This is a guest post for the MELD Coworking blog written by Matt Harris.
It’s part of freelance life. At some point, just as you feel like you’re hitting your stride and ready to take the next steps in your freelancing career, you stop picking up clients.
Freelancing is, by its nature, more unpredictable than traditional office jobs. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And no, it doesn’t matter what kind of freelancing you do. There isn’t any one industry that is immune to dry spells.
It’s also important to remember that a dry spell isn’t necessarily a reflection on your skills or prices. It can be tempting to assume that a lack of new work means that your work isn’t up to standards or that you’re charging too much.
Take a step back, relax, and remind yourself that your clients love your work. Now is not the time to go back to an old office job or drastically lower your price point. Here are some ways you can prepare for the inevitable freelance dry spell, and how to make the most of them when they come.
Since freelancing can be inconsistent, it’s important to stay on top of your financial planning. Consider how much time you spend on projects vs how much you own. Dry spells can actually be a good opportunity to raise your prices if you’ve been under-charging.
It can be hard to tell if you’re over or undercharging for your work. A lot of freelances evaluate their work based on the value it has for them, but it can be easy to forget the value to your client.
Since you have some extra time, consider using a salary calculator or another tool to see what you’re averaging on past projects.
Remember that clients will balk at extravagantly high prices but will often negotiate prices that are slightly higher than they want. Low prices can turn clients away too. A low price means low quality. You’ve got the experience and expertise; you should expect to be paid for it.
Now that you know how much you’re making, on average, it’s time to check on your savings. Freelancers should always be working on a nest egg to cover their next dry spell. You should aim for enough to cover your bills and expenses for about two months.
Hopefully, you won’t ever have a dry spell that lasts two months, but that way you have a comfortable buffer just in case.
You also need to be saving for taxes and should be saving for your retirement and big purchases like a new car or home. Now that you know how much you make, it should be easy to make sure you’re budgeting the same amount of money for taxes, retirement, and other expenses as you would be if you were making that salary in the office.
Experts recommend saving about 30% of your total income each month. That may overshoot your tax expenses by a good bit, but that just means that you have a little extra buffer and can get yourself a treat after paying taxes.
Here are some freelancer money management tips that can make it easier to avoid shortfalls when work dries up.
Network Your Way Through
Networking is important for all professionals, but it can be a literal lifeline for freelancers. A dry spell is the perfect time to up your networking game or to draw on some of those old contacts for new work.
Consider attending freelancer and entrepreneur networking events. These are generally going to be held in large metro areas, but you can find networking events anywhere. You can also consider networking events for small businesses, especially if you’re actively looking for new local clients.
Brush up your LinkedIn profile while you’re at it, and work on personal webpages and social media.
You may also want to look for a coworking space designed for freelancers and entrepreneurs. These spaces mimic the experience of a traditional office but are designed specifically for self-employed workers, and remote workers who occasionally need office space.
Coworking spaces can be great networking sites. They offer breakrooms and natural conversation opportunities. You never know when you might find someone in a similar field who either hires you themselves or sends new work your way, just because you had a quick conversation over break room coffee.
Contact Old Clients
Its easier to get new work from an old client than it is to get an entirely new client. It’s worth firing off a few emails to old clients, even if you’re also pitching new clients. Even if your previous clients don’t have work for you right away, they might have additional leads.
Some clients will also actively refer freelancers to colleagues if they know the freelancer is looking for work. Word of mouth is better by far than cold pitching a new client.
Have a Backup
It can also be helpful to leave a few old jobs or contacts open so that you can pick up the occasional odd shift or project.
These aren’t necessarily old contacts, but professional relationships that you have maintained over time. That way, if you run into a freelancing dry spell, you have something to help make a little extra income in the meantime.
Make the Most Of It
One thing a lot of freelancers forget is that a slow period can be a great opportunity to expand your business, try new interests, or catch up on rest and housework.
Freelancing is often busy enough that you end up putting other concerns aside. Keep a list of the bigger projects and housework that you can’t get to during your normal schedule, and take these opportunities to get caught up.
It’s also a good time to take a professional development course, get some extra sleep, or focus on your blog and other personal pages. That way, when you do have new clients interested in working with you, you’ll be able to put your best foot forward.
Early in a slow period you should try to brush up your resume, update your portfolio, and spend some extra time on any public-facing websites.
Dry spells don’t have to be a bad thing. Think of these moments as opportunities to reflect on your professional growth and career path. It’s a fantastic time to build your credentials or learn new skills.
The key to getting through a dry spell is planning and preparation. Don’t let yourself get discouraged too easily, and make sure you have the financial resources to get through a temporary slow period.
About the Author
Matt Harris is part of the product team at Messagely and is fanatic about providing the best user experience possible. When he’s not working on Messagely, chances are good that you’ll find him in the kitchen creating a tasty paella. He’s very much into cooking and Spanish food.