How to deal with a quiet spell as a freelancer

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that no industry is as secure as we once hoped, and the world of freelancing is no different. 2020 forced many to re-evaluate how they do business, making the switch to host events online and meet with clients in new ways by using platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Whilst some freelancers have reaped the benefits, many of us are still navigating the new business landscape and have seen a lot of work dry up as a result.

There’s no denying that tumbleweed territory is scary. No money coming in isn’t ideal, so here are some ways that you can prepare for (and potentially avoid) periods of drought when they appear.

Worried young freelancer looking at her laptop screen

Set up a referrals scheme

Offer existing clients a discount if they successfully refer you to someone who ends up paying for your services. Simple and effective, as we know that word of mouth recommendations always go down well.

Offer payment plans

For higher priced services, consider splitting the payment into smaller chunks. Not only will this make your services more accessible to people who might not have been able to work with you otherwise, but it means you’ll get a steady cashflow for a few months in contrast to the usual feast or famine cycle that us freelancers have become accustomed to.


Put clients on a waiting list

Once your books are full (I swear, it’s a state of being that truly exists), invite future clients to go on a waiting list. This means that when work slows down you can reach out and schedule them in as soon as you have an opening. This creates scarcity around your brand which can encourage people to book slots promptly when they become available. If you can, nurture this email list by sending out free content too.

Build multiple income streams

It’s great to specialise in one area of expertise, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot. I’m an author, but I don’t make all my money writing books. I write blog posts, host a podcast, teach writing courses, and offer mentoring session as well. Write down all the ways that you currently make money and consider how you could branch out or adapt each income stream in a new format. For example, could an aspect of your consultancy work be delivered as an online course or one-off webinar? Instead of taking commissions for your artwork, could you turn existing pieces into prints or greetings cards? Instead of writing on your blog, could you pitch stories to publications?

Look for in-house work

One great thing about freelancing is that it puts you in a position to take on temporary or part-time contracts that some people don’t want. In-house may be online for now, but keep your eye out for part-time work or maternity leave cover on job sites, or sign up to receive notifications by email. I know that looking for a job might feel like you’re moving backwards, but if you find a role doing the work you love, then it’s still progress. Working in-house can also offer a unique chance to make some stellar industry connections that you might be able to call on for freelance work in the future. You’ll probably brush up on some of your lesser-used skills as well.

Learn some new skills

Think about how you can level up your skillset in order to increase your prices or tap into new audiences. Start with those books you’ve had stacked up on your bedside table, or start working on your novel. Ask past client for feedback and analyse the results. Use this lull as an opportunity to make adjustments to your packages and customer service based on your findings.

This month, IPSE is offering seven webinars as part of the New Year, New Knowledge series. In 2020, IPSE ran 84 webinars for our members, offering advice on everything from using social media, to the latest IR35 developments. Sign up today to one of our award-winning events today.

Fiona's book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and be your own boss is available to buy here.

Meet the author

Fiona Thomas

Freelance writer

Fiona Thomas is an author and freelance writer with work published in iPaper, Grazia, Happiful Magazine and Huffington Post. Her most recent book ‘Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss’ is a guide to freelancing.