Don’t Panic — Here’s What You Can Do When Business Is Slow

Written by Elizabeth Wellington on August 21, 2017

Last quarter, my numbers dropped unexpectedly. While I’ve built up a steady base of clients over the past three years, the departures of two of my favorite editors from their organizations took away 30 percent of my business. Cue the panic, anxiety and worry. As stressful as an overwhelming workload is, the eerie quiet of an empty inbox made me even more anxious.

Here’s the truth: Peaks and valleys are part of the job. Every freelancer I know has experienced a point in the year where business is slow. Nevertheless, it’s natural to experience a sense of doubt when revenue falls. Questions buzzed around my mind: Did I lose my edge? How can I ramp back up? And, what the heck should I do with all this time?

It turns out that “all this time” was extremely beneficial for my business. Instead of wallowing in the loss, I poured my energy into a thoughtful assessment of my business. Within a few weeks, I was busier than ever, with my income set to hit an all-time high. Here’s exactly what I did to revamp my business.

Conduct an Informal Audit of Your Business

The first step was to take stock of my business needs. I spent half a day looking through my numbers, thinking about my business goals and examining the strengths and weaknesses of my work thus far.

I discovered that, when I’m really busy, I overlook a lot of administrative work, like bookkeeping and updating my business blog. I was exhausted from so many back-to-back projects, and I lacked a work structure that allowed time off. To change this, I used my extra time to catch up on administrative work and create new processes to give my day-to-day some much-needed structure.

When you conduct an informal audit of your business, you may clear up some time to work on that new project you’ve always wanted to tackle. Instead of putting it aside again, invest the time now, since you have it. This type of business flexibility — combined with a willingness to target your goals and adapt to your current circumstances — can lead to unexpected windfalls. When adversity hits, you’re more likely to get creative.

Tap Into Your Network

When my work slowed down, I reached out to everyone in my network about potential opportunities. If you’re not sure where to start, pick one connection. Here’s an email template you can use to refresh your network:

Hi, ____,

How are you? I hope all is well.

I’ve had a few extra openings in my workload this quarter and thought of you. I remember you mentioned an uptick in projects the last time we met for coffee. I thought I’d reach out to see if you need any extra help. If not, I’d still love to get together to hear how things have been going on your end.

These emails can lead to unexpected work. I took a brief conversation with a friend-of-a-friend about a minor copywriting job and turned it into my most lucrative project yet.

Additionally, you can use social media and freelance platforms to dig for some extra work. For example, I updated my LinkedIn page and applied for two new freelance platforms during the first week of my slow period. Think of the big picture to widen your reach and create potential new gigs.

Imagine Your Long-Term Goals

If there’s one guiding light that’ll serve you well as a freelancer, it’s considering your long-term intentions. Although I benefited from short-term adjustments, like a basic audit and a network refresh, reimagining my business model during a slow period led to long-term growth.

Now that I had openings, I could ask myself some meaningful questions. What kind of clients do I want to work with? Should I adjust my niche? Am I enjoying my work? When you find yourself with extra time, think about the life you want to lead. As freelancers, we benefit from extra ownership over our professional work. If you don’t feel fulfilled or balanced, you have the power to change that.

It can sometimes feel like a gift when business is slow. If you take the time to hone your focus, rest up and tap into your network, you’ll benefit from the break. Like me, you’ll come out of this quiet period with the momentum and energy you need to face the next challenge.

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