What to do when freelance work dries up

In 15 years of freelancing, I’ve had more than my fair share of dry spells. They can be nerve-wracking and get you questioning yourself. But, through all that, here I am all these years later still freelancing full-time from home.

So, what do I do when works dries up?

1. Don’t Panic

Let’s be honest… this is the hardest part. No matter how confident you are in your skills or your client-getting process, when the works slows, we all begin to question ourselves. That ball in the pit of your stomach.

“Is this the end?”

“Am I headed back to a 9-to-5?”

All that.

But, panicking only leads to making bad decisions. And, bad decisions beg bad decisions. Fall down that rabbit hole will only make things worse. So, you have to breathe, engage your intellect and get analytical.

That’s the way through all this.

The firs thing to figure out is:

2. Is this real?

Ebbs and flows are a natural part of being a freelancer and business is cyclical. Hell, way back in the day when I sold shoes, I knew… every August, during back-to-school, our numbers would go way up. And, every January, they’d go way down.

That’s just how it went.

So, first make sure this isn’t just apart of the normal cycle of the year. Of course, the only way to know that is if you’re tracking your income and expenses. I use a site called Wave Accounting to track all my stuff.

It has nice charts that let me quickly see any patterns for the last few years.

So, I can see right away if this is a real dry spell or just a natural lull.

3. What changed?

If this is a real dry spell, it’s time to figure out what changed. You should have some sense of where you’ve been getting work from. Content you’re creating on your own website, a freelance site, referrals, in-person networking, social media, etc.

What dried up?

Why?

Dig into it to get some answers. Ask people at your local meetup group if suddenly you stop getting the referrals you were getting from there. Or, check your website traffic and see if there’s been a dip. Ask recent clients to give you feedback.

Maybe, your delivery lately hasn’t been as good thus the lack of referrals.

The key is identify the problem.

And, see if you can fix it.

Most of the time you can.

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4. Rally the troops

Past satisfied clients can be a great source of new work during a dry spell. Just because they’re not contacting you doesn’t meant they’re not considering hiring someone. How many times have you had an idea that you just let sit for a few months?

Clients do the same.

An email from you may be just the thing they need to get serious about a project.

Don’t be afraid to be aggressive and proactive.

5. Humble yourself

After I built Michael Hyatt’s membership site, Platform University, I had work basically thrown at me for about six months. It was some of the easiest work I ever did and the amount of money I made in that time was just stupid.

But, eventually that momentum wore off.

And, I did.

I had a month or so where I felt like the projects I was getting were “beneath me”. I was holding out for the easy gigs I’d been getting. Eventually, I had to humble myself, be grateful for the offers I was getting and get back to work.

So, is there work out there you could be doing the you’re sticking your nose up at?

If so, time to roll up the sleeves and not be too romantic about how you make your money.

6. Create a new service offering

Maybe, it’s that the services you had been offering don’t have as big of a demand anymore. This happened to me way back in the day when blogging first took off. I was offering your standard mid-2000s text-based website.

And, suddenly, everybody wanted a “database-driven website”.

(Yes, I’m that old.)

My client work dried up and I ended up going back to my 9-to-5 job, because I didn’t see it and didn’t adapt. Demand is fleeting. What people want changes. Your dry spell could be simply because nobody wants what you’re selling anymore.

Look at other service providers in your market.

Have they changed their offerings?

It’s always good to have a big company or two that you check periodically. The volume of work they do can often help them to spot trends earlier that everyone else. Use that to your advantage. If they’re changing service offerings, you might to pay attention.

7. Create a digital product

You should do this, anyway. You’re working so intimately with clients when you freelance that you get invaluable data on all their problems, fears, needs, wants, etc. That’s all the data you’d need to build a killer online course or digital product.

Website templates.

A DIY logo-creation course.

A blogging tutorial.

Digital products are a great way to stabilize your income. And, a dry spell could give you the time you need to focus on it and get it done. As a matter of fact, this is how I even got into teaching in the first place.

I was rounding out my business offerings.

Next thing I knew it took off and become the bulk of my business.

So, you never know.

Anyway, there you go. To recap, here’s the list:

  • Don’t panic and make things worse
  • Figure out if it’s actually a dry spell or just a natural lull
  • Figured out what’s changed and why
  • Contact past clients and ask if they’re needing anything done
  • Don’t be afraid to take “dirty” work in order to make ends meet
  • Change up your service offerings to meet client demands
  • Create a online course or digital product to stabilize your income

What questions do you have about any of these? Let me know in the comments.

Do you want more freelance clients?

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John Morris

JOHN MORRIS

I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

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