If you’re a freelancer and need to keep your income steady, it can be difficult to line up a stable of clients to ensure enough projects year-round. It’s likely that there will be some point in the year when your usual clients aren’t looking for new work, or you have more difficulty finding assignments within your professional skill set.
When the pace of new projects starts to slow, you might begin to feel antsy about your own economic security. However, you should know you’re not alone.
Sixty-three percent of freelancers experience anxiety due to the unpredictable nature of their work, according to a 2018 survey by popular freelancing platform Upwork. Although many freelancers experience a slowdown at one time or another, it’s on you to decide how you’ll spend this time to better your business. Employ these six freelance tips, and you’ll survive any downturn, even if you aren’t able to completely avoid it.
1. Offer New Services
A great way to retain clients (and hopefully get new ones) is to widen the range of services you offer. If you work in a service business like coaching or training, you can offer a bonus session to clients. If you work online, offer a deeper range of editing, writing, or social media work.
By expanding the range of services you offer, you can keep current clients on your roster, even during a slowdown.
If you’ve been writing for a blog, let them know that you also work as a social media manager. They may hire you to do social media when the writing slows down, which is a great extra way to make cash when money gets tight.
“As a freelancer’s business and skills develop over time, so should their services,” says Afton Negrea, a digital business strategist. “Offering new services to potential clients is a great way to generate more work during a slowdown, but also consider offering new services to existing clients.”
“Chances are if they’ve already worked with you, they’ll be open to hearing about anything new that you’re offering,” she adds. “There’s no need to go chasing new clients if you can offer more to existing and qualified clients.”
Negrea’s not alone in this advice. Freelancer testimonials confirm that learning and offering new services, particularly during a slow period, are key to long-term success.
“When I started freelancing, I only provided content writing,” says Crystal Paschal, a project manager at Ayokay, a full-service digital agency based in Indianapolis. “I was able to learn SEO optimization and began to offer that to clients. If work is slow, I highly recommend making yourself more marketable.”
If you lack additional skills, but want to expand your services regardless, now is also a good time to engage in professional development. Seven out of 10 freelancers increased their skill set within the last six months, according to a 2018 survey. If you haven’t pursued any professional training recently, now may be the perfect time to do so.
Thankfully, there’s a bevy of free, online resources to expand your expertise. Want to become a marketing whiz on Facebook? Use its in-house teaching platform Blueprint and take over 90 free courses. Or maybe you want to create beautiful websites — Khan Academy has a free class in HTML and CSS. There’s no shortage of ways to develop yourself professionally to make sure you’ll always have work to do.
2. Increase and Improve Your Social Media Presence
Social media is a necessary evil when you’re busy. If your freelance work slows down for you, increase your presence there to drum up new clients. Focus on creating high-quality content for all your streams.
On Instagram, take the time to build a stockpile of bright, clear photos to use when you get busy. Delete any photos that don’t fit the theme of your profile or that are low quality. On Facebook, interact with other pages you want to work with and share their content. On Twitter, clean out old accounts that don’t fit your niche and follow — even start interacting with — people you want to work with.
“Improving your social media is a passive way of generating new business while your pitch to new clients,” says Yaz Purnell, a freelance writer and founder of The Wallet Moth, where she provides advice to entrepreneurs seeking to start their own small business.
By improving your presence on social media to show a focused, clean profile of yourself and your work, you make yourself more marketable to new clients when you pitch them for the first time.
Additionally, stepping up your presence on social media means that people might see your content before you even reach out. Build your brand in your downtime to passively attract new clients while you actively pitch projects to potential customers.
3. Update Your Website
Keeping a website up-to-date can be a challenge. Take this slow period to go back through your website, blog, or portfolio to showcase your more recent work. Update old or broken links in blog posts. You can write new content for your own site that shows the brands and companies you’ve collaborated with and showcases your new skills.
A website is often the first place clients get a chance to “meet” you.
As such, you’ll want to make sure your website is search engine optimized (SEO). This way, potential clients can find you quickly and easily. Employ tools like SEMRush, BuzzStream, and Google Search Console to ensure your website is visible when business picks up again.
Additionally, you’ll want your website to be easy to navigate, look catchy, and show proof of your own reliability. Make sure that it’s easy to find the “Work With Me” tab, too.
4. Offer a Discount or Sale
One way to keep clients is to offer a discount on your services. You may not earn as much as you usually do, but if you still need to make money when there’s a slump in new projects, discounts can keep you on your clients’ radars.
You can create new packages that include all your services and offer them at a discount to existing clients. Alternatively, you could offer a slight discount on your services to new clientele to build your customer base. A 10 percent sale could drive in a slew of new clients to offset your decreased revenue throughout this slow period.
If you excel in teaching people new skills, you could offer an online class in SEO, web development, or copywriting at a discount for a short period of time — anywhere between 24 to 48 hours — to create a sense of urgency while drawing in new clients and revenue.
You can post your discounted prices for all to see, or offer them solely to your email list and social media followers. Take stock of all your desirable skills, creatively sell them at a markdown, and you can kiss financial insecurity goodbye for a while.
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5. Pitch New Clients
Slow periods are a great time to think about your dream client. Ask yourself what kind of people or companies you want to be working with.
With a deceleration of freelance work, take time to craft excellent pitches for clients you haven’t worked with yet.
Freelancers should always be pitching. You need to keep clients coming in, and working with new people gives you the chance to expand your portfolio and build your brand.
“The single most important thing to do during any period of drought for freelancing projects is to pitch more clients,” says Sean Sessel, director of the Oculus Institute, a personal development organization. “In order to have a successful and sustainable freelancing career, it’s important to have a pipeline that is a reliable source of leads where you can generate new business.”
“The best places to do this are online freelancing platforms,” Sessel continues. “Upwork and Fiverr are the largest sites for almost any category, and there are many others for various niches, like Expert360 for consultants, Toptal for analytical work, Skyword for creative types, Snappr for photographers, Wyzant for tutors, and so on,” he adds.
“These platforms can become fountains of leads where you can crank up the flow any time you need,” Sessel says.
Pitch to new places. Look ahead to upcoming holidays or events and pitch stories on those topics. Be immaculate in the quality of your pitches and final work, and your business will sustain.
6. Get Organized and Ready for the Future
Let’s face it — New Year’s resolutions on work-life balance and staying organized are frequently abandoned after a few months. If you have more time on your hands this season, use it to prepare for your next busy season, when your hard-earned pitches come through.
Chuck everything that is bothering you. Clean out your work area; organize your papers, finances, and receipts; and tidy up your online — and offline — life. Give yourself the Marie Kondo treatment. Try out new organization systems with your downtime to see if they work for you. Employ tools like Wrike or My Minutes to establish productive habits and prepare yourself for the busy season.
That way, when your freelance work inevitably picks up again, you’ll be ready to do the best job possible. You’ll have everything in place to simply create.
“Getting organized for when your busy season comes is important,” confirms Stacy Caprio, founder of Growth Marketing, a business consultancy company. “You should be using this time to plan and get your best foot ready to go for your main service.
Final Freelance Tips
Hopefully your finances won’t take a hit during this stressful period. If you do find yourself with time on your hands, use it to invest in yourself and get in the best position to earn more when the slump is over. Polish your résumé, learn a new skill, and make this your most productive time yet.
Additional reporting by Kara Perez.