Five achievable things creatives can do when freelance work is really slow
Summer might bring sunny days, picnics in the park and barbeques with friends. But July and August can also mean a much quieter time for creative freelancers. And that isn't ideal. So when work is slow, and it feels like everyone's on holiday, what can you do? We bring some top tips to help your business through the inevitable slump.
It's easy to panic when you've just finished your last project and haven't got anything else in the pipeline. You worry nothing will appear, and then what? Fear not. These slower times offer an excellent opportunity to work on your business, marketing and brand. They pave the way for self-reflection and improvement, setting you up for the next busy period.
From finally getting around to tweaking your website copy to learning a little more about dealing with journalists and getting some free publicity, there are tons of things you could do during the next few weeks. Pick any of the five below and see how you get on. Work will then pick up in no time.
1. Create a better About page
If there's one thing that lets down so many freelance designers and illustrators, it's their About page on their website. There might not be enough information or no obvious way to contact them. Or no clear indication that they're available for work. But the most missed opportunity of all is how people write about themselves. They often go into one big personal statement without really thinking about potential clients. So with this in mind, take a look at your own About page and action the following:
Lead with a confident statement
Begin the text by getting straight to the heart of what you do and how you add value. Don't just outline your job title; provide a USP that shows how you make a difference.
Invest in a great portrait photograph
You'd be surprised how much it makes a difference. People want to see who they're dealing with. It creates an instant connection. It adds trust. You don't necessarily have to smile, but it might help.
Always include the little details
Don't underestimate the importance of saying where you're based; it can put some people off if they don't know where you are. You can always say you also work with clients across the UK and globally.
Remember it's not all about you
Potential clients will read your About page, so address everything to them. Write as though you're conversing with those you're targeting, and always keep them in mind. Consider what problems they might have and mention them; explain how you might solve them. Add 'you' throughout, as though talking directly to them. It's amazing how quickly the right language can convince people to choose you.
Celebrate your independence
If you're a sole freelancer, don't be afraid to talk in the first person. It makes things personal and friendly if you use 'I' and 'me'. It keeps things informal, too, and makes you relatable and approachable.
Be proud of your achievements
If you've won awards, worked with big brands or been featured in the press, don't forget to include the info on your About page. You should celebrate these things; they prove that you're credible and capable of doing a great job. And don't discount the importance of client testimonials, either. Everything helps.
Mention you're 'media friendly'
Discerning freelancers will be aware of the benefit of being featured in the press. It's why it doesn't hurt to include on your About page that you're open to interviews, features or podcasts. If you want to impress, create a downloadable media pack, invest in a decent microphone, and mention that you are 'press-ready'. More on this later.
Always have a call-to-action
Once potential clients have read your About page, what should they do next? The entire purpose of this section of your website is to drive new business enquiries, so always have a clear next step in the customer journey.
Double check your copy
Correct spelling and grammar are part of your brand. If your writing is sloppy, it'll reflect badly on you. So ensure all copy is mistake-free and clear. Use a tool like Grammarly to help.
2. Do a productivity audit and get better organised
A regular business spring clean is essential for any freelancer. It's a chance to go through the software and services you use to run an efficient and successful business. Are you still using apps that are no longer ideal? Are you finding specific tasks draining and time-consuming? Could you find something better? Even save some money? Here, we recommend a few services that we think will help.
- FreeAgent: After more than a decade of using FreeAgent, it still remains our favourite amongst the accounting software out there. It's digital bookkeeping at its finest and is loved by accountants, too. It takes care of your admin effortlessly – from invoices to expenses and projects. It makes tax easy with Self Assessment and VAT filing. And it keeps you on track of how you're doing, even integrating with your bank feeds.
- Things: When it comes to task management tools, we've pretty much tried them all. Our favourite, though, has to be Things by Cultured Code, purely for its simplicity, access across multiple screens and devices, and clean design.
- Buffer: Great for social media automation and ensuring you're tweeting, Instagramming and updating LinkedIn whilst doing actual work. The 'Buffer Queue' feature allows you to add tweets, for example, to a queue that then schedules and posts them for you. There's also a convenient Comments feature that lets you stay on top of all interactions via one hub.
