As freelancers, we all have been through crazy busy months as well as crazy slow months. What we decide to do during the slow months can be the key to unlocking tens of thousands of more revenue dollars. You may feel panicked right now, but don’t worry, there are things you can do that I know will help your business.
There are three essential types of activities you can be doing between freelance projects; it’s up to you to find the balance between them that works for you. The first two are for those of you that can afford not to make any income during your lull. The last is for some quick cash to pay the bills.
- Self-care (vacation)
- Business Development (boosting referrals)
- Short-term Cash
Burnout is REAL guys. It can take a while to figure out what works for you, but it is so essential to make sure you’re giving yourself a break to recharge your batteries. When business is slow, and you can afford to take time off, I highly recommend just taking a few days to yourself. Do anything that helps you sleep better at night and wake up feeling refreshed. Then do it again the next day until you feel recharged.
For me, I like to go to the coffee shop and binge on podcasts. Sometimes they’re business-related, sometimes their not! My favorite show right now is The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week by Popular Science.
Business development as a freelancer is a vast topic. I’ll write a much more in-depth guide soon, but for now, here’s an easy thing you can do today that has made us lots of money.
95% of freelancers that I’ve interviewed for the podcast tell me that the majority of their business comes from referrals. A referral is when somebody in your network (i.e. a past client) sends you an email introduction to somebody in their network that may want to work with you. Let’s look at the specific mechanics of how this goes down.
Your past client was probably talking with a friend about their business and maybe mentioned that they need software development help. Your client probably said, “I’ve got the guys for you! Let me introduce you to Sean & Thomas at Devscale; they’re the best software developers in Chicago.” Then a day later, you receive the email intro and see if the project is a good fit and try to close the deal.
For a while, I thought it wasn’t possible to make this happen more often since it feels ultimately out of our control. As it turns out, we were doing things intuitively, which boost our referrals dramatically.
We call it the “Catch-up Call.” During your slow week, schedule as many catch-up calls with past clients as you can. There’s no agenda for these calls as far as your past client is concerned, just a friendly chat. It may seem like a silly tip, but I promise you’ll get business from this.
Here is how our catch-up calls typically go:
Casual catch-up. Talk about what your client has been up to personally. Doing this strengthens your relationship and gives you ammo for your next catch-up call. Maybe you learn they’re going on a big trip. Schedule a call when they’re back and ask them how the trip was! Take notes if you have to so that you have specifics to reference the next call you have.
Identify their current problems. How’s their business going? Ask them what their most significant needs are right now. Especially needs outside of your freelancing expertise. You’ll see why in the next point. Don’t ask them if they need your services!! No need to sell right now, they know what you do.
Help them somehow. By far, this is the most crucial thing that needs to happen on the call. Helping them is what’s going to drive more referrals in the future. Let’s say you’re a designer, and your client tells you they desperately need a software developer. Here is the perfect opportunity to help them. Offer to introduce them to your software developer friend, or someone that works at a local agency. You now own the social capital of this relationship, and they will feel like they owe you something in the future. Guess what that something is… A REFERRAL! You’ll be top of mind when they have that design conversation with their friend. You’ll be the one they send the email intro to.
If you need cash now, then job sites are going to be your friend. There’s no quick trick to getting jobs on Upwork; it can be a lot of work. You have to be on top of communication, bidding, and applying for jobs all day, every day. As Preston Lee from Milo.co suggests, “live, eat, and breath” job sites when you need clients now. Here is his list of 68 Freelance Job Sites if you need a place to start.
Drumming up business from job sites is a grind and rarely turns into future work. Job boards and Upwork should be reserved for those of you that are just starting your freelancing business and need clients now or if you need to pay the bills and can’t afford to spend time on the longer-term activities.
Next time you have a slow week, give these a try and let me know how it goes!