10 Things To Do During Freelance Slow Seasons
Something I discuss a lot with my fellow creative freelancers is the fear and uncertainty surrounding “downtime”, or quiet seasons in business. One minute we can be riding that “when it rains it pours” wave, with jobs and opportunities being thrown at us from all directions. The next minute, we might find ourselves with all jobs delivered and absolutely nothing new on the horizon. It’s in moments like these that even the most seasoned freelancer can lose confidence and spiral into negativity. Seasons do change and work does pick up up, but there’s often that little moment where things have gone quiet, the emails stop coming in, and a scarcity mindset can creep up on you. I have been there many a time!
I used to let these quiet periods cripple me, sinking into full blown panic mode, crying on the couch with a bag of Doritos, making very dramatic statements like “This is the end! I’ll never get another job again, my entire career is OVER”. Honestly I have NO chill. Over the years I’ve been learning that my work year seems to have consistent seasons, some of which are busy and fruitful, while others are less so. The Winter months seem to always be slower for me, with work ramping up for the holiday season and flowing into the new year, where it then chills out again ahead of the next Winter block. I used to let things grind to a complete halt for me during slower seasons, but in the last few years, armed with the experience and knowledge that this is a regular occurrence and part of the natural flow of business, I’ve been trying to maximise my ‘slow season’ as much as I can - filling it with projects and tasks that proactively set me up for the months ahead.
If you’ve been looking for ways to keep things flowing during times where it feels like work may have dried up, here’s 10 things you can try.
A quick note regarding the pandemic and how it’s affected the creative industry: As we know, COVID has majorly affected freelance creatives’ ability to find work and I just want to acknowledge that here before I go any further. The creative industry has been hit hard and many of us have been impacted. The ideas I’m sharing in this post were written with more conventional work slow season settings in mind - when you are looking to fill your time before things pick up again. They’re based on actual things I try to do during these times. But I totally get that they may not be appropriate or useful for you if your business has been affected by the pandemic. For wellbeing resources to help if you’re struggling during this time, please check out Beyond Blue.
Is there something new you’ve wanted to learn but haven’t previously had time? Maybe there’s a course you want to take, or a new design program you want to master. Perhaps you want to finally finish that educational book you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t had time. Whatever it may be, now is a great time to do it! Levelling up your skill set is not only empowering and provides something to occupy your time during a ‘quiet season’, but adding new skills to your roster will also give you something fresh to offer clients and potentially lead to new types of work for you as well.
In periods when I’m really busy at work it can be kind of hard to take the time to seek out new inspiration. I always tend to prioritise responding to client briefs and working on what’s right in front of me over ‘indulging’ in research and discovery of new inspiring things. Something I’m trying to do more of during quieter periods is to give myself time to dive deep into creative research and inspiration hunting - picking a topic, theme or visual style that I really vibe off and finding out as much as I can about it. Reading books and looking at old magazines, spending time outdoors to see what new ideas flow… however you find inspiration, now’s a great time to get stuck in.
After you’ve indulged in some exciting inspiration hunting, why not use your downtime to experiment with all your new ideas? Test out new techniques, try new materials that appeal to you, and allow yourself to create for the sake of creating. Too often as a working creative, I find myself only making stuff when it’s for a job, can you relate? But it’s so liberating and so crucial to our growth to feel free to create without a brief or client in mind. This is where the real magic happens. Developing and enhancing your style and abilities all contributes to attracting new clients anyway, so you’ve got nothing to lose.
Get your admin sorted
Okay, so if you’re anything like me, admin is probably the last thing you want to do at any point, let alone a potentially stressful and uncertain slow point in your work year. But I’m sure you can agree, that the nagging pressure that comes from a pile of admin tasks just sitting there unfinished with no time to tackle them is just as stressful. Got 1067 unread spam emails in your inbox? (Guilty). 2 years worth of receipts piling up in a plastic bag in a dark corner of your cupboard? (Guilty). Client contact list woefully out of date? (Guilty, guilty, guilty!). Use this time to chip away at the annoying admin you’ve been putting off. That way, when you’re busy again your conscience will be clear and your business will be better for it.
Implement new systems, or refresh old ones
When you’re low on client work it can be a great time to trial and implement new systems without it getting in the way of your current workflow. Been meaning to switch your invoicing software but haven’t had time? Maybe you want to overhaul your social media strategy and pre-schedule a month of content in advance. Always dreamed about being one of those super organised people who has a meeting scheduling app up and running for clients and customers to use? Now’s your chance.
Revamp your studio
If you looked in my studio storage cupboard right now you would be likely to find boxes upon boxes of craft supplies that I’ve probably forgotten I even own. This stuff takes up so much space and has gotta go - but who has time to sort through it all when you’re tackling deadline after deadline? Downtime is a great opportunity to do this. I’m currently switching my home work space from the spare room down to the more spacious garage and moving everything I use daily for work into its new home - something I totally wouldn’t have been able to do in a busier time.
Update your website and social media
To stay on the radar of potential clients I feel it helps to regularly be sharing new content and keeping our online platforms fresh and up to date. I am admittedly so guilty of having abandoned my website to languish in the dust on many an occasion, so I’ve taken to scheduling in website updates (adding new jobs to the portfolio, streamlining menu navigation, boosting my SEO etc) during times where I have less client work on. These times could also be great for updating your Instagram highlights, refining the tags on your Pinterest pins, or whatever else you need to do to keep your social media platforms fresh and ticking along.
Start a passion project
Do you have an idea for a new side hustle, creative venture, or passion project? Slow seasons are opportunities to devote a solid chunk of time to developing a fresh idea, experimenting with it, and launching something new. Use the time to fully realise a new project from concept phase through to implementation and take the time to enjoy the process!
Actively pitch to clients
Just because you’re having a quiet moment work-wise, doesn’t mean your clients are! Slow periods can be a great time to kickstart a pitching campaign to potential new clients, or reconnect with existing or former clients. Use this time to craft a new pitch deck, draft a list of dream brands to approach, generate some enticing ideas to lead with, and get your name out there as much as you can. I am a strong believer in creating opportunity rather than waiting for it to come to you, so why not turn the next slow season into your new pitching period? You never know what opportunities you can create by actively putting yourself out there.
One final thing I try to remind myself of during slow periods in business, is that it’s all completely normal. Just like opportunities ebb and flow, so does our creativity. I think it’s unrealistic to assume that we as humans (especially in today’s world), can be productive and creative 24/7. Downtime and space away from work is necessary for us to rest, recharge, and just live. We’re not meant to be working all the time. So by all means fill your quieter times with things that can help your business grow and set you up for a better flow during busy periods, but if you feel you’d like to use the time to step away and rest, that’s completely okay too!
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This article was created in partnership with Adobe Express. All opinions and ideas are my own.
I used Adobe Express to create the graphics for this blog article and accompanying social posts. Adobe Express is an all-in-one design app that allows you to create beautiful custom graphics to elevate your brand. I use it regularly to create eye-catching visual assets for my website and socials and in particular have been loving the new Blend Modes and Design Assets which I used to create my graphics for this post.