Ask Alicia: How Can Freelancers Stay Productive During Slow Times?

by Alicia Sparks on December 20, 2011

Unless you're on vacation, I can't fathom why your to-do list is blank.

QUESTION:

Alicia,

January will make three years since I started freelance writing. During the holiday season of the first year, things got pretty slow, but I just thought I was going through a “famine.” When it happened again the second year, I grew suspicious, and now that it’s happening again, I’m pretty sure I’m seeing a pattern.

Is it normal for freelance writers to see a drop in business during the holidays? How can I keep my freelance writing business from coming to a standstill next year, too?

Thanks,

Theresa

ANSWER:

Hey Theresa,

My answer is sort of two-fold: First, yes, it is somewhat normal for freelance writers to experience a drop in business during the holiday season. (This is actually the first Christmas season since 2005 that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work; in years past, I’ve had a certain level of “free time” during this time of year.)

Don’t get me wrong – there are still plenty of clients and work out there – but some businesses slow down during this time of year (to put final touches on projects you’re not affiliated with, set goals for the upcoming year, etc. – things they need in-house employees or other types of professionals for), which means they don’t always need as many – or any – contractors.

Second, there are plenty of things you can do during this “slow” time – productive things that will actually benefit your freelancing career.

List time!

1. Spruce up your resume.

2. Keep applying for jobs.

3. Keep your blog updated. You can also get that editorial calendar moving into the new year, as well as go ahead and write and pre-post a few blog posts.

4. Stay active on social media. Keep schmoozin’ it up on Facebook and Twitter (and Google+ if you’ve made that leap yet). First of all, you have friends on there who deserve it, and second of all, you never know when your networking is going to introduce you to a new client.

5. Send “touching base” e-mails to former clients. 2010 was one of the most lucrative years for me as a freelance writer, and it’s because of one – ONE – e-mail I sent out wishing a former client a Happy New Year and inquiring about upcoming projects. If I remember correctly, I wrote something along the lines of, “I have some availability coming up and was wondering if [The Company] has any projects in the works?” Seriously, that simple.

6. Scope out a few blogs you’d like to write guest posts for, and query the owners.

7. Write articles for your Ezine, Hub, or other article distribution sites.

8. Draft letters to local businesses you’d like to provide services for in the new year. I don’t recommend actually sending them until January’s had a little time to get underway and everyone’s on track again.

9. Come up with a column for your local newspaper. Contact the editor with the idea, and maybe even a few samples.

10. Catch up on your reading. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: You need to keep studying your craft. (That “To Read” folder in your e-mail inbox counts, too.)

11. Work on your online presence. Tweak your website or blog to finally get it just the way you want it, or look for Web and graphic designers to create a logo for your freelance writing business. You might even find designers offering holiday specials or end-of-the-year discounts.

12. Think of a magazine article or two you’d like to write, or finally query that editor with that idea that’s been bouncing around in your head since last spring.

13. Re-evaluate your rates. Maybe now’s the time for a rate increase, or to create those product/service packages you’ve been thinking about.

14. Clean up and get organized. Your desk, your internal and external hard drives, your filing system – all of it.

15. Have some fun! Spend some time with your family and friends, playing with your new gifts, and just taking a break from it all. A fresh, rejuvenated brain is better than a tired, burnt out one any day.

FINANCIAL TIP:

If you already know the holiday months will be slow, set aside some money each month leading up to the season. Anne Wayman of About Freelance Writing provides five solid ideas for solving freelance writing’s uncertain income.

How about you, readers? What ideas can you add? What do you do when “business” is slow, but there’s still plenty of work to be done?

This post is part of the Ask Alicia series at WritingSpark.com. Learn more, check out some other columns, or shoot me an e-mail directly at alicia [at] writingspark [dot] com (or click here) with “Ask Alicia” in the subject line to ask your own question.

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