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By Tom Geller | Friday, March 22, 2013

Staying motivated when business is slow

Most freelancers live a feast-or-famine existence. We’re either pushing hard to finish a client’s urgent project—and aren’t they all urgent?—or we’re wiling away the time, wondering what to do with ourselves.

When there’s a feast of work, clients define your activities and goals. But during famines, you’re on your own. You want to use the time well, but don’t have an external authority guiding you. Uncertainty can freeze even the most intrepid freelancer into inactivity.

• Put your house in order. In the rush of work, it’s easy to forget to pay bills, buy supplies, file papers, and tidy the office. But all those tasks make your work more efficient. Look around and ask yourself: How can I make my work time more productive?

• Improve your skills. Clients often ask freelancers to perform extra services: writers do layout, artists build websites, and so on. Having the skills to fulfill these requests keeps them happy and gets you more work. And don’t forget business skills! Being able to manage projects large and small, pitch ideas, and lead meetings will make you more marketable.

• Help potential clients find and hire you. If you don’t have a website, build one. If it doesn’t have a portfolio and a clear statement of what you do, update it. If it doesn’t have a contact form, add one. You can always improve your site’s findability.

• Check in with colleagues and clients. Everybody’s life changes while you’re not looking. Often when I touch base, I find my old associates are working on new and interesting projects—and sometimes my call reminds them that my skills would help.

• Check in with yourself. How’s the business going? Are you enjoying the work? Does it fit in well with your life goals? I like to write “life notes” once or twice a year to make sure I’m on the right path—or to change, if I’m not.

It’s important to treat your freelance work as a business. Keep a work schedule. Set goals and milestones. Be accountable to yourself. During slow times, you still have a job; the only difference is that you are the client.

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