Survivial Skills for Freelancers

Dealing with the quiet times: three simple tips to take the fear out of freelance famine 

Highs and lows. Peaks and troughs. Feast or famine.

Quiet times can feel like an inevitable part of freelance life – and the unpredictability of self-employment can be relentless, however experienced you are.

But there’s a lot you can do to take the fear out of the famine.

Here are three simple tips to make your next quiet spell feel like a gift – not a curse.

Reframe

Stop focusing on the lack of work.

Easier said than done, I know. Being quiet can drag around with you like a dark cloud that impacts your every thought – particularly if you’re someone for whom your self-esteem feels inexorably linked to how busy you are (err, hello!). 

But, as Tony Robbins says, “Energy flows where attention goes.” 

And when you focus on the lack of something, you get more of that lack.

Instead, switch your focus to positive, proactive activity. 

Start a list of projects and tasks you’d love to focus on but can never find the time. Next time work dries up, turn to this list and pick just one – rather than sinking into the inevitable doom and gloom that all too often accompanies a quiet spell. 

You could:

  • Give your website a much-needed overhaul so you can start attracting more of the work you love. 
  • Start drafting that business book you’ve always planned to write.
  • Improve your Canva skills so you can post eye-catching graphics on social media – or teach yourself Facebook ads.
  • Work your way through that growing TBR pile of inspiring business books you never have time to read.
  • Streamline and automate your processes so you’re more efficient when work picks up.
  • Think about starting your own podcast – or catch up with episodes of your favourite show.

PRO TIP

See your next quiet spell as a chance to work on something you’re excited about and you’ll be surprised. As soon as you shift your energy to positive action and stop stressing about where the next job is coming from, the enquiries will start flowing. 

“I spent a recent quiet spell experimenting with new AI tools for video/audio. It was a chance to see if they’d be useful but also to find the flaws. That way I could use what I’d learnt in discussions with clients when they eventually came knocking.”

Steve Folland, Freelance Video & Podcast Editor

Reconnect

You know you should regularly keep in touch with clients and contacts… but when you’re busy, you probably don’t.

This is the time to reconnect with your network. 

Reach out to potential partners, or clients you haven’t worked with for a while. Suggest hopping on a Zoom call so they can share any challenges they’re facing that you could help with.

(Make it easy for contacts to book a call by sharing a live calendar link in your email. I use Calendly but there are plenty of options out there.) 

Remind them of the benefits and outcomes of working with youperhaps you can save them time or headspace, or just make their life easier.

If you can create an unmissable offer to encourage them back, even better.

Here’s an example.

At the start of 2024 I realised I had the potential to take on a couple more DocuMagic clients. I emailed a handful of business owners and marketing managers I hadn’t worked with for a while, offering a discount on a 10-hour monthly retainer package for £690 (usually £840). 

The clients I emailed had sent me documents and web pages for transformation in the past, asking Can you work your magic on this?”. 

It was the perfect fit.

The timing was right, they already knew the power of DocuMagic, and I got the security of a couple of new retainers. Nice!

Just ask

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for work! 

While salesy posts generally don’t go down well on social, telling the world that you have some free time can feel vulnerablebut you may be surprised at the results. 

As long as your post feels genuine and heartfelt, many people will support you by sharing it with their network. You’ll make a bunch of new connections and may even secure a couple of new clients into the bargain.

PRO TIP

The stronger your personal brand – and the higher your profile on social mediathe greater the chance that people will assume you’re always busy and won’t even think to ask if you have availability.

“Take setbacks on the chin. There will be great times, but there will be difficult, quiet, and desperate times. Keep going, surround yourself with good people who’ll help you through, keep pitching for work and getting your name out there, and the tide will turn.”

Matt Drzymala, Freelance Copywriter

Re-energise

Busy times may be great for your bank balancebut they’re not so great for your physical and mental health. 

If you haven’t set boundaries around your time and the things that matter, it’s all too easy to experience overwhelm and, ultimately, burnout.

At its busiest, much of freelance life is spent sitting down, hunched over a laptop, staring at a screen – and it’s not healthy!

With health experts describing sitting as the new smoking, and advice to strive for 10,000 steps each day, inactivity is the enemy to freelancers everywhere. 

Instead of fighting the quiet times, embrace the opportunity to build fresh air and exercise into your day.

  • Take regular breaks away from your desk and stretch out your muscles. 
  • Take a stroll around the block.
  • Go for a swim or a yoga class.
  • Take your phone calls standing up – pacing your living room while chatting to clients and colleagues.
  • Cut the grass or wash the car.
  • Take the dog out for a long walk to keep your joints moving and your creative juices flowing.

The better you are at taking regular exercise when work is slow, the greater the chance you have of building it into your freelance schedule all year round. 

In the immortal words of Radiohead: Fitter. Happier. More productive. 

And that can only be a good thing.

PRO TIP

Exercise boosts creativity, productivity and focusmaking it a daily must-have for freelancers. Even short bursts of exercise release endorphins: powerful feel-good chemicals that help to ease stress, anxiety and depression.

Getting out and about will kickstart your creativity, but you can also use it as an opportunity to create marketing content. Tell your network about your favourite active hobby, create a ‘walk and talk’ video, or use the time to listen to an inspirational podcast. Or just enjoy the moment!

Mel Barfield, Freelance Copywriter

Reality check

As I say in Survival Skills for Freelancers, it’s vital to have savings behind you before you take the leap into self-employment. Most guidance recommends aiming for at least three months of living costsbut the more you have, the better.

Your freelance fund won’t just help you survive while you build up your client bank and begin to get paid – it’ll take the pressure and anxiety out of the lean spells, when money is tight.

Have faith. The quiet times will pass. In the meantime, try these techniques and let me know what works for you.

 

Photo of the bestselling guide to self-employment, Survival Skills for Freelancers, by Sarah Townsend

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