It would be an absolute dream if we had a steady stream of new clients coming to us and beginning projects all the time.
With enough discipline and hard work, you can build up your freelance brand over time and get to that point.
But until that time, or in times of unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19, you will face periods of famine.
When client work is slow, it can throw you into a world of doubt. You may even begin to question the path you’ve chosen and whether or not you can make freelancing or self-employment work.
But you CAN pull out of it.
When times are slow, it’s a new opportunity. An opportunity to put processes for finding new clients into place, and an opportunity to tackle the work you’ve been putting off.
COVID-19 is making things tough for everyone – employees, freelancers, and business owners alike.
And we don’t know when things will return back to “normal.”
So it’s very possible that you’re in a period of famine right now. So let’s talk about a few ways you can try to make lemonade when things are tough and work is slow.
Reach out to your advocates
There is a lot of talk about social distancing right now. And while physical distancing is incredibly important right now in order to #FlattenTheCurve, we need to continue social connection while maintaining physical distance.
This is a great time to reconnect with friends, family, coworkers, and other advocates. Reach out – have a conversation over the phone or schedule a video call.
Be empathetic. Talk to them about their situation – see if there’s any way that you can help.
At some point, they will probably turn the conversation to you and ask how you’re doing. Or how they can help you.
If they do, be honest with them! Let them know how the situation has impacted you, and what would make things easier on you. Is it finding a client who needs help with ___? Is it pure emotional support? Social connection? Accountability?
This is not a time to be proud or to sugarcoat things. If your advocate asks how you’re doing, and you tell them that you’re doing just fine, they probably won’t prioritize helping you. It’s not that they don’t care, but that they are going to focus their energy where people can use their help.
Do your part to help others, and others will likely do what they can to help you too. But only if they know HOW they can help.
Reach out to your former and existing clients
With all the bad news you’re seeing, you might assume that business is coming to a standstill and everyone is putting their money into a vault so no one can touch it.
But that’s not the case. Business is continuing for a LOT of people (albeit virtually) and they will still have very real needs. And those needs may actually be even more difficult for them to fill in house.
Some businesses (the exception) are even busier during this time and actively hiring.
If you offer services virtually, you may be at an advantage. Check in with your existing, former, and potential clients. Don’t limit this to existing or previous clients – get in touch with anyone who you’ve been trying to land a project with.
Ask them if they have 20 minutes to catch up over the phone. And if you have the opportunity to talk with them, again, start with empathy.
How are they doing? What is difficult for their team right now?
It may become clear that they are experiencing some challenges that YOU could help them with. It may not be your typical project – it may be something that you’ve never charged for before, or something that you would typically prefer not to do.
But in times of famine, if someone tells you they are having a problem that you could solve for them, it’s a good idea to swallow your pride and do what would help the client.
It pays the bills and continues to build the relationship you have with that client.
Make specific offers
Since you’re going to be reaching out to potential clients, you should prepare a specific offer that you can make proactively.
Making an offer means coming to the table with a defined outcome, scope, price, and so on.
Offers help a client visualize exactly what the outcome of working with you will look like.
It removes the need for them to use their imagination, and puts you in control of how they envision what the outcome of working with you will look like.
It’s the difference between asking, “Do you need a copywriter?” and saying, “I am going to work with five clients this month to write some case studies. Are you interested in that?”
It lays everything out for them, and all they need to do is say “yes” to get started. (read more)
Some examples of specific offers:
- Helping small business launch a Shopify website
- Helping lawyers get setup to publish on YouTube
- Helping solopreneurs tell their story through a rewritten About Me page
- Doing a complete rebrand including logo, templates, and brand standards
When you make an offer, you should target a specific number of clients. And you should be specific about what type of client you are targeting.
This puts you on the path of a productized service, which makes the whole process more efficient for YOU. But more importantly, this process is compelling to the client.
By targeting a specific number of clients, you are creating scarcity. You can only help this number of clients this month.
By putting a timeline on it – this month – you are creating urgency. If they don’t say yes today, they may have to wait a whole month!
And by choosing a specific type of client, you are sending the signal that THIS offer is for THEM.
I’ve written much more about this in my Selling for Freelancers course.
And here is an article to help you with cold outreach!
Revisit your budget
Ideally, you can continue to sign new clients and life will go on. But, it’s also a good idea to revisit your budget and see what you may be able to cut out for the foreseeable future.