- Calendly: Sometimes, it's just the scheduling of meetings that can take up a lot of your time. Get efficient by using something like Calendly – a brilliant online way to let your clients select open meeting types from your busy diary.
- Alfred: This award-winning app for macOS will change your life. It boosts efficiency with hotkeys, keywords, text expansion and much more. It means you can quickly find files, documents or applications, all with just a few taps of the keyboard.
3. Learn some new skills (or answer that niggling question)
You know how it goes. You're busy. You often don't have time to learn new things. But if work goes quiet, you've got no excuses. There could be a complementary field you've been itching to dive into. Or a question or query that keeps popping up and needs answering. Now's the time to roll those sleeves up and get stuck in. Here are some excellent online learning platforms to get you started:
- Skillshare: With loads of creative classes at your fingertips, Skillshare is one of the best platforms out there. What we especially love is how you learn from other creative professionals. There's Laci Jordan and Aaron Draplin, Victo Ngai and Debbie Millman. Browse, pick a course and watch your creative skillset expand.
- Udemy: There's plenty to choose from at Udemy, particularly for those of you looking to advance your skills. We love the Personal Development category, which includes so many interesting courses such as stress management and critical thinking strategies.
- MasterClass: It's time to get starstruck and be inspired by some of the biggest names in the creative community. MasterClass offers courses from the likes of Frank Gehry and RuPaul. Take your pick.
- LinkedIn Learning: It used to be called Lynda.com, and now it belongs to LinkedIn. Over 16,000 courses in seven languages cover various subjects, from creative writing to logo design. There's even a handy tool to search for the most popular skills related to your profession.
4. Do some PR
Who has time for self-promotion, we hear you say. We agree. It's like a whole separate ballgame. But believe me, it's essential if you want to keep your business going. But where to start?
Become media friendly
As we mentioned, including a blurb on your About page that you're open to interviews or press enquiries is great. It immediately tells any browsing journalist that you're happy to chat. But it also adds an extra layer of professionalism, giving your business credibility. Understand what journalists look for and even consider having a separate Press page, like this one by Sagmeister & Walsh.
Invest in some new equipment and learn how to use it
Getting better webcams or mics to prepare yourself for interviews or podcasts does no harm. With better video and sound, journalists will love you. And you'll probably get invited to do more in future.
Follow some relevant journalists on Twitter...
...and look out for Journo Requests where they might tweet about upcoming features they're writing. You want to be the first in line to be a case study or someone they quote. Approach them, too. Write some pitch articles to various magazines. From It's Nice That and Design Week to Creative Review and Creative Boom, there are loads of writers constantly looking for people to feature. Get yourself in front of them.
For extra tips, read our comprehensive guide on getting press coverage. You'll find advice on writing press releases, pitching and more.
5. Go on holiday (or make it a longer working break)
If you can't beat them, join them. Because what better time of year is there to escape than during the summer holidays? Be safe in the knowledge that your business will still be there when you return – particularly if you've followed any of the above suggestions to prepare you for autumn. Things will pick up again, and you'll soon reflect on these quieter days.
Of course, we're only talking about two weeks here. But if you crave a longer escape and you don't have too many commitments, why not try a little nomadic freelancing for a while? Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- The Nomadic Freelancer Podcast: Allow videographer David Whipple – aka The Nomadic Freelancer – to share stories of this particular lifestyle. Be inspired by those who choose a life on the road while working and get some ideas for your next trip.
- Nomad List: An incredibly helpful online resource that is a global community of remote workers living and travelling around the world. You can find a ton of information on various destinations: where to work, living costs, weather – even whether it feels safe or is LGBTQ+ friendly. All are voted for by members, leaving you with a scoring system that helps you choose the right spots.
- PomoDone App: It's difficult to stay focused when you're not settled in one place. The PomoDone app is a quick and easy way to track your workflow using the Pomodoro technique. That's 25 minutes of work, followed by a five-minute break.
Just because it's quiet doesn't mean you have to sit there and wait for the inbox to ping. There are always productive things you can do to boost your business. Whether you strive to cut costs by becoming more time-efficient or decide to learn new skills ready for your next busy period, these quieter times are a great chance to get ahead.