Ebb and flow is a natural part of freelancing. If you’re like me, you have a few steady, ongoing clients, and the rest of the work is project-based. It often seems that you’ll start a few one-off projects around the same time. You’ll complete them in a few weeks or months and realize you’ve been so busy working that you’ve failed to pitch or apply to new clients. For a week (or two or three), you’ll coast along with your long-term clients in one of those inevitable ebbs.
Having freelanced full-time for over two years, I’m no stranger to the ebbs. In my earlier freelancing days, my initial reaction was to panic, desperately start pitching and applying to any opportunity I could find, and beat myself up for my lack of forethought. It took me a (very) long time to use the inevitable ebbs effectively and allow myself to actually take advantage of the downtime.
Next time you’re in between freelance projects, remember that it’s the nature of the industry. Don’t panic! Set aside time each day to continue your ongoing work and pitch and apply to those clients and projects (and only those clients and projects) that align with your brand and expertise. During your next lull, don’t forget to take time to focus your business and yourself. Below are 20 things to work on when work is slow:
10 Ways to Work on Your Business
- Make updates to your portfolio or website
- Catch up on writing case studies for past and current clients
- Gather testimonials from past and current clients
- Make sure your contract and policies are up to date
- Implement something new, like a newsletter, blog, or social channel
- Check in with your long-term clients
- Amp up your social media presence
- Develop a new offering, product, or service
- Brainstorm how to grow your existing clients
- Revisit your business plan and long-term goals
10 Ways to Work on Yourself (and Your Creativity)
- Spend more time outside
- Try something new – learn a new hobby or skill
- Amp up your workout routine
- Read a book
- Spend time with others – try a breakfast, lunch, or coffee date
- Explore your city like a tourist
- Travel to another city
- Do something spontaneous
- Cook dinner, bake something, or try a new recipe
- Get back to you and do what you love
Many of us chose to freelance full-time, yet we forget to embrace that flexibility and power to shape our own schedules. We look at our roommates, partners, or friends, and we tell ourselves we should be working nine to five, Monday through Friday. We must remember why we’ve taken the road less traveled in our careers: for the opportunity to pave our own way and build unconventional businesses.
Last week I had a girl’s night with one of my friends and fellow Spark co-leaders. After much-needed mani/pedis, we sat down over wine and cheese to catch up. Inevitably, the conversation shifted to our work and, eventually, to the upcoming Spark event, focusing on growing your freelance business. We commiserated about feeling underqualified to lead a discussion on the topic since it was something we each struggled with in our careers.
A week later, the moment of truth arrived: the night of the monthly Spark event. I approached it optimistically, hoping a freelance veteran would attend and spill the magic secret to get from point A to point B in your freelance career. Of course there is no magic or secret to growing your freelance business. What I took away from the discussion is that in order to take your freelance career to the next level, you have to achieve a careful balance of give and take – it’s all about knowing what’s worth investing to get a better return.
What You Put In
Bottom line: you have to put something in to get something out. Your most valuable resources are time and money, and you have to learn to invest both wisely to successfully grow your business.
One of the most common time investments for freelancers is pitching – pitching concepts to leads in hopes of gaining a new client or pitching new ideas to existing clients in hopes of expanding their scope of work. Once you begin to grow your freelance business, time becomes an increasingly precious (and sometimes scarce) resource – your cash flow may vary, but there are only 24-hours in a day! When time starts to become your limiting factor, it may mean that you need to invest some money into outsourcing a portion of your workload by either hiring an employee or automating some of your tasks.
Investment: Time Investment: Money
Example: Pitching Example: Outsourcing
What You Get Out
The amount of money you earn isn’t the only way to measure your success as a freelancer. The amount of time you get back and can re-invest in your business is another good indicator of a growing and thriving freelance career.
Passive income is one way to give yourself more time. Yes, the term “passive income” is a bit misleading – it’s not completely passive. It typically requires you to devote a certain amount of time, and possibly money, upfront. The goal of passive income is for the return to eventually exceed that initial investment. It’s crucial that you’re clear on how much time or money will need to go into a passive income project upfront and what you’ll need to achieve in order to profit.
