Freelance Issues: No work? No problem.

Dec 1, 2015 | Freelance

Me and my friend had this conversation over coffee and cheesecake, let’s call her Z. Z is traditionally employed (office work, daily commute, benefits, etc.) since she graduated in 2008. I’m paraphrasing since it was in vernacular.

Z: So you rely on clients? What if there’s none? No work, no pay, right?
Me: Yes.
Z: Don’t you get anxious not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from?

I totally understand where she’s coming from, she wasn’t being unkind – just trying to get a sense of how I deal with every freelancer’s nightmare: The Lean Months. Usually, these come in September – October when all of a sudden, work dries up and there’s just no work to be done.

Here are some tips and suggestions on what to do with your time.

No Work? No problem. Savings!

Make sure you have this. This advice is coming from a lady who never saved a dime in her life until she reached her mid 20s. I hate delayed gratification. But when I finally tried to save bit by bit – keeping a few hundred bucks here and there, I felt a sense of pride seeing the numbers grow. That was when I understood what everybody was raving about. It gives you a sense of security knowing that come rainy days, you have a stash of funds that you can use to pay your bills and utilities.

Treat your savings as a bill you have to pay every month. It’s not negotiable and you can’t put it off. Train your mind to think that that money is not disposable income to splurge on shoes, clothes, gadgets, what have you.

Tip: Your Rainy Day fund should be equal to three months worth of your monthly salary. And replenish that fund as soon as work starts again. Remember, it’s a bill that has to be paid.

Reach out to old clients

Some people may find this iffy and would be embarrassed to email an old client out of the blue. Yes, to some it could be quite off-putting. But it really shouldn’t be. If you’ve established good rapport and your clients genuinely like you, they won’t mind at all. Well, at least that’s what they told me – LOL maybe they were just being kind.

I guess it goes without saying that it really helps to cultivate that relationship. Not because you want to exploit it in the future when you’ve got no work, but because you are not just some automaton behind a screen thousands of miles away. You are an important resource who’s skills they value. More importantly, you are a person – with a life story to tell. Sure you keep things professional but it’s quite normal that in the course of your working relationship, they will come to know snippets of your life.

I’ve tried this a few times, just asking if there was anything I could help them with. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but hey, at least you tried right? Most of the time though, there’s always something. In my case, some weird formatting on their website, a new banner, etc. A couple of hours here and there and you’ve got some influx of funds for the coming weeks.

Learn a new skill

Doesn’t it just grinds your gears when people put up a status on Facebook saying “I’ve got nothing to do, no work today.”, or something like it? It’s just complete and utter bollocks. Read that book that’s been sitting neglected on your shelves, organize your closet, attempt a DIY project, visit your friend and learn to solve the Rubik’s cube (seriously, it’s not that hard) with them. So many things to do, so little time.

With regards to freelance, with this sudden surplus of free time, you can use that to finally learn that skill that you’ve been putting off, using that age-old excuse “I’m too busy”. Hone your Photoshop skills, learn the basics of CSS and HTML, join an online course on Code Academy. The list is endless and most of the items are free.

Tip: Always do something that adds value to your skillset. When clients come back, you can now offer this new service to them and that means $$$. If your skillset grows, that means you stay relevant and on top of your game. You will always be evolving and getting better at things. Keep up the valiant effort to ward off obsolescence.

The Weird Jobs

This is what I love about Upwork. Sure, your lovely clients (bless their hearts) may have gone on sabbatical and forgot about you but there are still people posting jobs. You may find it mind-numbing to do data entry at less than your usual rate but beggars can’t be choosers. If you’re in desperate need of cash, try to find some odd jobs that you can do on Upwork.

Think of it this way: Even if it is completely unrelated to your niche and it totally doesn’t interest you at all, it will still keep the lights on. Besides, your profile will show some activity and you get all those good feedback that will maybe finally earn you that Top Rated badge. Feedback is feedback and a job is a job.

So see, there really is no reason why you should feel like the world is ending when there’s no work to be done. Freelancing has perks and downsides, like with everything else. You can’t expect it all to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. But a good outlook and preparing yourself mentally (and financially) goes a long way.

Tell me, what do you guys do when this happens? Share your wisdom in the comments section.

Til next time!