How to cope with the fear of freelance work drying up

It doesn't matter if you're the most successful freelancer in the world, you'll still get 'the fear'.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

You know what I'm talking about. That dreaded feeling that work might dry up. Those anxious thoughts that you've finally reached your peak and everything is going downhill from here.

Quite naturally, you've got the 'small business mentality'. You'll take on anything and everything to ensure the money keeps rolling in. But you're knackered, you're slogging. Every hour and every day, pretty much. You remember the recession of 2008 and you don't want to suffer from that kind of financial nightmare ever again. You've got to keep going.

But stop! It doesn't have to be this way. Sure, you've got to graft and keep paddling. But it doesn't mean you have to burn yourself out. Here, we share our tips on coping with the fear of freelance work drying up, so you can live to fight another day.

1. Accept that you can't do everything

Learning to say "no" is difficult. You don't want turn stuff down, just in case nothing else pops up. But you can't take on everything, or you won't have a life. Accept that you really must be fussy about what you do. Everything is a risk, and it's a risk you have to take. You can't allow work to eat into your downtime. This is unacceptable. Everyone needs to rest.

If you took on a project that's causing you issues and you have to work nights and weekends to get the job done, you can learn from the experience, so it doesn't happen again. Just track your time on every job, so you're able to better quote in future. Try any of these fantastic time-tracking tools to manage your time better.

2. Rethink your saving strategy

Money is often our biggest problem. It keeps us awake at night and forces us to make bad choices if we haven't got enough of it.

With this in mind, can you go without holidays, eating out and buying new clothes for the next 12 months? Can you cut down on your spending? Because, if you've not yet put aside a hefty stash of cash, now might be a good time to save like a bastard.

You should always have enough to cover at least six months' worth of outgoings. Money in the bank equals less stress and more security – giving you the ability to take more risks.

3. Get productive and avoid distractions

Sometimes we make ourselves feel busy to beat 'the fear'. This is normal. By doing something, no matter how trivial, it's natural that we'll feel in control. But if you're not getting much work done and spending too long at your desk, it could be that you're not productive and easily distracted. This isn't ideal when you need to be as profitable as possible.

Be strict with yourself. Figure out where you're spending your time and if you can improve things. Switch off any notifications. Avoid social media. Take regular breaks and relish evenings and weekends to be operating at your best. For more ideas, check out these productivity tips.

4. Stick to a solid work routine

Ok, so you went freelance to enjoy more flexible hours. But the reality is entirely different. You're working all hours, and you're fed up. Enough. It's time to take back control and set a healthier routine. Establish your operating hours with yourself and your clients, so everyone knows when you're available.

Never answer your phone to clients during evenings or weekends unless you have a prior agreement in place. You don't want them thinking it's acceptable and that you're always available.

5. Create a daily marketing plan

Give yourself peace of mind by having a strict list of daily jobs that focus purely on your marketing. That's whether you spend half an hour on your website or add an update to your Instagram feed – every little thing helps to get your name out there and in front of potential clients.

6. Push out a monthly newsletter

It's worth building a mailing list of new and existing customers, so you can remind everyone that you're available for hire. Share your latest case studies, testimonials and news – clients love to know what you're up to, and it might encourage them to pick up the phone and ask for a quote on a new project. Check out our handy tips on email marketing.

7. Consider multiple revenue streams

If you're an illustrator, why aren't you selling prints of your work? If you design, where's that book you keep meaning to write? Whatever you do for a living, figure out other ways to make extra cash. Yes, it might take some initial slog. But long-term, adding loads of additional income streams could pay off.

8. Get out and build a network

Most of your best work will come from word-of-mouth recommendations. Which is why building a solid local network is excellent for business. Make friends with other freelancers and agencies on your doorstep. Go to local events and be a friendly face. Because the more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way.

9. Ditch the home office, move to the city

If you can, rent a desk at a co-working space or find your own office in a thriving creative hub. Be warm and friendly, knock on people's doors and introduce yourself. In the creative industries, collaboration is a common occurrence. It's how we survive. And if you can move to the city, even better. At least to build a network that you can rely on if you don't plan to stay.

10. Offer retainer support

If you design, illustrate, build or photograph, then nine times out of 10, your work is going to be project-based. It's no surprise you're all petrified. This is where you need to think more strategically. How can you get your clients on a retainer? Where they pay you a fixed fee every month?

Could you join forces with a PR professional, for example, and offer an ongoing design service to their clients? To cover the little jobs. If you design and build websites, could you sell a 12-month package where customers get ongoing web support?

Think about it. There's always a way. Particularly when you consider that most clients love retainers because it allows them to 'budget' every month. After all, they're worried about money too.

11. Move your body, wiggle your belly

Stress can play a big part in your freelance woes. If you can take control and be more relaxed about your business, you might find that 'the fear' disappears. Tackle that stress by moving your body. It's a fact that exercise boosts endorphins, allows you to clear your mind and even helps you to sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day.

12. Get super organised to beat the fear

Often the best way to tackle freelance anxiety is to become organised. That's right. You need lists. Sign up to something like Trello or Teamwork and add all your project and business tasks. By having everything online and on your screen, you'll feel in control. And control kicks anxiety in the butt. Check out some more recommended project management tools.

13. Tell yourself the one hard reality

If it doesn't work out, you can always get a real job. This one hard truth will do two things: first, it will help you relax, knowing that you have options should it all go wrong (I've been telling myself this for over a decade); secondly, it will encourage you to keep going – even when times are tough.


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