12 Coping Strategies for the Inevitable Freelance Drought

Simple tips to navigate through your next dearth of freelance design work.

We’ve all been there.

As a freelancer, you can go for months or years on end with a plentiful supply of work. Then all of a sudden it dries up. Perhaps you’ve just finished up that long-term project, or your clients have simply run out of work for you. Whatever the case, it’s often one of the most challenging aspects of freelancing to deal with.

I’m going to share with you how I have progressed through these various spells with little-to-no work – sometimes periods of up to 3 months – and provide some insight into the strategies I use to cope. Hopefully, it goes some way to providing a reference for when you next encounter a period like this.

The first major drought I encountered was going back a few years to my final exams. I shut down all freelance work in March of that year, up until June. My next work came in late September. It turns out all of my previous clients had moved on and it was very much a ‘next person up’ situation.

The accessibility and ease of hiring workers through the internet is positive in so many ways, but it also makes freelancers quickly dispensable and replaceable. There is, more often than not, someone ready to fill your position at a moment’s notice. In my situation, this was very much the case and I had to effectively start over. This gave me a great opportunity to explore ways in which to use the time productively and learn to develop a new client base.

Since then, I’ve not encountered anything quite as prolonged, though there are still times when multiple weeks will pass when nothing comes up. I’ve come a long way since the first instance of this in understanding why this happens and how it is best to spend the time. These are my 12 simple tips to cope with your next freelance drought.

Tip #1 – Don’t Question Yourself

It can happen all so easily. You get discouraged and start to consider applying for a full-time job or even a change of career. Quickly dismiss any such thoughts and engage yourself in something productive.

Tip #2 – Build Your Portfolio

There’s never a better time to get your portfolio in order and updated with your latest work and projects. It goes without saying, the better the work in your portfolio, the more you can charge and the more likely you are to land a new client.

A few simple portfolio design tips can dramatically change the way that your clients assess your freelance portfolio. To learn more, take a look at these professional portfolio design tips.

Tip #3 – Email Previous Clients

Build a list with your past and present clients. Write up an email template and customise it to send to each. It’s more than likely one of them will have something for you to work on. If not now, you’ll at least be fresh in their minds for the coming months.

Tip #4 – Connect with Other Freelancers

Other freelancers you know may be going through a phase whereby they have so much work they are having to turn leads down.

Let them know you’re available and they might send them your way. Then in time you may be able to reciprocate the favour!

Tip #5 – Start a Side Project

Start a small side project. Think carefully about who the project is targeted towards, and it may even land you some work.

That aside, it’s another piece of work to display to clients your skill set, and it may even grow into something bigger which can be monetised further down the line.

Tip #6 – Contact Agencies

Most agencies have freelance workers on call from all around the world. Get in touch with some that might be a good fit for your skill set. They may just be looking for an extra pair of hands.

Tip #7 – Apply for Remote Roles

Remote roles are a good way of building some consistency into your freelance schedule. Scan through job boards and keep a lookout for companies looking to hire for part-time remote roles.

Most of Envato’s freelance Service Providers and Authors work remotely. If you want to seize the day, try your hand at being Envato Studio Service Provider or Envato Market Author.

Tip #8 – Take a Vacation

Months like August, December, and January can often be quiet – clients need vacations too! Use this time to coincide with their schedule and take your own vacation.

Things will often work themselves out and you may well just have some work again upon your return.

Tip #9 – Learn a Complimentary Skill

Find something you can learn which expands on your current skill set and makes you more attractive to prospective clients.

An app designer may want to learn about interaction design, or a developer may want to learn a new API or programming language. It may even allow you to increase your rate.

Tip #10 – Complete Other Jobs

When you’re self-employed, there are always things to do outside of the work itself. Use this time to get your accounts up to date, sort your tax return in advance, cut down on subscriptions and unnecessary overheads, improve your work setup and equipment, and make improvements to your workflow.

Freelancers face a constant challenge to achieve and maintain a high level of productivity and quality. One of the ways that you can improve results is by developing a system for various aspects of your work.

Tip #11 – Spin-off Jobs

As a designer, for example, you’re not strictly confined to designing. You can use your knowledge and expertise and apply it to an area such as writing which can be a great way to earn some money and increase your exposure.

Most industries will have opportunities for paid writers. It’s also an excellent way of developing your writing skills which can then improve communication with future clients. Other examples include creating a good for sale or writing an ebook.

Tip #12 — Network

Take some time to connect with other people. Learning and conversing with others in your industry can be incredibly valuable.

From my own personal experience, this has been beneficial both in terms of furthering my development as a designer, and finding new opportunities for work.

Try your best to implement some of these tips next time you experience a drought in work. It can be a stressful situation, especially when you can’t see an end in sight.

As a preventative measure, try and save up an emergency fund so you don’t have to worry as much about your month-to-month earnings. Be proactive and make the most that you possibly can of the time.

Stay positive, keep pushing, and the work will begin to come through again.
Featured photo: ApricotStudio

About the Author Ben Bate

I'm Ben, a Product Designer from the United Kingdom. You can visit my website or follow me on Dribbble.