Deciding your own schedules. Choosing your own projects. Working as much or as little as you want. The freelance lifestyle seems like a dream. Only when it isn’t.
Accompanied by all that flexibility and the freedom to work in your pajamas comes the nerve-racking worry of whether you’ll be able to pay all your bills this month. Will that long elusive client finally pay up? Can you afford to replace your broken down car with a functional one and keep up with your loan payments?
So yeah, it’s good when the sun shines bright on you. But unlike a job that brings in an assured salary every month, cloudy days (months?) can burn a serious hole in your everyday finances. Having been in that boat myself, I can guarantee you, it’s not a fun place to be in. So what helped me in those dark days and helped me sail along splendidly eventually? These simple tactics.
1. Dig into your network
When the going starts getting rough, don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends. Be prepared to get a lot of pushbacks, and don’t feel too bad about it. Most people are too busy making their own ends meet to go out of their way and help someone else out. However, there will definitely be a few good Samaritans out there who can guide you to interesting opportunities or who will at least put you on to someone else if they can’t be of much use themselves.
You’ve been active on various platforms, interacting with friends and coworkers for years. You’ve probably built a reputation for yourself and in all likelihood, your network knows what you’re good at. This is the time you tap into these networks and figure out opportunities for yourself. Research proves that social networking is used by employers to find the right candidates. A study by Google shows that the most successful workers tend to be the most active on social networks.
LinkedIn is a great place to start but don’t limit yourself just to LinkedIn. Facebook shows your friends with common interests as yours. Twitter allows you to reach out to just about anyone from Bill Gates to your next door neighbor.
Find people in your niche and don’t hesitate to contact them for opportunities.
2. Create for the joy of creating
Human actions are typically motivated by the expectation of rewards. Professor Wolfram Schultz from Cambridge University shows us that when our expectations from any action are low, and when these actions are met with unexpected rewards, the amount of dopamine released into our brains is huge. Conversely, when we work with clear expectations of rewards that are not met, the resulting crash is nerve wracking.
Take note from this study and prepare yourself for the worst when you’re faced with a slump on the professional front. Do what you do best – write, paint, craft, sing, whatever – without huge expectations attached to your actions. Do it for the joy of your craft and the results will automatically follow through.
3. Learn new skills, explore new tools
A low period in your freelancing career is a good time to retool yourself both literally and metaphorically.
You could opt to upgrade your current skill sets by checking out courses online or at your local community college. I know a friend who built a successful pastry shop business after attending a free workshop on baking and cake decorating at her local arts and crafts store. Websites like edX, Alison and Khan Academy offer hundreds of different modules in a wide variety of subjects for absolutely free. Many universities offer online certificate programs that look great on your resume, upgrade your proficiency and don’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Besides gaining new skills, you can also use your down time to learn about new tools that make your work quicker, better and easier. Frequently, we freelancers double up as our own web designers, content marketers and bookkeepers. Traditionally, we have had neither the money nor the resources to accomplish these to our satisfaction. Fortunately, the internet is now a powerhouse of free tools that enable us to do just that.
For example, MarvelApp lets you turn your mockups and ideas into realistic mobile and web pages with its super simple prototyping capabilities. No need to hire a web developer or designer to do the coding.
You also have loads of help with publishing and marketing your blog and social posts – Snip.ly makes content curation a breeze, PDF Split&Merge allows you to mix, blend and remarket your whitepapers and ebooks, and Piktochart enables you to turn that boring block of industry data into visual content for your C-suite audience.
Finally, if you want a better handle on your freelance business’ finances (who doesn’t?) check out Nutcache for a free and easy to use invoicing and time tracking tool.
4. Spend money to make money
When you’re down on your luck, it seems like every penny saved is a penny earned. While this may have been true for your mom’s generation, today you need to invest in your business to see returns coming from it. Just as a savvy investor puts money into the stock markets during a bear run and sees his money grow when the markets inevitably bounce back to a bull run, create a fund for advertising your services when the orders stop coming in and your business needs that extra push.
If you have a website or a blog, promote it using AdWords and other PPC tools. Are your users active on Facebook? Advertise to your perfect target audience with paid ads on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, as the case may be. Use a tool like Retargeter to communicate to users who have already visited your website before and have shown interest in your services. This is also a good time to revive your email database. Use tools like MailChimp or Vertical Response to build ROI driven email campaigns that will bring you measurable results.
5. Moonlight: Poetry doesn’t pay the bills
When things are not looking up in your core area of expertise, don’t hesitate to branch out. It’s awesome to live on the hope that your next big client is just around the corner, but a freelancer does not have the luxury of “wait and watch” time. Bills need to be paid, the wheels of life need to be greased, and all of that comes at a price.
Head out to the hundreds of multi-disciplinary job boards on the internet and try your luck in areas that may even be a tad out of your comfort zone. Besides that usual suspects like Odesk and Elance, pick from sites like PeoplePerHour or Fiverr to find some truly out of the box freelancing opportunities. Who knows a great new project could just mean the beginning of a whole new career track!
In good times, simply go with the flow, but remember to breathe and have a little fun for yourself too. When things slow down, try the tips detailed above to keep your head above water. Peaks and troughs in your career are expected. With a dash of resourcefulness and loads of positivity, there’s no slump that is unconquerable.
Tracy Vides is a writer, researcher and content strategist, who firmly believes in the power of communication, collaboration and social media to leverage small business! She’s @TracyVides on Twitter.