Freelancers are well aware of the feast or famine phenomenon. In fact, one of the first things they learn is that the feast or famine cycle is a big part of being a freelancer. Work is never steady – one month you’re snowed under an avalanche of projects and the next you’re sitting in front of your computer wondering when or where the next project will come from. This post focuses on the famine cycle of freelancing and highlights ways to avoid and get through it unharmed.
The famine period is common for newbies in all freelancing fields. You’ve just started your business, you only have a few clients and your marketing efforts haven’t brought the desired results yet. But the famine doesn’t just affect new freelancers only. Seasoned freelancers go through it as well, either due to their poor business skills or decisions, or things completely out of their control – like a global or national financial crisis.
The thing with famine is that there’s no telling when it’s going to strike or even when it will end. It can last for a few weeks, which is usually not that bad, to a few months which can be pretty hard if you’re unprepared. Plus, there are times in the year that work is (sometimes) slower than usual, i.e. Christmas, Easter and summer season.
My personal experience with freelancing famine
To tell you the truth, there have been a few times in my freelancing career that I experienced famine in all its glory. One was in November 2008 at the peak of the global financial crisis. After 7 years of working non-stop, I was amazed at the lack of emails in my inbox for a whole month. Sure, I welcomed the break but it was too sudden a change for me and I spent more than a few hours wondering what I should do about it. In December, things were back to normal, so I figured it was a temporary glitch, hoped for the best and stopped worrying about it.
Then, a few months ago, I traveled to Santorini (photos) for a 4-day vacation, expecting to work at least half or most of my time there. That’s when famine hit again, which was more than welcome this time around to be honest. I managed to explore the beautiful island and relax on the beach. Some of you wouldn’t call a few weeks’ lack of projects famine, but when you are used to getting lots of job offers and working non-stop, you notice these things. Plus, my travel experiences always include lots of work, so it was a small miracle for me to be able to explore the city instead of trying to figure out where the best Wi-Fi connection was.
Dealing with Freelancing Famine
So, what should you do to avoid the famine cycle or at least make sure it doesn’t really affect your bank savings, and make the best of it?
Money, or lack thereof is the biggest problem during the lean periods and the only solution is planning ahead. It doesn’t take a financial expert to know that when money is flowing in, you have to save part of it.
Even if you are new in the business, it’s important to have an emergency fund in place before doing anything else. Save at least 10% of you what you make monthly and wait a few months for the savings to grow before starting your business. Then, continue saving each month to make sure you have a financial backup fund during the famine times.
- Marketing & Networking
Even during the busiest times, you should never stop marketing your services. You never know when the next client will come knocking but if you haven’t done your homework, they probably never will. Make sure your website, blog and online profiles are up-to-date. If you have a blog, update it regularly and focus on writing for your ideal clients instead of your peers.
Networking pays off big time – both online and offline. Use your favorite social media tools, such as Linkedin, Twitter & Facebook. Find where your prospective clients hang out online and follow them. Introduce yourself, converse with them, answer their questions, help them out when you can etc. Offline, you can attend local networking events and conferences. Don’t forget to follow up with potential clients after you’ve established your first contact with them.
The best part about freelancing is that you never stop learning or improving. If you do, you’re going to face famine pretty soon. So how can you keep on improving? Read books related to your business, brainstorm ideas for your future blog posts, plan your next marketing steps, take classes to enhance your education and skills, think about alternative ways you can make money and network with other freelancers to stay on top of the trends in your niche, to list just a few.
- Enjoy your time-off
You’ve prepared well, worked hard and yet you’re still facing a famine period? Instead of panicking, take a moment to step back and think. You’ve been working hard so you could probably do with a break. Take advantage of the dry spell and take a vacation so you can be better prepared for the hard work awaiting you when the famine is over. Spend more time with your family and travel. That doesn’t mean you can let go of your marketing efforts. Schedule blog posts in advance, write guest posts, shoot off a few Letters of Introduction to your prospects before taking a break. You never know, maybe you’ll get a call from a client sooner than you think!
No matter what steps you take to deal with freelancing famine, your attitude is going to be an important factor during this period. Maintain a positive attitude and don’t panic. If you have prepared well, there’s no reason to stress over it. Things will come around – they always do. The best thing about famine is that it never lasts forever 🙂
Tell us your experience with famine cycles. How did they affect you and what did you do to overcome them?