Feast or famine: how to overcome the freelancer’s dilemma
I’m preaching to the choir because you already know that freelancing has some great advantages: you can make your own hours, take on as many or as little clients as you like, and you can accept or decline projects according to your interests. However, there are some challenges to this precarious world of being your own boss, a big one being the inevitable seasons of feast and famine.
I’ve been a freelance writer for more than five years now and I have virtual whiplash from starting and stopping so many projects. One week I could be totally stressed juggling three clients who all want pages of content and the next week I could exude a different kind of stress: the one born from boredom mixed with the pressure of financial obligations.
As a freelancer, you don’t really establish the relational ties (and security) that a typical 9 to 5 employee makes. Many times we come and go with the whims and unstable funding of a start-up company. The average duration at any of my previous companies can be from three to eighteen months and usually ends without notice (which tends to be when they decide “to go in a different direction”… aka scrap the old marketing department for a new one).
So here are a few tips that I have learned along the way to surviving these times of feast and famine.
1) Always keep your resume or portfolio fresh
You may have profiles on LinkedIn or CloudPeeps, or maybe you just have a PDF, but if you keep your resume or portfolio updated, you can apply for jobs at a moment’s notice. Better yet, your qualifications will be current for any company that may find you on a networking website and may be interested in hiring you.
Just the mere thought of updating a resume or portfolio can be daunting. To keep them updated without putting too much time or thought into it, try these tactics:
- Start an Evernote or Google sheet where you place wins every time you have a success, whether that’s conversions driven, press secured, influencers gained, etc.
- Create a repeating calendar notice for once a month on a Sunday evening to update your personal brand assets with your latest work.
- Make a dropbox or Google Drive folder with all of your creative assets — or links to them — to be able to easily drag and drop them into your portfolio.
- Leverage easy-to-use platforms such as CloudPeeps or Squarespace that allow you to update your portfolio in minutes.
2) Expect the best, prepare for the worst
Henry Buckley once said, “Save a part of your income and begin now, for the man with a surplus controls circumstances and the man without a surplus is controlled by circumstances.”
I know I am a good freelance writer, but not everybody who is hiring knows that. That’s why I have a savings account as Plan B. Confidence + wisdom = success.
You know you’re good at what you do (which is why you are stepping out into the freelance world) but until you get a strong client base, plan ahead.
Other ways to manage your budget and time are to consider skipping the coffee shop, implementing an app like Mint.com to track your finances, or closing the tabs to your e-mail and social media accounts while you are working so that you can focus on one task at a time to increase your productivity. The little things really do add up!
Pro-tip: If you experience chronic task-switching, check out the One-Tab Chrome extension. It puts all of your tabs in one tab so you’re less likely to switch back and forth, but won’t forget about them!
3) Remember the importance of networking
I like the word “networking” about as much as I like the word “mammogram,” but both are vital to one’s well being (well, unless you are a guy, but you get my point).
In times of famine, you can reconnect with people you have met along the way and inquire if they could use your skills. The more people you know, the more opportunities you have. Moreover, this is incredibly easy with social media with just a “like” or comment on their posts. You can even join groups with like-minded professionals with Twitter chats, meetups, Facebook groups, and Google Circles.
4) Put your best foot forward
And speaking of social media, keep your profiles professional. We are living in a cyber world where much of the time you will only chat with your client over the Internet or on the phone. They’ll base their opinions of you and your work ethic from how you look via Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (so keep that bachelor party picture hidden on your iPhone). On the flip side, this is a great place to post charity work, professional accomplishments, or conferences/classes/events that you have attended. If you were the boss, would you hire you based on your social media profile?
Check out how these freelancers leveraged their social media accounts to land their dream clients without a resume.
5) Use the right tools
As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of power to social media. LinkedIn and Twitter are great ways to get your name out there and to stay in touch with other professionals. CloudPeeps is also a valuable resource for pitching for work that you are qualified for and getting advice from other freelancers.
Blogging and building content on WordPress can additionally bring credibility and an audience to your skill set. A perfect example to check out is Alex Beauchamp and her blog girlatplay.com. Not only does she share her insights about her profession and the challenges she faces on current projects, but she also presents herself as real, stylish, and an authority on design and marketing. It is a concise snapshot of her work and skill level without being a traditional resume.
It’s all about the lifestyle
I love being a freelancer and the flexibility that comes with it. I’ve learned through the years that one of my greatest skills is organization. I work my butt off when I have a ton of clients and stay organized with a strict schedule. When times are slow, I get my personal life in order because I know that soon I’ll be busy again and won’t have that luxury. Regardless in times of plenty or in want of work, I’m constantly thinking of what I can do to present myself better to land that next client.
How do you manage the ebbs and flows of freelance life? Leave your tips in the comments below!
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