Articles - 28th March 2019

How To Power Through the Freelancing Dry Spells

Words by Aimée Grant Cumberbatch
Illustration by Will Francis

There’s so much to love about being freelance. The freedom to manage your workload and take a stroll around the block whenever you feel like it, the variety of projects, and even the comfy home-office attire. But for all its benefits, being freelance is still a job and like any job it has its drawbacks. Whether that’s the dreaded January tax return, no colleagues to head to the pub with, hours spent chasing late payments, or weeks and months where the work just dries up.

Dry spells can feel like a disaster, but really they’re a natural part of the freelance ebb and flow. I asked fellow freelancers to share their tips on how they deal with times when there’s just not much coming in. Here’s what they told me.

Lean into it

Dry spells are an inescapable part of freelance life so, if you can afford to, why not make the most of them? Use this as a time to recharge or explore other passions and interests.

Freelance journalist Catherine Cooper says, “I had a really busy end of year and next to no work now so [I] am just not fretting about it, going to the gym in the morning and sitting in the sun finishing off my novel in the afternoon, interspersed with a few work emails. It’s not sustainable but something will come up eventually and I’m kind of hoping I can get my book finished first.”

Set your sights on dream clients

During a dry spell you have nothing to lose by thinking big. If there’s a client, publication or platform you’ve had your eye on for a while, scope them out and spend some extra time finessing a pitch or introduction letter that’s sure to get you noticed. Freelance PR Marcus Edgar comments, “I identify those businesses I’d really like to work for and contact them.”

Save up to tide yourself over

It might feel galling to take a big chunk out of your hard-earned money each month, but it’s crucial, not just for tax purposes, but to help build a buffer you can draw on when work isn’t coming in.

Founder of The Freelance Lifestash Emma Cossey writes in her e-book How To Beat The Freelance Feast or Famine, “You need to save 30% a month. That will cover your tax bill, NI bills and give you a buffer for the tough months. If you don’t use it, great. That’s a nice little treat for you after you pay your tax bill.”

Catch up on things you’ve been putting off

When you’re busy and your inbox is full to the brim with opportunities, it’s easy to leave the less glamorous tasks, like accounts and admin, to another time. It’s not the most joyful work but it’s a smart way to use your spare time during a dry spell.

Trend analyst Sabrina Faramarzi says, “I try and use that time to keep my website updated and do my accounts which become super annoying when you’re really busy.”

Prospect, prospect, prospect

Dry spells are the perfect time to find new clients. And this doesn’t always have to mean cold-pitching, as copywriter Louise Turner explains: “Find as many free networking events as you can and start building relationships. Plan and write plenty of your own blogs for your website and LinkedIn. Catch up with previous colleagues and clients — this has been a big generator of work for me — and check in with any places who you could do associate work for in case they have things coming up.”

Have a backup

If saving to cover your dry spells isn’t possible right now, then it’s worth seeking out backup work that you can fall back on when commissions just aren’t coming in. This could be anything from picking up a few shifts in a local cafe, to writing a few lower-paid articles that won’t take you long to do.

Freelance journalist Shanna Jones comments: “I have an online publication who doesn’t pay much but will take literally anything from me so if I’m desperate I go to them.” While photographer and writer Charlie Moss says, “I take relief cover shifts as a duty manager at a leisure centre (I started as a swim teacher), and I also do a few hours training lifeguard staff each month.”

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

Make your UP portfolio

Related Articles

A checklist for the January 31st tax deadline

It’s boring, but if you’ve saved money specifically for this purpose, it shouldn’t be painful. Here’s what you must do to get through your self-ass...

Read more
The what, how, and why of pivoting as a freelancer

Pivot. It’s one of those words that we often cast off to the figurative bin labelled ‘corporate jargon’ alongside the likes of ‘leverage’ and ‘syne...

Read more
How freelancers can use cold emailing to attract new clients

Have you ever written an email to someone you’ve never met before, asking them for something? It’s tough; cold emails can feel pretty d...

Read more