These days, more people are working as freelancers than ever before. In fact, according to a 2021 Upwork study, more than one-third of the United States workforce performed freelance work within the past 12 months. And with more people ditching their "traditional" nine-to-five jobs, this trend shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Whether you're already deep into your freelancing career or are just getting started, one fact remains: freelancers tend to go through phases of so-called "feast or famine." In other words, you may be so busy that you're saying "no" to customers one minute—and be stuck twiddling your thumbs the next. That's the nature of freelancing, regardless of the exact type of work you do.
As a freelancer, then, part of your success will depend on how you use that downtime. If you can find ways to be productive even when work is slow, you can set yourself up for a prosperous and rewarding freelance career. Not sure where to begin? We've got some practical tips and tricks for making the most of your freelancing downtime.
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- Don't be afraid to explore other temporary income sources if money is tight.
- Focus on things that will bring in more work in the future (such as learning a new skill or launching a new marketing campaign).
- Take advantage of networking opportunities.
- Allow yourself to take a breather and engage in some self-care while things are slow.
1. Look for Other Side Hustles
Understandably, downtime as a freelancer can be stressful because when you're not working, you're not bringing in any income. If finances are tight while work is slow, this could be a good time to explore some potential side hustle opportunities. Ideally, these opportunities will allow you to continue working on your freelance business while bringing in some supplemental income with ease.
The good news? There are seemingly endless opportunities for side hustles these days. Consider, for example, becoming a rideshare driver a few hours per day—or even signing up to be a delivery driver or personal shopper with a reputable company.
If you prefer to be your own boss, you might bring in some extra cash by opening up an online store. With today's drop-shipping and print-on-demand services, you don't even have to worry about maintaining inventory or shipping out your own orders.
2. Sharpen Your Skills
If you don't have an immediate need to supplement your income (or if you have enough saved up to get you through a short drought in freelance work), you may instead want to focus this time on enhancing your own skills.
If you're a freelance photographer, for example, this might mean taking a seminar or online course on a photography/editing technique you haven't yet mastered.
If you're a freelance writer, you might spend some of your downtime refreshing your knowledge on the AP handbook or researching the latest industry trends.
When you spend your downtime sharpening your own skills, you can expand your offerings and potentially draw in new clients as a result. Meanwhile, these new skills can help you set yourself apart from your competition. Think of it as a small investment that can reap some major benefits down the road.
3. Create (Or Optimize) a Website
If you don't already have a dedicated website for your freelance business, this can be a great time to build one. These days, building a website is easier than ever—especially if you use a free template or other website-building tools to get the job done.
Start by registering a domain (ideally one that coincides with your name or the name of your business). From there, you can begin building a home page/landing page, service pages, and even an "about" page to help potential clients learn more about you and your business.
Don't forget to include a "contact" button that makes it easy for potential clients to reach out to you directly!
If you already have a website, you could use your downtime to improve your existing site. Consider, for example, carrying out some search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to help your site rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is also a good time to check and ensure that your site is optimized for viewing not just on desktop devices but on mobile devices as well.
After all, most of today's web traffic comes from mobile devices—so having a mobile-friendly and responsive website is key to attracting new clients.
4. Use Social Media to Your Advantage
These days, social media can be a valuable tool for finding new clients—especially when things are a bit slow. If you don't already have a social media page for your business, now is a great time to create one.
Depending on the type of work you do, it may also make sense to simply use your existing social media profile as a means of networking and finding new clients online.
So, what are some ways to use social media to find clients? If you're posting from a dedicated business page, you might consider running some kind of contest or giveaway to generate interest.
For example, you could have your followers "like" and "share" your business's Facebook page in exchange for a contest entry. The randomly selected winner of the contest may receive anything from a gift card to a discount on your goods/services. This is a great way to drum up new businesses and drive up social media engagement without having to spend a lot of money on your end.
If posting from a personal page, you might simply create a post asking your network of friends/followers if anybody is in need of your services (or knows somebody who is). Be sure to make your post "shareable" so that your friends can share it with others who may be looking for the services you provide.
5. Launch a New Marketing Campaign
If you have a little downtime as a freelancer, you can also use this time to create and execute a new marketing campaign. Yes, this will require a bit of an up-front monetary investment on your part—and it can be nerve-racking to spend money on marketing when things are so slow.
However, with the right marketing strategy, you can enjoy a nice return on your investment in the form of new clients.
So, what are some cost-effective strategies for marketing your freelance business while things are slow? Consider developing a content marketing strategy that focuses on building leads through the use of content that you create.
