and if you don’t have one, or if it’s not updated, it will put you at a disadvantage. Whilst you have time on your hands, get your work history up to date, highlight your best work every which way you can – be it on a traditional CV, digital portfolio or LinkedIn projects. The more you can showcase your talents, the greater the opportunity for consistent, high quality bookings.

Consider your rates
Perhaps work has slowed to a standstill because your rates are no longer competitive. We have seen  contractors unwittingly price themselves out of the market on numerous occasions – this may be due to developments in the industry or a seasonal dip, but more often than not, it’s simply because there are other freelancers who do as good a job at a lower rate.

Conversely, whilst it won’t necessarily mean you get more work, increasing your rates may help the dry spells sting a little less. Clients may in turn, see your increased rates as an indicator of your added skill or experience, offering additional value over your competitors.

You’re at just as much risk of overpricing yourself as you are underpricing. That’s where we come in, give us a call and we can help you to figure out your rates. It’s also worth saying that instead of permanently dropping your rates you may want to consider relaxing your fees; becoming flexible around the quieter months may guarantee you work when other contractors who’re particularly strict about their fees, may struggle.

Plan your finances
Future planning is key to freelance life. An irregular income comes with the territory and it isn’t for everyone but it is entirely manageable if you’re smart. The freelance calendar traditionally tends to run from March to November. Being savvy about what you’re earning – and more importantly, what you’re saving – can enable you to sit out the quiet times without worrying about covering your bills. We’re not going to tell you how to spend your hard earned money but it’s wise to appreciate the good times and perhaps squirrel a portion away for the rainy days.

Talk to us!
…it’s what we’re here for. We can advise you when times get tough and you’re unsure of your next move. If you’re struggling, we may even suggest that you consider temp-to-perm roles for the time being, there’s no harm in keeping your options open. Even if your preference is for longer contracts, we may well be able to find short contracts for you, which will tide you over until the next longer booking comes along.  Rather than holding out for the (sometimes illusive) lengthy contracts, our advice is to take the shorter contracts as you never know what each opportunity may hold, and those two days could turn into two weeks or even months. If it doesn’t yield a long term fixture, you’ve made another contact and kept your mind from going idle when other opportunities are proving few and far between.

Take a holiday
You may find the dry spells are a perfect time to hop off the conveyor belt and take a break. Everyone deserves time off and perhaps you thought it too risky to enjoy a vacation whilst the going was good, so it may have been a long time since you took time out for yourself. So schedule some me/family/holiday time and relax with your nearest and dearest, jet off to hit the slopes or soak up some rays. You’ll return to work refreshed and ready for when the market naturally begins to pick up again for a new year of business.