How to survive a dry spell in clients
Despite best intentions and even best practices, most freelancers are no strangers to dry spells. While the goal for any service-oriented business is usually not to have any scary unbooked time, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for if it happens (and it happens even to the best of us). Here are some of the best things you can do when you’re stuck in a dry spell in clients.
Facing an empty docket is no fun task, especially when something goes awry and you don’t see it coming. That actually happened to me not long ago, and what resulted was a full-on freak-out that lasted several days. Freaking out is pretty unhelpful, though; something much more helpful is remembering to breathe.
The reality is, more often than not, a little bit of down-time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve all got bills to pay and maybe there isn’t a savings cushion in the bank, but at the same time, if you’ve been going at breakneck speed for too long, being forced to stop (even if it’s just for an evening with your dear friends Ben and Jerry) could be good for you. If money is an issue, you may want to follow this financial advice from the Freelancers Union; if it’s not panic time, though, thank past-you for setting you up so nicely and then resolve to move forward. No matter what, accept the break for what it is — a break — before doing anything else. And hey, maybe this is the perfect time to take that trip you’ve been meaning to take. Really!
2. Kick your marketing into high gear
If this dry spell isn’t something your budget (or your adrenal glands) can handle for very long, the next thing to do is bust your very best marketing moves. Reach out to your network to see if anyone needs any of your services. Contact past clients to let them know you’re thinking of them and are available for any projects, large or small, in the upcoming weeks. Offer a flash sale to your list. Ask your peers and colleagues if they need to outsource anything and let them know you’re available. Hit up Craigslist or your favorite job boards, if that’s your style.
Once you’ve tapped your usual marketing avenues, maybe it’s time to work on that idea you had for a new tactic but never made the time to pull it off, like putting on a workshop or sending a direct-mail postcard. Now you’ve got nothing but time, so go whole-hog into that new tactic and get it off the ground ASAP.
If nothing else, just do more of what’s worked for you before. It won’t take long for that process to start working for you again.
3. Clean up your space
If you’ve been working hard, you’ve probably got some “stuff” piled up to take care of. Filing papers, cleaning your desk, updating the copy on your own site, working out the kinks in a process or system you implemented a while ago, all of that. Now’s a good time to do some cleaning up — physical, digital, and mental. Having a clear desk, a website with no lingering alerts, and the perfect spot where your favorite pen and notepad can live is oddly satisfying and energizing — just what you need in a time that otherwise can feel a bit demoralizing.
4. Dive into a passion project (preferably one you can sell)
What have you been meaning to build that you simply never had time to pull off? Whether it’s a course, a guide of some sort, a cache of blog posts to schedule out through the end of the year, or even a redo of your own website, take this unexpected break to funnel some energy into that. If it turns into something you can launch and sell, all the better! Check out some ideas here.
5. Take (or finish) a course
How many of us have lingering coursework, books, training, and other skill-adding resources that have been lounging around being ignored for too long? Set aside some of this gig-less time to make progress on any one of those. Pick up a few new CSS hacks, brush up on some business fundamentals, or finally finish Book Yourself Solid. Strengthen yourself as a designer and a business owner now that you have a minute, and you’ll reap the benefits.
6. Clear out some lingering to-dos
If all the business stuff you can stand is taken care of, maybe it’s time to look at your list of all the other stuff you’ve been meaning to do. Want to clean out the garage? Paint an accent wall? Get set up as a volunteer for your favorite cause? Now’s the time.
7. Contact someone further up the chain
For some, this is a been-meaning-to that falls under marketing or cleaning up some head-space. No matter where VIPs are on your list, down time is a great time to reach out to people whose work you admire. Get in touch with some of the big names in your niche and let them know how their work has influenced your own career. Pitch some guest posts on popular blogs to get your name out there. Find ways to connect with people who are one or two steps ahead of you, and let them know you see and admire their work. No one needs to know you’re in a dry spell — all they care about is that you like them.
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8. Set up a system for making sure this never happens again
One of the most important things you can do in a client dry spell, once you’ve got some room to breathe and you’re taking action to rectify the immediate problem, is figure out what led to the dry spell in the first place and how to avoid it in the future. The general rule of thumb is to be marketing constantly, even when you don’t need the work. Don’t become complacent with the state of things and assume the status quo will stick around; instead, do something every day or, at the very least every week, to get your name out there and attract new, better-paying clients. Marketing is the best way to set up a steady stream of prospective clients, and the reverse is true, too: when your marketing dries up, it’s almost guaranteed that eventually your client stream will, too.
What’s your best advice for surviving a client dry spell?