For example, you could craft an eBook for clients that they can download for free simply by signing up for your email list. Writing an eBook or similar exclusive content doesn't cost you anything (other than the free time you already have) and can be a great way to generate new leads that can turn into new clients.
Some other potential marketing strategies to consider while business is slow include:
- email marketing
- social media marketing
- print marketing
- referral marketing
- paid advertising (such as pay-per-click ads online)
6. Reach Out to Existing Clients
Your past clients can also be a great source of new work during periods of downtime. Don't hesitate to reach out to existing clients to see if they're in need of any additional services. Even if they don't need your services right now, they may know somebody else who does.
Meanwhile, hearing from you will keep you at the forefront of their minds if they do need your services again in the future. To sweeten the deal, you might even want to consider offering a special deal or promotion. For example, during a period of downtime, you might offer a client a 15% discount on your services if they book promptly.
Even if an existing client doesn't need your services or knows anybody who does, you might still ask them to leave a review or write a testimonial that you can use on your website. Positive reviews and testimonials are great ways to bring in new clients and build your reputation as a freelancer, but often, clients won't leave reviews unless you explicitly ask them to.
Consider using your downtime, then, to reach out to past happy clients and ask them to leave you a review.
7. Attend an Industry Event
If things are slow in your freelance business, research industry events that may be open for you to attend in the near future. Industry events (such as trade shows, conferences, and exhibitions) serve as great networking opportunities. Attending one of these events can easily expose you to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of potential new clients. From there, you can generate leads and possibly bring in some new business.
As an added bonus, industry events are great sources of knowledge and insight. By attending one, you may learn some valuable information about your industry that helps you better serve your clients and achieve greater success down the road.
At these events, you may increase the recognition of your brand among a wider audience by showcasing the design of your brand's logo and catching the interest of potential clients with an attention-grabbing poster. It is much easier to differentiate yourself from the competition if you have your own unique logo for everyone to see.
Events can be free, but often the biggest ones will require a registration/admission fee. If this is the case, be sure to save all your receipts, as expenses related to attending an industry event should be deductible come tax time.
8. Volunteer Your Services
Downtime can be dangerous as a freelancer because it can prevent you from practicing your skills. When you aren't working, you can actually lose out on some of the skills you've worked so hard to gain.
With this in mind, it may sometimes make sense to actually volunteer your services on a pro-bono level during slow periods in your business. This way, you can continue to get some practice and sharpen your skills—even if you're not getting paid.
Meanwhile, volunteer work can be useful for building a portfolio and growing your brand awareness. If you're a freelance web designer, for example, you might volunteer to design a free website for a non-profit in your area. From there, you can gain additional practice designing websites—and when the site is live, you can add it to your portfolio of work.
If your client is happy with the site you designed, they may keep you in mind to hire you for future jobs or refer other businesses to you. In this sense, even volunteer work can pay off during slow periods.
9. Write a Guest Blog
No matter what type of freelance work you do, writing a guest blog can be a great way to build credibility within your industry while establishing yourself as an expert in the field. When you write a guest blog, you're typically writing content for another industry-related business on a topic that you consider yourself an expert in. Your content is then published on the company's blog with your by-line and information attached.
Writing a guest blog or even being interviewed for a blog/article is an excellent way to utilize your downtime as a freelancer. In many cases, these blogs drum up new business. In the meantime, they serve as "free" advertisements for your business/services. Many guest blogs even allow you to include a link to your website within the content, so this can be useful for SEO and lead-generation purposes as well.
10. Focus on Self-Care
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself, both personally and professionally, during periods of downtime is to relax. If things have been busy and hectic leading up to this slow period, there's absolutely nothing wrong with allowing yourself to engage in a bit of self-care.
This could mean taking a full day off from anything work-related to do things that bring you joy. From spending a little time with friends/family to resting and binge-watching your favorite show, a little self-care goes a long way in allowing yourself to recharge.
By allowing yourself to focus on self-care during slow periods of work, you'll be better rested and prepared for when things pick back up. This can help you avoid the long-term burnout that many freelancers tend to struggle with.
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Make the Most of Your Downtime as a Freelancer
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to use your time productively as a freelancer—even when your work isn't exactly booming. By finding other potential revenue sources, reaching out to existing clients, and taking advantage of networking opportunities, you can continue to grow your reach as a freelancer while making the most of your downtime.
And, of course, there's nothing wrong with engaging in a little self-care to refresh and rejuvenate while things are slow; this way, you can be recharged and ready to tackle new projects when things pick back up!