Freelance work is awesome, but every freelancer finds themselves, at some point, where the work they’ve been doing is done and there’s nothing else in front of you. Welcome to the horrific moment when the work is out…
So, here’s what to do when freelance work dries up and what to do to try and prevent it from happening in the first place too.
How To Try And Prevent Freelance Work From Drying Up
The best cure is prevention. That means if you manage your business smartly, you can seriously reduce the chances of a dry spell. You can’t eliminate the risks entirely, but you can cut them down substantially here’s how:
- Don’t become a single client business. Seriously, we know how tempting it is to take a massive contract that guarantees you get paid each month and which allows you to work on fun stuff, but this is quite literally the definition of “an employee” and not a freelancer. Freelancers with a single client don’t just risk being dropped in a heartbeat and ending up with no work, but they leave themselves with no negotiating power in their client relationship. Ideally, no client should represent more than 40% of your work over the long-term.
- Always keep marketing and selling. We’ve all made the mistake of thinking that because the good times are here we can stop building our pipeline which is great – right up until the day that your clients have no work and you have nothing coming in the door. If you keep marketing selling in the good times there’s another advantage – not only are you less likely to run out of work but you can start to raise your rates too, clients can now compete for your services rather than you competing for their work.
- Be realistic about client relationships. If a client suddenly halves their workload or starts moaning about every little thing; it may be a sign that the work is being moved somewhere else or that they’re trying to summon up the courage to get shot of you. When you see things like this, take action. Firstly, try to talk to the client to see if they have concerns and how you might address them and secondly, scale up your sales and marketing (see Point 2 – this is never a bad idea).
- Stay on top of your professional development. Times change, industries change, professions change, if you’re not regularly updating your knowledge and skills – you are putting yourself out of work. Seriously, who wants to hire a guy whose skill set died out 10 years ago? All freelancers have to allocate time in their lives for self-development. Even if you don’t intend to immediately use those skills (I qualified as a Google Ads marketer this year – I probably won’t become a Google-based marketer but it can help clients trust me when I talk about marketing in more general terms, I also have a HubSpot Inbound Marketing qualification I never use too).
- Refresh your client base on a regular basis. The real reason most freelancers lose a client relationship is simply that over time, it starts to feel a little stale. The freelancer hasn’t become bad and the client doesn’t hate them – they just want to do something new. When you understand this, it becomes a good idea to try and turn over your own clients for new ones before it happens. I’ve found that 3-4 years seems to be about the ideal length of a relationship. Your experiences may vary.
- Do something entrepreneurial as a side gig. I know that being a freelancer is entrepreneurial but there are other forms of entrepreneurial work which sell products rather than services. Consider trying to build up a website selling things that you create or source. It’s not “passive income” because it takes real work to do this but it is an income flow that’s less subject to the vagaries of a few clients and the market you work in during the day.
What To Do When Freelance Work Does Dry Up
No matter how carefully you design your routine around preventing dry spells they will still come along and at this point, you need to:
- Avoid panic. Take stock of your situation, instead. How much money do you have in the bank? How long can you go without work? What expenses can you cut until the work starts flowing again? By focusing on questions like these you can give yourself a little breathing room to think about how you’re going to approach things moving forward. Whereas panicking serves absolutely no purpose and it doesn’t even make you feel better about yourself.
- Analyze the situation for truth. Seasonality is a real thing. For some reason writing work, for me, has always peaked in September before slowing down for Xmas and New Year than it starts to pick up in April again. You can’t really do much about this kind of cycle. Though, you may be able to find something else to do that has a peak when your cycle is in a trough. Go through your accounts and billing, are you in a real dip or just a temporary lull?
- See if you can fix things. Contact the clients, why aren’t they sending over work? Is there something that you can do for them? If there are problems identified, then you can start tow work on them and iron them out. If the clients just have no work, can they refer you to anyone they know who might have work? Referral business is always better than cold calling.
- Call in the ghosts of jobs past. Assuming you haven’t set fire to your bridges in the past, why not e-mail a bunch of clients you used to work for and ask them for work? Many clients are very happy to hear from an old freelancer and because they know you will deliver, they’re happy to re-engage.
- Grow up. Look, if it’s a week or two’s pause in work – you can be fussy about what you take on. If it’s a month or more, it’s time to grow up and take on work whether it really excites you or not. The truth is that we all have spells when we do projects that we’d rather not – I can remember one painful month where I wrote 300 articles on mobile telephony cell sites because that was all I could get. I lived. So will you.
- Try to reinvent yourself. Take a look at your market and your bread and butter offerings. Are they still relevant? What is everyone buying today? Sometimes, it’s simply just a question of rebranding a service “article marketing” became “content marketing” not very much else changed but if you don’t call it “content marketing” everyone thinks you belong on the ark.
- Look to your business plan. What have you done in the past that worked that you’re not doing now? Are you following your plan or have you deviated from it? There are plenty of lessons to be had from your own documentation and past.
- Sell a dream. When was the last time you sat down and thought about a brilliant project that was really exciting? A while? Well, why not do it now. Come up with something really exciting and see if you can then sell that to a client. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. It’s easier to sell things that excited us too.
- Rework your marketing material. Does your website still look the same as it did in 2002? Do you still use the same logo and font and color combo? When was the last time you reworked your cold e-mails? It might be time for you to freshen everything up and make it feel new and exciting again. Clients like that kind of thing.
- Set targets for contacts with potential clients. 10 contact calls a day. 3 face-to-face meetings a week. That kind of thing. Your objective is to sell your services and that means getting serious about the business of selling. I remember writing 10 bids a day on top of my job when I first started, it was exhausting but essential – it’s how I built my reputation. You have to knuckle down when needed.
- Avoid self-criticism and a defeatist attitude. Unless you really have no marketable skills, in which case, how the hell did you ever get work in the first place? You can succeed. Really, so don’t waste your time telling yourself how bad you are and how foolish you’ve been – there’s nothing to be gained from that. Instead, throw your efforts into rebuilding your business.
What to do when freelance work dries up? Well, there’s a lot to be done – you just have to give yourself the incentive to do it. Don’t get involved in self-pity, take action, instead.
However, it’s worth remembering that you can, through sensible application of your efforts, take a lot of steps to reduce the chances of your freelance work drying up in the first place.