Diana Kelly Levey

20+ Ways Freelancers Can Find Work When Business is Slow

"Sorry we're closed" sign to represent freelance business slowdowns in summer

August 3, 2020

Ever hear of a summer slowdown?  Or maybe you notice an end-of-year slowdown with your freelance business around the holidays?

Once you’ve been freelance writing for over a decade like I have, it can be helpful to track the times of the year when business slows down for you. That way, when freelance business is slow again, you can be prepared for it and feel less anxious.

It can happen in any business—whether you’re working a corporate job and waiting for a manager or advertiser to get back to you, or you may have a product or service-based business that takes a hit when everyone goes away on summer vacations.

While a slower pace is often welcome when you’re working in a corporate environment, when you’re supporting yourself by running your business, it can feel worrisome and stressful when no one is getting back to you about your article and project pitches. I shared my tips with the Fast Company’s audience in this article “How to Use a Summer Slowdown to Advance Your Career.”

I can’t speak for other freelancers out there, but when business is slow, I tend to stalk my bank account at least daily (maybe a few times), while checking the tabs in my Google sheet on “Invoices Out” and “Assignments Working On” so I’m tallying up how much I’ll have when all that money comes in over the next two months. (Pssst, here are 5 tips to make more money freelance writing this year.)

When I decided to step away from my part-time in house editorial role at MuscleandFitness.com at the end of May 2017, I had some clients and assignments lined up for the summer and an idea of how much my business would make if I only did those articles. While I was missing that steady income direct deposited into my bank account, I knew my upcoming assignments would be adequate for keeping me afloat for the season.

I knew if business was slower in the summer, it would allow me more personal time to enjoy my favorite season, work on building the freelance writing course and coaching business I launched on Teachable (sign up here!), and update other aspects of my business that fall to the wayside once I’m crazy busy with work. (Like staying on top of social media management and starting a freelance writing blog.)

Anyone who has been freelancing for at least a year probably understands that there’s a “feast or famine” workload that often happens in this independent contracting business and it can take some getting used to.

I figured it might be helpful to share some ways I take advantage of extra time in my schedule as a freelancer when work slows down in order to set myself up for success in the future.

Try some of these ideas that I’ve worked on during slow business times when you need to find freelance writing jobs and you’re experiencing freelance famine:

20+ Things to Do When Freelance Business is Slow

  1. Write content for a course or product to sell. I used down time to create freelance writing courses online. 
  2. Redesign a website.  Update your site, upload content to your portfolio or build a freelance website if you haven’t already. (I explain how to do this  in my weekend jumpstart e-course.)
  3. Schedule social media posts. Make sure you’re regularly updating Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
  4. Update your LinkedIn profile.  Add new skills, clients, and work experience so potential clients can find you.
  5. Connect with editors and clients on LinkedIn. I do this regularly to say hello or endorse them.
  6. Update a portfolio on a third-party site. I add links to Contently, ClearVoice and Skyword so new clients on there can find me and see clips I wrote that might be a fit.
  7. Read magazines. Sort through that pile of print magazines and jot down potential pitches for editors. Here’s how to find magazine editors’ contact information.
  8. Check in with publicists. Email or set up calls or in-person meetings during a freelance famine with PR reps to see who their clients are for future article ideas.
  9. Take new classes. Use this time to brush up on SEO skills, marketing, email marketing and content marketing.
  10. Refer a friend. When you’re searching for freelance writing jobs online, if you find one that’s a fit for a friend of yours, pass it along!
  11. Read fiction for pleasure. You may be surprised where you get ideas for freelance articles!
  12. Read nonfiction! Download a memoir, read a how-to book or brush up on freelancing skills with my e-books.
  13. Read your freelance clients’ websites. This is a great time to read content on sites you like and want to write for to come up with article pitches they’ll want to assign.
  14. Catch up on pop culture and entertainment news. Watch TV shows and documentaries that everyone is buzzing about this season.
  15. Do content marketing exercises to find freelance work. Contact potential new clients and introduce myself as a content marketing writer.
  16. Create lists on social media. I started creating private lists of editors and freelance writers to follow on Twitter so I know when editors are posting calls for pitches.
  17. Follow up with previous clients. Reach out to clients I worked with the past two years and say hello. See if they need freelance help.
  18. Read social media group threads and posts. Join Facebook groups for freelance writers, editors, and follow message threads
  19. Sign up for online courses from other freelancers. I like Inkwell Editorial’s How to Launch an Online Course.
  20. Get outside. Take long walks and listen to podcasts with interesting interviews. This makes me feel like I’m learning while exercising.

While it’s easy (and probably common) to feel anxious and nervous when your inbox is quiet (here’s how to find money in your inbox) and it seems like your pitches have disappeared into a black hole, take a breath and give clients and editors time. This is much easier to do when you have a savings safety net and if you don’t have a ton of debt.

Here’s what a freelance writer friend of mind does when freelance work slows down:

“When work is slow, I try not to 1.) let it freak me out (Thinking “I’ll never work again!“), and 2.) Let it become an excuse to sit on the couch and watch TV all day (though it is nice to relax every once in a while!).

I’m marketing and pitching regardless of how much work I currently have on my plate, but slow times are when I really ramp it up and start exploring new potential clients, sending more magazine article pitches and LOIs (letters of intent), and researching topics.

I could definitely be more organized about it, but it’s working okay for now. I also use slow times as an opportunity to do continuing education I wouldn’t ordinarily do when busy with client work. Right now I’ve got my eye on an online grammar refresher course on Mediabistro.com, and plan on tackling that when things lighten up a bit.

I’ll also read articles and books on topics in my field (fitness, exercise science, nutrition, etc.) to help broaden my knowledge.” – Lauren Bedotsky, Freelance Health and Fitness Writer

I know it’s tough to be chill about freelance writing when you’re used to being busy with writing, clients, and projects, but I find it helpful to have faith in the process. If I do my best to increase pitching, marketing, social media, and learning during the downtime, it’ll pay off well within a few days, weeks or months. Here’s why it’s so important for freelancers to constantly be marketing.

What do you do with your time when business slows down?

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