The Freelancer’s Dilemma (and How to Escape It)
I believe most freelancers will, at one point or another, face the “I’m either working like crazy and haven’t got time for anything or I’ve got no job and spend all my time looking for some” syndrome. This leads to a life spent working or looking for work. Quite far from an ideal of flexibility and freedom, isn’t it?[break]
I’ve been there. Some stay there. Unfortunately I can’t offer already-made solutions but here are some thoughts and guidelines to help you identify pitfalls or, if it’s already too late, get things back under control:
• The need to search for work when there’s none rather than enjoying that free time to do something else is based on a lack of faith in the fact that work will come, within a timeframe and at a level of rates that will allow to reach our financial objectives (or at least to guarantee the company’s survival).
That situation is similar to trying to push a round boulder up a hill; as long as we’re going upwards, stopping means letting that boulder roll all the way back down and losing all that has been accomplished (i.e. not looking for work means having no work and no income). However once we’ve reached the top, not pushing won’t have negative consequences (i.e. work comes when it comes and downtimes have no consequences). Then of course, once we’re on the downslope, there’s no need to push anymore (i.e. work grows without our help).
So the first question is to know whether we’ve reached the top of that hill or not. In other words: is the idea that there isn’t enough work coming in without our intervention true?
► If it’s not then all you need is a bit of time. Once your brain notices that dry spells naturally end without endangering your finances, you’ll begin to develop faith in the fact that “things are working”, that an empty schedule is only temporary and can be used for other things than looking for new projects and customers.
► If it is, then there can be many causes. A lack of customers perhaps? (Typical in the beginning.) In this case then yes, you must be very active with your sales & marketing. However if this goes on it could mean an issue with customer service (customers don’t come back), or a problem with the business model (working solely with agencies – they don’t mention you to other potential clients – or selling services in a way that makes it impossible to continue marketing/sales activities when work comes in). The issue can also be the industry. For instance in the voice world, it is difficult (though not impossible!) to get a constant flow of work from the same customer, even if they’re extremely satisfied, because there’s no guarantee the type of voice needed for the next project will be ours. Instead it’s best to have a huge clientele, so that it’s enough even if they each only send one project per year.
• It’s also a good idea to understand why receiving work implies not having time for anything else, and fixing this. For instance is it possible to negotiate deadlines? You can decide to finish a project within a week and do only that, or within two weeks instead and have time for other things.
Then, again, this might also be an issue with the industry or the business model, especially your pricing structure and levels; low fees or time-based fees force you to work many hours. Setting up project-based and value-based fees on the other hand completely disconnect your income from the time spent generating it.
Finally the problem can come from a poor choice of customers. Maybe they don’t pay well or require a lot of attention, whereas others just send the project, give a deadline then let you work.