I've been freelancing for a couple years, and one thing I've noticed is that my workload cycles between crazy-busy and completely dead. Which makes planning and finances really unpredictable. Do you have any advice for how to avoid this feast-or-famine cycle?
Everyone has their own comfort level of busyness. Some people want steady work—not too busy, not too light. Some people like to stay on the lighter side, and others prefer to be slamming from morning to night. And of course, there's everything in between. Play around with your busy level and see what feels best to you!
Anyway, here are some tips for keeping your work up so you don't oscillate so much between the highs and the lows.
1. Most important...plan ahead.
Look ahead at least two weeks. Make the time to send out an email to your contacts and say something like "Hey! I've got a day or two free this week. If you need any help, let me know!"If even half of your email list messages you back and needs you for a day, then voila! your week is full!
Two things about this:
Always BCC your clients when you do this. If you don't, they'll see who else you emailed...and they may jump to conclusions. Why isn't that company using them now? Why are NONE of these people keeping them busy? Are they that slow they have to reach out to everyone they know?
When you send out an "I'm available" email, make sure you don't sound desperate for work. Just like one of my good friends recently said, sending out a request for work is just like dating! If you make a request and you sound unsure or desperate, people will have less confidence in you and be less likely to hire you.
2. Diversify your client list.
Some people like to work only with specific types of clients, but I believe that having a diverse list is the best way to go. My advice: Get some huge clients (like P&G, large agencies, Fortune 500s) and then also develop relationships with lots of small businesses, local businesses, non-profits and start-ups.
Small businesses typically have smaller budgets, but if you get enough of them, they fill in the gaps really well. PLUS they tend to be more loyal than the large businesses, they have ongoing projects and looser timelines, and they are more likely to give free word-of-mouth advertising. Not only that, but they almost always pay faster than the big guns who can sometimes take up to 90 days. Working for both creates a great balance in workload, project types and paydays!
3. Do the shit work.
This can be a controversial issue with freelancers, especially those in creative fields. I see both sides, but I'm of the opinion that everyone has to do shit work sometimes, even those who are rich and famous (they just don't brag about it!).
The truth is, I've known numerous freelancers who narrow their market so much that they end up shutting a lot of doors on themselves. Unless you're so slammed that you can pick and choose from a long list of awesome projects, don't limit yourself.
Designers, you might not LIKE doing flyers or ads, but they help pay the bills...and they probably don't take that much time anyway. Suck it up. Someday the time will come when you'll be so busy, you can say no to any projects that aren't up your alley.
4. Step outside your comfort zone.
Sometimes the best way to make new clients is to start small or do them a favor (I don't mean a free favor). Maybe you're a photographer who loves photographing people and want to focus only on that. Would it kill you to do those home interior shots for that small business, even though it's not your main gig? It's good pay, it's easy and you don't have to put it in your portfolio and show the world, if you don't want to. It's an easy way to make a good connection with a new client, show them your skills AND develop a rapport with them. While you're shooting, talk with them about all the OTHER amazing things you do and hopefully, you'll walk away with that portrait job you were wanting to begin with! Happens to me ALL. THE. TIME.
5. Market yourself with your natural passion.
When I was doing the 9-5 agency life, I was always told, "You need to toot your own horn more, Mandy!" but I could never find a natural way to do that. I didn't like the feeling of bragging on myself or purposely making it a point to tell people what great things I'd been doing.
Now that I have my own business though, I totally get it AND it comes naturally. I LOVE my job and my business so much that it pours out of me 24/7 (ask my poor sis who sweetly listens to me drone on and on!). I never feel like I'm promoting myself at all! I'm passionate about what I do, I love it, I love the projects I'm working on, the people I get to meet, the flexibility, the pay, the randomness of it, the variety...I told you I can go on and on.
Hopefully what you've set off on your own to do brings out that kind of passion in you. If it doesn't, don't ever be afraid to keep exploring your options until you find it. Once you do, you'll know it (and so will everyone around you).
I hope that helps! Feel free to email me to chat more!