Throughout your freelance career, especially at the start, you'll find you experience periods of feast or famine: feast when you have more work than you know what to do with, and famine when you have little to no work at all.
Today we're here to talk about what to do in those times of 'famine'.
First of all, don't worry: every freelance writer experiences them. You're not alone in twiddling your thumbs occasionally, fretting over the fact that you don't have any jobs lined up.
You might think that the best thing to do during these periods is spend all your time trawling job boards or desperately pitching freelance articles.
And while you definitely should keep actively pursuing work, we also believe there are other things you can do to stay productive.
Here are 7 handy ideas for staying productive when your freelance work slows down.
1. Brush up on your skills
Got a bit of extra time on your hands? Use it to stay on top of your game and expand your skillset.
Freelance writers should facilitate consistent professional development through constant learning and improvement. Take advantage of slow work weeks to evaluate your current skills, strengths and weaknesses and choose areas you'd like to work on.
Here are a few things you can do to improve and expand on your writing skills:
- Take a course.
- Read a writing craft book.
- Listen to a podcast or watch talks on YouTube about writing.
- Challenge yourself to master a new style of writing with a project or set of exercises.
It's not all just about writing, though. As a freelancer, there are plenty of supplementary skills you can master to make the most of your career.
You might like to use your downtime to learn a brand-new, non-writing-related skill, such as basic graphic design or photography (which you can put to use in your marketing efforts), or web design (which you can use to customise your writer website or blog).
Websites like Lynda.com have thousands of courses in these supplementary areas, so why not give one a try when you have a little extra time on your hands?
2. Revamp your website/blog/social media
You might like to spend your spare time looking into what can be revamped or updated on you website, blog or social media channels.
Your online presence is one of the key ways potential clients can discover you, so make sure it's the best it can possibly be.
Here's a handful of ideas...
- Improve your website's search engine optimisation.
- Create a 'Testimonials' page and see if past clients would like to share a few words about your work.
- Create an 'FAQ' page if you're asked the same questions by a lot of clients.
- Make sure your professional portfolio is up to date.
- Refresh your website's theme/design.
- If you don't already have a professional photo, take one and add it to your website.
- Write and schedule a backlog of blog posts or social media posts.
- Brainstorm ideas for new blog post topics or social media campaigns.
- Try out a new platform you might not already be on, such as Pinterest or LinkedIn.
- Investigate some guest blog opportunities.
- Refresh your blog design or your social media profile pictures and headers.
3. Create new marketing materials
Marketing is an extremely important factor in gaining new clients and getting the word out about your freelance writing business. Spending time on your marketing strategy and materials is a great way to actively work towards getting more freelance work.
So what kinds of marketing materials are best for freelance writers?
- We've talked about how an author newsletter helps indie authors, but it can be a great tool for freelance writers as well. Start up a regular newsletter and see how many subscribers (read: potential clients) you can get.
- They might seem a bit old-school in this digital age, but we recommend having physical business cards all the same. You never know when they'll come in handy!
- Two words: free downloads. People love free stuff, and it's a great way to draw them to your website or entice them to sign up to your mailing list. Try creating something like a short ebook, a writing or editing checklist or a tips sheet, and including it as a freebie on your website.
4. Try some networking
We know, we know. 'Networking' is a dreaded word for most people (us included). It can be especially hard for freelancers, who are often introverts, mainly work by themselves, and communicate largely online.
But if you're experiencing a dry spell in your freelance work, it might be time to steel yourself and give networking a try to get the ball rolling with some potential clients. You never know what job opportunities might exist within your immediate and extended network.
Here are a few things you can do to connect with people and get the word out there about your business:
- Talk to friends and relatives and see if they know anyone who might be seeking freelance writing services.
- Reach out to local businesses who might be in need of your services.
- Reach out to people in related industries to see if they'd be interested in collaborating on a project.
- Follow up with past clients to see if they have any upcoming work available.
- Follow up with people who queried you, but never ended up following up with a job for you.
- Attend a networking event in your local area.
Check out our guide on how to network to brush up on your skills and get ready to connect.
5. Conduct a review of your freelance writing business
A slow work week can be a great time to take stock of how your freelance writing career is going so far.
It's an excellent opportunity to look back on the goals you set for your freelance writing career and see how far you've progressed towards achieving them.
You can also conduct a freelance performance review and assess your areas of strength and weakness. Identifying areas you've excelled in will give you a much-needed confidence boost, while noting areas in which you need to improve can inspire you to expand your skills, as we discussed above.
6. Start a creative project
Not all your quiet times have to be spent working on your freelance business. In fact, sometimes it's better to step away from work completely for a short while and do something creative to refresh yourself.
If you've chosen to be a freelance writer, chances are you're also a creative writer (or just a creative person in general). If this is the case, take the opportunity to spend some time on your creative work or start a brand-new project.
Creative writers: get back to your current WIP, or check out our fiction writing archives for some inspiration. Other creative types: paint, draw, build, sculpt, sing – do whatever brings you joy and creative fulfilment!
Trust us – sometimes taking time away from work is just what you need to feel refreshed, inspired and ready to keep pursuing your career goals.
Speaking of taking time away...
7. Focus on self-care
Our final tip for quiet times is to focus on taking care of yourself. Freelancers are far more susceptible to overwork and burnout than those with 'regular' jobs, so you really need to practise good self-care to avoid this.
If you've hit a dry spell – and especially if you're feeling down about it – it's time to step back and focus on yourself for a bit.
Get outside, do some exercise, meditate, spend time with friends and family, engage with other freelancers, read a book, watch a movie, simply rest... Do whatever you need to do to take care of your mental health.
You'll thank yourself for it when you're able to return to work feeling refreshed and ready to get the ball rolling again.
What are your tips for staying productive when the freelance well is running a little dry? Share with us in the comments!