I’d like to say that “we’ve all been there” would be a ludicrous generalisation… But the reality is, freelance life is unpredictable. For most of us days or weeks without work has come to be the norm (yuck). And whether you’ve just hit your first freelance drought or you’re experiencing an empty schedule for the tenth time — it’s safe to say, the uncertainty of having no clients is excruciating. Particularly when you have a family counting on you to keep your income streams, and your spirits, up.
Here’s how to face the pain, and come out smiling.
Analyse the situation (and recognise your feelings…)
Any striving freelancer would freak at the prospect of an empty calendar. No projects = no income. And as a working parent, no income not only means tighter household finances but often a dip in your parenting abilities too! It’s unsurprisingly hard to host a good teddy bear’s picnic when your mind is awash with budgets, cash flow projections and desperate marketing ideas…
As soon as work starts drying up – stop and analyse the situation. The quicker you recognise why the work isn’t there, the quicker you can get back on your feet. Get to the bottom of whether a lack of clients is: a quality or pricing issue (probably not), a marketing issue (likely), or whether your heart is no longer in the way you run business and the people you are working with (putting people who do find you off).
Recognise too, it’s not just your bank balance that drops when the client base dries up. When piled on top of the challenges of parenthood, not having enough work can feel impossible to manage. So get those feelings out!
I’ve had many a good cry on the bathroom floor over business-related blunders and I also find journaling to be hugely powerful when it comes to acknowledging how hard I’m finding freelance hurdles and moving on despite them. Write down every. single. detail. that’s worrying you when it comes to finding work again, however stupid. This will quiet some of that unhelpful brain chatter!
As soon as you see what obstacle you’re hitting, get support! Asking for help is never a sign of weakness – especially when you’re busy running a business and a family. Nobody has time to do it all!
Maybe you need to get more support at home so you can simply spend more time contacting potential clients? Maybe you’d benefit from an extra pair of hands to send out follow-ups or do market research… or maybe you need to brush up on your sales skills and short-cut the time it’s taking you to secure new leads?
Only you will be able to uncover what support looks like for your business, but if a freelance drought is something you are experiencing often, it might be wise to invest in professional help.
Professional help doesn’t have to come in the form of expensive coaching or mentoring either (I’ve been there, and offered it myself and know that sort of investment is just not right for everyone). An inspiring business book or a solid community of those who’ve been through it (why we’re all here, right?) could be all you need to feel supported, get fresh ideas and move forward.
Check your finances
I confess. I am a sucker for ‘doing the money book’ and find balancing family and business finances to be strangely enjoyable! But I know not everyone is as confident with looking at what is coming-and-going in terms of cash and maybe you’re guilty of not knowing how long you could actually let a freelance drought last. If your client book is bare, it’s time to re-examine your business and household finances and to investigate what you might be eligible for to help boost your cash flow during hard times — tax credits, benefits, grants, council tax reductions etc.
You’ve analysed the situation. You’ve discussed ‘what next?’ strategies… but you’re still feeling stumped. The reality of not having any work is enough to completely pull the motivational rug from under your feet. Often we just need time to step back and allow ourselves to feel how tough the situation is; stop trying to work things out and give yourself a break. Much easier said than done, I know.
I’ve found that when freelance life is becoming too overwhelming (whether too much work or too little) it’s time to DO LESS. When we step away from the overload we give ourselves time to process and refresh. We allow ourselves space for creativity to flow in and new ideas to generate with little effort. As parents, we are lucky to have the ultimate source of inspiration too — our kids!
If the struggle is unbearably real today, make a commitment to stop and seek out enjoyment as a priority — however counterproductive it feels. You won’t experience the results unless you allow yourself to try it. Go away and get renewed. Spend time with your family, listen to uplifting music, reconnect with your spirituality — whatever it is that strengthens you from within. When you’re in a drought, re-filling your soul is more important than ever.
Have a plan B (but promise never to use it)
A backup plan. In the world of entrepreneurial pep-talks, it’s a controversial one. Numerous business gurus will tell you that you’re setting yourself up to fail if you give yourself a ‘way out’. But personally, I think you’re far better off having a vague idea of what you might do if you couldn’t make ends meet any longer. Yes, a healthy dose of positivity is key in freelance success, but keeping your sanity is crucial too. And the fear of seriously not being able to put food in front of our children is one that none of us wants to experience.
Be vague about how other options might work. Since you’re never going to need it (You’ve. Got. This!) you needn’t work out the logistics of going back to a full-time job or taking out a temporary loan — but considering the options briefly will help provide a little back-of-your-mind peace.
Finally, keep committed to your freelance vision by promising yourself that plan B will never actually have to be used; it’s just there for the evil monkey on your back (and those concerned relatives who just don’t get it!) and to cover circumstances which, outside of your control, make progress impossible.
Keep at it
It’s funny how a sudden dip in clients can take away all sense of rationality when it comes to our freelance careers: Years of experience? Check. Impressive portfolio? Check. Great testimonials? Check. Empty schedule… “Uhhh… Maybe I’ve no longer got what it takes?!”
The truth is, overcoming a freelance drought is all about perseverance. Being clientless sucks, but keep at it and a flood of clients will be yours once more.
Photograph by Helen Martin.