Every business has slow times, with freelancing it’s the “famine” part of the feast and famine cycle. Since most freelancers are just a single person, a slow period can easily affect your lifestyle and cause a lot of stress. Once you are in the famine stage, you have to admit to yourself that it’s only temporary and take action to work through it faster. I’ve found there are three things I tend to do when I get slow:
The number one thing I do when business is slow is to market more. The more marketing you do the faster you can pull through the famine stage. Some ideas that I’ve found to work great are:
- Write an interesting comment on blog that your customers read.
- Write to your own blog. Don’t have one yet, start one!
- Connect with past customers and see if they need help with anything. If it’s something you can’t do, tap your network and find someone who can.
- Have some guts and send a personalized message to a company you would like to work with. This can be an email, letter, or even a gift. Just try to get noticed.
- Connect with other business people on your favorite social network like Twitter. Focus on having interactions and building relationships.
- Review your website copy to make it easier to skim and understand.
- Find a volunteer organization that you can contribute time to. Many of them are hurting for help, especially a freelancer specialist.
- Find an Open Source project and ask what you can do to help out. They don’t just need code anymore; they need graphics, public relations, user support, and leadership.
2. Hone your skills
Another thing I do during slow time is to hone my skills. When given the choice of marketing or honing your skills I try to market but not everyone can market themselves all the time. There is one idea that you can use to actually hone your skills and also get some marketing in for free:
Hone your skills in public
Learning (and failing) in public will let you show off your ideas, improve it over time, and will also give you something you can point to later on. Since I mostly work with web developers and web designers, here’s a few ideas:
- Pick a new technology you want to learn, create a small library, and Open Source it. Publish the code on GitHub and write about what you learned.
- Start a single serving site using a new web framework. The is____yet.com sites seem to be really popular now.
- Pick up a new programming language and try to start a side project in it. Try to make it generate valid XHTML from an input.
- Create a plugin for your favorite project and publish it online (e.g. Rails, Redmine, Radiant, WordPress).
- Review someone else’s code and start a conversation about what it does and how it can be improved.
- Find a non-profit or community website and redesign their homepage. Offer to work with them to complete the redesign (for free or paid, your choice).
- Pick an Open Source application you use and talk to them about a site redesign. I’ve seen hundreds of project websites that still look like they are from 1995.
- Pick a popular site and comp out a few updates to improve the UI. 37signals did this early on and it got them bit of publicity.
- Try out a new technique in your favorite tools and create a short tutorial on how it works.
Finally if you have done everything above, then just let yourself relax. There are hundreds of projects starting every day, sometimes you just need to wait for them to you. Try to find a way to relax that will help you in the long run,
- Read a book
- Go for a run
- Write a letter to an old friend (yes, on paper… no email doesn’t count.. neither does Facebook)
- Take a nap in the sun
- Spend the day at the library or other public
If you have any other ideas that help you work through the slow times, let me know.