Another way to regulate your cash flow without raising your rates is to explore retainer packages and value-based pricing. A retainer may be a good option for a long-term client who gives you consistent work. With a retainer, a standard fee is agreed upon and paid upfront in order to secure your services on an as-needed basis. Value-based pricing is perfect for the client who’s in a rush or panic – one who’s either under a tight deadline or who’s had a hiccup in-house and needs help fixing the mishap. Having a standard rush-fee for these types of projects can help you to get more value for your time.
Return: Time Return: Money
Example: Passive Income Example: Retainer or Value-Based Pricing
If your business is on the way to reaching that next level, you may be wondering, what now? The next step could be considering an LLC or incorporation. Whether you want to grow your team, better protect your personal assets, or just add some extra credibility to your business, restructuring may be the way to go. Like everything you need to grow your freelance business, taking this step requires both time and money. Not sure if you’re ready to take the leap or if this would be a smart move for your business? Check out incorporate.com for more details on the process.
Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in over twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. Next month’s event is focused on financial freedom – you won’t want to miss it! If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan Spark, and say hello! I’ll be there co-leading! For more information about Freelancers Union or Spark events, feel free to tweet me @AOCBlogGirl – I’d be happy to answer your questions.
As I stepped off the escalator and headed toward the stairs leading down to the subway, I could see the uptown train waiting. I started sprinting, as every good New Yorker does, but as I reached the platform, I could see the train doors were closed. Damn, I thought, just missed it.
I stood there, expecting the train to depart any second, but it didn’t. It sat, doors closed, for another couple minutes before it finally took off. I sighed and rolled my eyes in frustration, and I noticed another woman on the platform who had experienced the same misfortune. We both glanced around the station and quickly caught each other’s gaze. It’s the worst when that happens, I said, and we struck up a conversation.
At first, we commiserated over the occasional annoyances, like this one, that come with relying on public transportation. Another train arrived, and we sat, continuing to chat about the usual things. As the conversation inevitably shifted to work, we began to click. Before we parted ways at the station where we both needed to transfer, we exchanged business cards. This woman is now one of my clients.
Why should you always dress to impress? Because you never know who you’re going to meet. As artists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, and the like, we often live in our loungewear and activewear. Full disclosure: there are days when I work in my pajamas and only throw a coat on to run to the bodega up the block. Living in New York City (where the streets are filled with people bringing their fashion a-game) has inspired me to put a little more effort into my appearance before I leave the apartment. Fortunately, on the day of my subway debacle, I happened to have done my hair, thrown on some makeup, and put on “real clothes.”
When you work from your home office a majority of the time, it makes sense to only dress for video calls or in-person meetings. Most of the time, the first contact we have with our potential clients is on the web. They see the styled and polished images depicted in our bios and on our contact pages, not the girl in the yoga pants and oversized sweater on the other side of the screen. In our self-employed lives, we can’t forget to maintain a certain level of professionalism outside of our online presence. You never know if your next client may be behind you in line at Starbucks.
What you wear says something about you and your brand. Not the designers or trends you sport but how you present yourself. Just like the story you use to introduce yourself, clothing is a medium you can use to portray something about your business. Is your brand bold and colorful or sleek and minimal? Look at your company’s aesthetic, imagine how it could be translated into an outfit, and take it into consideration next time you’re running errands around town or walking your dog in the park. If you need a little guidance translating your brand’s image into your personal style, connect with me. In addition to writing, I happen to do a bit of styling on the side!
Whether you’re a blogger, freelancer, entrepreneur, or small business owner, you’ve probably attended or considered attending a conference in your field. What you’ve most likely discovered in researching or going to one is that they’re a major investment of your time and money. Unfortunately, finding the right conference can be a bit like finding the right hair stylist – you don’t know if it’s going to be amazing or disappointing until you’ve paid up and sat in the chair. So before you budget, save, and book your next conference, be sure you choose the best one for you and your business. Ask yourself these five important questions, and check out these great, comprehensive resources to help you research and register for your next conference.
What’s resources do you have?
