What to Do While Waiting for More Work

by Tom Ewer 6 Minutes

Waiting DogThere are many great things about being self-employed. There are no tacky uniforms to don, no boss to suck up to, and you get to choose which projects you say “yes” (or “no”) to. Your customers are truly your own and your work is valued on a more direct level.

However, while you have more control over your career now than you once did, there are still some things that will be out of your control. Your workflow will likely ebb and flow. Nearly every freelancer experiences the infamous “Feast or Famine” cycle; and it isn’t pretty.

Depending on how well — and how consistently — you market yourself, your “famine” may last from a couple weeks to a few months. And the waiting? It can drive you crazy. If you let it.

Here’s a tip: don’t let it. Just because you don’t have client-related projects to work on doesn’t mean you have nothing to do. When you’re working for yourself, there are always things to do. Even when you’re “just waiting around” for your your next big gig.

8 Activities to Make the Most of Waiting

1. Get Organized

How’s your office looking these days? Are you still using your filing cabinet or have you been stacking your important papers on top of your printer? Can you still see the surface of your desk or has it been covered so long you’ve forgotten what color it is? Sort through your paperwork, throw out the trash, and get rid of the unnecessary clutter.

Don’t stop at your real work desktop. Sort out your computer’s desktop as well. Are there unused icons? Do each of your clients have their own folder, or are all of your projects lumped together?

Use your hiatus from work to get organized.

2. Get in Touch

Hopefully you’ve stayed in contact with your past clients, but, if you haven’t, now’s the time to do so. Don’t — I repeat, do not — beg them for work. Offer a cordial “hello” and get back in touch. Let them know that you’re looking to take on a few more clients and to (please) keep you in mind if they know someone who’s in need of your services.

If they know someone, your name will be passed on to what could be your next client. However, in my experience, the simple act of rekindling that connection will oft cause your former client to return to your arms. By reminding them that you exist, you also remind them of the work you did for them and, if they were pleased, there’s a good chance they’ll look for more for you to do.

Contacting friends and family members also works well. Even if they don’t have work for you themselves, they may know someone who does. Never dismiss someone in your network as a potentially valuable connection — even if they used to change your diapers.

3. Reexamine Your Business Plan

Are you running your business according to your master plan? Reconnect with your goals. Reassess your strategies. What’s working? What isn’t?

This will help you remember why you became your own boss in the first place. It will also help you to (re)focus on what’s important.

4. Update Your Portfolio and Profiles

When you’re busy working, it can be difficult to write that work down. Well, now you’re not working. Time to update your portfolio/resume!

If your social media profile information is looking a little dusty, update that too. Especially if you’ve been holding off on completely filling out your profile information. Let potential clients get to know you better.

5. Get a Virtual Makeover

Now’s the time to get a new headshot or update your site design. When was the last time your business site had a makeover? And are you still using a picture of yourself from 10 years ago? (Do you even look like that anymore?).

If you’re bored with your business’ look, there’s a good chance your potential customers are too. But, more importantly, if you’re bored then you’re not doing your best work. If giving your business a makeover rejuvenates your passion, then it can only help.

6. Study Up

Read all those books you’ve been meaning to read. Get acquainted with the best blogs in your industry. Take a class. Or get some mentoring.

Update your skills. When your work schedule picks back up, you’ll have more to offer your clients — and be able to command higher rates. Knowledge really is power.

7. Get Personal

Take care of the personal stuff you’ve been putting off. Go to the dentist, repair that wobbly closet door, or visit your grandmother. Whatever you’ve been putting off because you didn’t “have time” for it, do it. You now have plenty of time.

8. Take a Vacation

If you’ve been effectively tracking your business’ metrics, you’ll know  ahead of time when you’re about to hit a business lull. If you successfully plan ahead for it then you can use that dip for some much needed time off. In other words: rather than weeks or months of scrambling and desperation — you could be using that time to prevent (or recover from) burnout!

Never underestimate the power of a little R&R. If your body and mind are un-stressed and well-rested, you’ll be in better “fighting” shape when it comes time to start working again. Remember: you can’t be one step ahead of the competition if you’re dragging your tail!

Preparing Ahead for Next Time…

The eight activities I listed above are fine and dandy — they’ll keep you busy and improve your business — however, the bulk of them require money to pull off properly. So what happens if you’re dead broke?

For now? Take a deep breath and power through. And, try to:

Sell and Save

If you have any “extra” money: save it. If you find yourself never having extra cash, you’ll need to step up your game. You’ll either have to start earning more (perhaps it’s time to negotiate a raise?), or you’ll have to start living more frugally.

We all have things in our lives we don’t need or simply don’t use. Remember when I suggested you get organized? Try looking for items you haven’t used in a few months — if any of it is worth something, sell it. Save the profits for a rainy day.

Ideally, if you’re managing your finances well, you should be living at least a month ahead of budget. It can take a while to reach this point, but it’s worth it. And the quickest way to get there? Start now.

Always be Marketing

The customers and clients you have now could up and leave you tomorrow. This fact of life is the scary monster hiding under freelancer’s beds — and, no; hiding under your blanket won’t save you.

What will save you is staying in the public eye.

Market yourself even when you already have “enough” work to ensure you’ll continue to have work. If you’re tempted to relax your marketing efforts because you’re already bogged down, I urge you to think twice; as does freelance copywriter Ed Gandia:

“Uneven marketing efforts only serve to perpetuate the ebb and flow of business. That’s because most marketing activities take time to produce results. So if you wait until your project pipeline dries up, you’ll have to wait a few weeks more to start seeing results.

By that time, you may very well have other projects on your plate. That will force you to turn down new clients and profitable projects. And clients who have to go elsewhere may not have anything for you a few weeks later…when your well dries up again.”

It can feel strange to say “no” or “maybe later” to a potential client, but it feels much worse to have no one around when you’re ready to say “yes.” Keep your marketing efforts consistent and, more importantly, constant.

Get Better at Time Management

You can take on more steady work during your “Feast” seasons if you work more efficiently.

All good businesses need structure. In my opinion, that structure can — and should — also be implemented to our everyday lives. (You are your business now, after all!).

  • “To Do” lists are your friends. When you have a lot to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You risk losing focus or, worse, forgetting tasks entirely. Write everything down. Keep your list simple. And anything that takes less than a few minutes? Do it now!
  • Outsource. If there are tasks that you loathe doing — or don’t know how to do — those tasks should be given to someone else. They’re slowing down your overall progress. Focus on what you do best.
  • Automate. Even interactive marketing tactics such as social media updates don’t have to be done “live.” Try scheduling your updates ahead of time. You can still get the overall networking benefits by leaving live replies, even if the initial updates were scheduled in advance.

And my Number One piece of time management advice? Make it a habit. You can start implementing good time management techniques immediately (and you should!), but they won’t “stick” unless you make them a habit.

Keep up good practices now and your next “waiting” period won’t be so bad. Or so long. Good luck out there!

Image by nedbenj.

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.