Diana Kelly Levey

29 Things to Do When Freelance Business is Slow

empty bookshelves store closing freelance

May 14, 2019

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 a few years like I have, it can be helpful to track the times of the year when business slows down for you. That way, when it happens 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. (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.

29 Things Freelancers Can Do When Work Slows Down

Try some of these and share your advice for when business is slow below in the comments:

  1. Write content for the freelance writing online course I’m creating “Get Started Freelance Writing,”
  2. Create an email newsletter about the freelance course.
  3. Redesign my website or update some aspect of it with the help of a designer.
  4. Schedule social media posts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
  5. Add some of my latest articles to my portfolio.
  6. Update my LinkedIn profile with new skills, clients, work experience. Connect over there!
  7. Reach out to editors and clients I worked with on LinkedIn to say hello or endorse them.
  8. Read magazines that have been piling up and jot down potential pitches for those outlets.
  9. Meet with PR people and publicists I don’t make time for when I’m busier
  10. Attend media events and network with editors, PR reps, and writers
  11. Have lunch and coffee with freelance writer friends.
  12. Take new fitness classes at the gym.
  13. Research how my IRA is performing and move mutual funds around.
  14. Post items to sell on eBay (when business is really slow).
  15. Read fiction for pleasure.
  16. Launch this freelance writing advice blog
  17. Schedule newsletter posts in advance and create a calendar to follow when I get busy.
  18. See friends and family in person or catch up on the phone.
  19. Read content on sites I like and want to write for as well as what clients’ are posting on their sites.
  20. Watch TV shows and documentaries that everyone is buzzing about this season.
  21. Visit museums during weekdays, like The Intrepid or Met in NYC, or the Museum of the American Revolution (Philadelphia)
  22. Contact potential new clients and introduce myself as a content marketing writer
  23. Beef up my social media presence on Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest, while finding new people to follow. (Read my blog about how Freelancers Should Use Social Media to Get Ahead.)
  24. Reach out to clients I worked with the past two years,
  25. Join Facebook groups for freelance writers, editors, and follow message threads
  26. Sign up for online courses from other freelancers (like Inkwell Editorial’s How to Launch an Online Course).
  27. Take long walks and listen to podcasts with interesting interviews so I feel like I’m learning while exercising
  28. Visit the magazine section of Barnes & Noble to do magazine research
  29. Pitch editorial services to new clients for bigger, long-term projects

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 pitches and LOIs, 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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