Before you start looking for a conference you should determine the resources you have to invest – ask yourself, what’s my budget and how much time do I have? Some conferences are only half a day and may cost around $100, while others can span over the course of several days and cost close to $1000 or more. It’s important to be clear on your resources before you go searching so you don’t over extend yourself. You can expense a conference to your business, but you still need to be certain your finances are intact before committing. It’s also essential that it works into your personal and professional calendar. Even if the conference is booked out further than your work schedule, you’ll be able to notify your clients accordingly.
Where do you want to go?
Now that you’ve got an idea of the time and money you can invest in a conference, you can determine where you want to go: somewhere local, somewhere out of state, or somewhere international. This decision may be dictated by the resources you have, but there are other factors to take into account when choosing a location. Do you want to connect more deeply with your regional network? Do you want to gain more national exposure? Do you want to experience your industry from the perspective of another culture? While contemplating these questions, you should keep your target audience and client base in mind in addition to the personal growth you hope to achieve.
How do you learn best?
Once you’ve covered the logistics of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, you can focus on what you want to gain from the conference. In my experience, taking into account your personal learning style is one of the most important steps you can take in choosing the best one for you. Think back to academia – did you thrive in a larger or smaller class size? Consider lectures or workshops you’ve attended in your professional life – do you enjoy engaging with the speaker and other attendees or do you prefer to soak it all in with your eyes, ears, and notepad? Being clear on the type of environment in which you’re going to learn most effectively is essential to having the best possible conference experience.
Why do you want to attend?
Knowing the purpose or intention behind why you want to attend a conference is also key. It’s pretty easy for a conference to catch your eye just because the price is right, the location is convenient, or the lineup of speakers is amazing. However, if you don’t know what knowledge, skill, or connection you want to walk away with at the end, you could be left with a great experience and nothing to show for it. Are you hoping to build and expand your network or are you looking to learn a new skill or more about a particular subject matter? Maybe you’re at a transitional moment in your career or planning to expand your business in a big way, and you need more insight before you get started. Determining why you want to attend will help you to have the best conference experience.
Who do you want to connect with?
Whether your primary goal is to network or not, you will have the opportunity to connect with others no matter what conference you attend. Considering who you want to connect with is one more factor to take into account as you hone in on your decision. Do you want to connect with peers in your field, industry veterans, or potential clients? Peers are pretty easy to engage with at any conference, but if you want to be able to interact directly with the speakers or presenters, you should consider one with a more intimate atmosphere. Conferences are also a place to connect with potential clients – just look for a one that’s hosting companies, brands, or sponsors on site.
Now that you have a clearer picture of what you’re looking for in a conference, it’s time to start searching! Check out these three awesome and comprehensive resources to get started:
When I went to college, my mom gave me an adult coloring book and a box crayons. At first, I chalked this up to a final attempt to salvage my childhood as I was heading out of the house and toward young adulthood. I tucked the book and crayons on a shelf between textbooks and framed photos and didn’t give them much thought. When people came to my room, they would notice the big yellow Crayola box, then look beside it. And they started to ask if they could color.
I ended up toting around that coloring book and box of crayons for the next four years of college. Pages got ripped out when people wanted to keep their work and others enjoyed making a contribution to the book. When I couldn’t pour any more words into my journal or my creative writing classes, I would turn to the coloring book. It evolved into this amazing tool and creative outlet for me and my friends whether we needed a mindless escape or to express ourselves.
I still have this book today, and surprisingly there are still a few blank pages left to be explored. Now, it mostly serves as a colorful walk down memory lane. But most importantly, my mom’s simple gift taught me the power of color (a verb).
So, for November’s creative habit, I challenge you to channel your inner child and color. If you want some guidance, purchase a coloring book (here’s the one I have), or simply get some crayons, markers, colored pens or pencils, highlighters, sharpies, pastels, and some plan paper. Just start coloring! It’s not just for kids anymore.
If you’re just joining the creative habit series, be sure to look back at the challenges for the past two months for more creative inspiration and learn about the book that sparked the series, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. Finally, don’t forget to share your experience making a habit of coloring using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit.