Freelance design suriving the slow times
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Slow Times

As a Freelance Designer for more than 15 years, I’d like to share some tips for managing time between clients & design projects. The long gaps between paid commitments & deadlines (a.k.a. the panic hours), are actually opportunities to catch up on so many other parts of your business that need attention. It’s also a chance to refill your creative cup so to speak, because before you know it you’ll be right back in the thick of things, wishing you had more time.

First thing to remember is that it’s temporary. Often around the time I realize I have so many other things that require my attention or just as soon as I find something new I’d like to try or learn, my inbox delivers a new project. The problem is recognizing the opportunity to take advantage of your free time instead of sitting in a frozen panic wondering where or when the next client will come along. It’s a matter of having faith in your skills and experience, honing your ability to breath, and following this advice…

Flip the script.

Now’s the time to apply your skills & expertise to your own marketing efforts! Update your portfolio, work on your website’s SEO or consider a brand refresh. Steps you take now will benefit your future marketing efforts and ideally you’ll find a groove where the on / off of client work is paramount to your ongoing success and promotion.

Temporarily stepping back from the role of full-time designer can create an opportunity to tackle other interests and responsibilities that could benefit from your current availability. Apply your creativity to cooking or interior design. Focus inward on home & family. Re-design and clean your workspace!

Embrace your freelance freedom.

Fortunately I live in a location that allows year round outdoor adventures. Downtime is an incredible gift that forces me on the trail where I can quickly forget and ignore the daily stress of email and social media. If I’ve done a good job promoting my experience and availability, there’s nothing left to do but wait …and maybe work on my mtb skills.

Travel. Aside from the unfortunate bit that you cannot predict when or for how long the client droughts will remain, we do exist in a wonderful era that connects us virtually to almost any location. Day trips are an excellent alternative that keep money in the bank when there’s not much coming in. If you’re able to invest in a bigger getaway, now’s the time! You have to persevere with the belief that this time next month will be different, so now is your chance to explore and discover new creative motivation that will inspire your future work.

Collaborate + Connect

If you find that your referral pool has run dry, maybe it’s time to reach out & make new connections. You might be surprised with the results of making small steps in your community – whether you’re networking to look for new work, or interested in joining a group of like minds, there’s no way your efforts will be a waste of time. 

Consider a donation. Maybe you find yourself twiddling thumbs, confidently waiting for the next client connection, totally comfortable with however long that takes. So why not donate your time to potentially industry relevant venues such as consulting or helping a relative with a logo design. This could be an incredible chance to expand your portfolio in a way that wasn’t going to happen on its own. So by reaching out to someone you know could benefit from your experience, you’re able to provide them with an online presence or elevate their current brand to offer online sales or even share a little insight and marketing advice. Value comes in other forms than just paid project work.

Recognizing the need to create balance and plan for this very realistic part of freelance design is a step that will ensure your business supports you long into the future. I can say with full transparency that I still lie awake at night listening for the crickets that come with the end of many projects. It’s what it means to work in freelance and although there’s no magic pill, you will inevitably find yourself wishing you had more time.