If you don’t already have a budget in place, now is the time to get a handle on one! Figure out exactly what you are spending money on every month, and how much you’re spending. That will help you to identify the line items you can cut back on or cut out entirely.
Subscriptions are a great area to cut right now. And if you double down on groceries instead of restaurants, that will help you save some money quickly too.
Saving $100 a month is just as effective as an additional $1200 client project over the next year.
A template for budgeting is included in my Business for Freelancers course.
Get your own house in order
Have you ever heard the phrase, “The cobbler’s kids have no shoes” or “The Blacksmith’s house has wooden knives?”
A lot of us do incredible, beautiful work – for others.
But when it comes to our own company or brand, we fall short.
When times are slow, it’s the perfect time for you to get YOUR OWN house in order.
- If you’re a brand designer, maybe this is the time to work on your own brand
- If you’re a copywriter, maybe this is the time to look over your own copy
- If you’re a website developer, maybe this is the time to look at your own website
Remember that you are your FIRST client and one of the most important portfolio pieces a potential client will look at. If your own assets don’t look good, why should I trust that you’ll do a better job for me?
Learn a new skill
This may be the best opportunity you’ve had in a while to develop a new skill. What have you been meaning to learn, but “just haven’t had the time?”
Maybe it’s a new development language. Maybe it’s how to build in Squarespace, WordPress, or Webflow. Maybe it’s learning Spanish, or how to be a better leader.
These skills can make you more valuable to clients.
In fact, sometimes the most valuable freelancer is someone with a unique combination of skills, or at the intersection of a couple subjects.
What’s more valuable and rare? A copywriter, or a copywriter who can also design a website in Squarespace?
By layering on more skills, you make yourself more valuable and can increase your typical project scope with future clients.
For LinkedIn Premium users, are a ton of courses available on LinkedIn Learning. YouTube has a ton of free content, and most courses are pretty affordable.
In light of COVID-19, I’ve cut the price for all Freelancing School courses in half.
These courses go deep into how to become comfortable and successful selling yourself, and how to better market your services too. They will absolutely pay dividends if you put the time in.
Start that side project
This is a great time to get started on that creative or side project that you’ve been putting off.
Have you been wanting to start a blog, email list, podcast, book, album, or anything else? This is the perfect time.
It can be for your own fun and enjoyment, and it can also be to build up your portfolio.
In the beginning, it can be tough to fill your portfolio full of projects you are proud of. Maybe you are unable to get the exact clients you want, or maybe the client requested so many revisions that it doesn’t even look like your own work anymore.
But you can use your down time to create your own projects to put in your portfolio – and you have total creative control.
It’s very common that freelancers are hired not because of the work they’ve done for other clients, but because of their own creative projects they’ve put out into the world. Think about the YouTubers, Instagram creators, or writers who have been hired because the client had followed their own work.
Be the client you want to see in the world
We’re all hoping that our clients and potential clients keep us in mind and treat us well. Don’t forget that you may also be someone’s client – and so it’s on you to honor that hope as well.
If others are depending on you, be the client that YOU aspire to work with. Pay your invoices on time, start projects early, etc.
We all need to do our part.
And if you’ve been considering investing in or supporting another creator for a while now, this is a great time to do so. Even a simple act of support goes a long way (thanks, Matt!)
Keep an eye open for assistance
We don’t know how long this crisis will last, and there are many moving parts. New opportunities are popping up constantly. Some of them are government-sponsored (changes to unemployment, the CARES Act), some of them are community and volunteer driven, and some of them are driven by private companies.
ConvertKit announced a Creator Fund, which has reached nearly $150K as of this writing. If you’re a creative seeking assistance, they are offering up to $500 for as many individuals as they can help on an as-needed basis.
I’d like to keep an eye open for you too.
If you are looking for referrals, fill out this short questionnaire and I’ll keep you in mind for the people who look to me for help finding freelancers to help.
We never ask for times to be slow. And we didn’t ask for these lemons, but here they are.
So we have a choice: we can complain about our lemons and do nothing, or we can try to make lemonade.
It won’t be easy, and I don’t expect you to be happy about it. But the only way through is forward, so let’s keep going!
I talked about these ideas live and included some Q&A on a recent webinar with Alex Cattoni. Check out the replay below:
- What will you do to make lemonade?
- How can we support you?