How to Handle Slow Seasons in Your Freelance Business
Welcome to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing Podcast. Today’s topic is getting through a freelancing dry spell. I don’t care what anyone says, one of the most important things to know as a freelancer is when you might encounter a dry spell. It’s key for every freelancer to know how to prepare yourself for it. You need to have a plan to address what to do when things get slow. It can happen to any of us- but you have to know how to get around these slow seasons.
It actually happened to me recently. I let go of 2 clients and at the same time, another client had to pause all of their marketing operations. This was a SIGNIFICANT loss in income. BUT…even in these moments you have the opportunity to think about how you going to overcome it. Hopefully, you have done some of the leg work in advance to be able to help protect yourself through this dry spell.
One of the things you need to focus on and be aware of in your freelance business is building it up to the point of sustainability and replicating your results every month.
It can be very frustrating for a freelancer to bounce around month to month with different levels of income. The more you can scale steadily to where you feel confident in your business the more comfortable you can be with business decisions. Business decisions like how much you are going to pay yourself and how much of your revenue is going to go back into your business.
Freelancing dry spells DO happen. In fact, that’s a big reason WHY I stayed at my day job for 13 months after launching my freelance writing side hustle. I had no idea if there were going to be dry spells. I had an eye-opening experience with this because I came in as a teacher. Now, where I taught you could decide to have your salary distributed over the 12 months of the year. This means you would get paid less monthly, but would still get paid over the summer break. Or you could just get paid during the 9 months of the school year. A lot of the teachers had to pick up other income streams over the summer.
How to deal with slow seasons…
I have been freelancing for 7 years and have seen a trend where every year August is slow. It’s a hard time to market in the summer, but you can drum up some business there. I have also noticed from around December 15-January 15 is a slow period as well. There are several reasons for this. People are distracted during these times of the year whether it’s for back to school, last-minute vacations, holiday vacations, or even just waiting for the year to close out so they can start fresh. Slow seasons in your freelance business can be a shock if you’re not prepared.
There is also a dead zone between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. There will be some people who want to get something done before the end of the year and they may contact you on December 1st. However, it’s extremely important during these times to get things squared away in advance.
1. Track your numbers.
It’s important to track your numbers in a spreadsheet to see how much money your freelance business brings in. This will let you know what months are not your best months. Example: Let’s say May isn’t my best month. So I’m going to use that knowledge going forward and try to book as much work as possible in April. OR… Maybe February is my busiest month so I’m going to take some of the money I earn in February and put it aside in an emergency. It’s so important for you as a freelancer to have an emergency fund. WHY? Well, for example, if you only have one client and you have to fire that client or something happens where you aren’t working with them anymore, where is your income going to come from? This is where I encourage freelancers to not put all their eggs in one basket.
NEVER rely on one client.
Always be marketing heavily in other areas. You need to have protections in place to protect your business. If you have 3 clients and you lose the big one you still have a little bit of a buffer because you have other clients in place. That padding plus saved money (emergency fund) gives you a buffer to get things figured out.
Know how long it takes clients to sign.
For me Upwork clients sign quickly whereas LinkedIn clients typically take a little longer to sign on for my services. I’m not going to ignore LinkedIn. I’m still going to market there. WHY? Because if I lose a big client, it may take 3 to 4 weeks to build up that relationship. So by continuing to market on LinkedIn consistently, I’m always building those relationships.
So now you are in a freelancing dry spell. I am going to assume that you have already been saving a portion of all the income you make for expenses, taxes, retirement, family emergency fund, and 1 month of expense for your freelancer emergency fund. If you haven’t already set up that emergency fund, do so now.
So in this dead zone, it’s harder to drum up work. I don’t know about you, I don’t like to throw spaghetti at the wall and hope it sticks. I’m not going to send out 100 pitches the week before Christmas because they most likely aren’t going to get seen. So why not send those inspired pitches in the beginning of the year when people are thinking about their goals. It’s much easier to market during this time. This is also true for September after people have gotten their kids back to school.
These downtimes are a great chance to update your work samples! Check out: How to Get Clients to Actually Review and Be Wowed by Your Samples
Here are 6 things you can do that don’t involve marketing your business right away.
Reach out to your past clients to see how things are going.
A really organic way to do this is to find an article that relates to their business and send it to them. It allows you to open the conversation, letting them know you had been thinking about them and allows you to ask how things are going. Notice by doing this, you aren’t asking them directly for work. However, if you have lost your only client or have no clients, then yes, ask them if they have any work you can do. It’s an opportunity to re-engage and reopen the conversation about freelancing and how you can help them.
Learn a new skill.
This is the perfect time to think about picking up something that you wanted to do for a long time but haven’t been able to figure out. I decided to learn how to market myself for speaking events. I learned how to pitch myself for Tedx Talks. I used a slow period to write my entire book proposal that went to an agent. This helped me to learn something and go to the next level with it. Maybe you want to learn Facebook Ads or Google Ads.
Turn to your tabled project.
What needs to be done that you have put on the back burner? Maybe it’s your LinkedIn profile. Maybe it’s building a website. Whatever it is that you keep pushing to the back burner get it done in your slow season.
Take some time off.
If you don’t have to work because you have saved your money then take a vacation. I used to always take a vacation in August because I knew it be that hard for me to step away from my business. I always close my office for the week between Christmas and New Year’s because I know that I can turn in whatever would have been do early to my client and it won’t have that big of an impact. Bonus points if you can see this coming and plan ahead to take the time off.
Try something outside of your comfort zone.
Is there another service area that you have been thinking about adding to your business? Where can you step outside of your comfort zone and try something when the stakes are low? Now is the time to try it. It could even be something in your personal life. It gives you a chance to try something out and push yourself.
Refine your marketing.
What’s working? What isn’t? Where have you been slacking in your marketing? A slow season is a great time to look at all of these things and develop a strategy for the next few months. This slow season is a perfect time to take a step back and look at what is working in your marketing. And dump whatever you’re doing that isn’t working.
A slow season doesn’t have to be something where you are panicked because you don’t have income. Ideally, you should have planned for it. That allows you to have this time to reflect on your life and your business and decide what you want to do next. I love having these things built into my year because I know that February through June is a crazy time. It’s always busy. But I know I have some slow season coming after the time I have been pushing pretty hard.
A slow season doesn’t have to be completely negative. It’s a chance to recalibrate and take a break for once. I had a freelance coaching client once who hadn’t taken a vacation in 3 years! We had discussions about taking time off and put it in the calendar ahead of time. I never feel guilty for taking a vacation when I do.
What are your favorite things to do during a freelancing slow season? I’d love to hear more about how you make this downtime work for you. Remember you can always send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to SUBSCRIBE to the podcast so you always get updates about new episodes every week. Also, I would love it if you would do me a HUGE honor of leaving a review of the show inside your podcast app like iTunes or wherever you listen. It helps other people who are freelancers find this show.