The spring was just one of those times.
If you’re a freelancer, you know the ones I’m talking about: The times when nothing quite comes through. Clients delay. Existing clients lose budget. New clients get excited about working with you…and then drop off the face of the earth.
Mostly, these things happen occasionally. A client delay here, a new client loss there.
But occasionally there’s a perfect storm of misfortune—a month or two months or six months where everything seems to fall through at the last second, where clients can’t get their stuff together, when you spend way more time than you want to on sales and marketing.
For me, the spring into the summer was one of those times. A really exciting project would be on the cusp of signing…and then the client couldn’t get organized. Another really exciting project would get as far as being contracted…and then the client would decide they needed someone local. Another would get started…and then an illness would put it on long-term hold.
Eventually, a dream client came along. But there were months in there where things were slow and quiet and full of last-second disappointments.
Of course, my first reaction was to amp up my sales activity. I updated LinkedIn and my website. I haunted job forums and writing groups. I even changed my Twitter handle to “Gigi Griffis is taking on new copywriting clients.”
But after more than seven years of freelancing and a good few ups and downs along the way, amping up sales wasn’t the only thing I did.
I also decided to take a break.
It might seem counter-intuitive. If I didn’t have clients, shouldn’t I be busting my ass every moment of the day looking for them? Shouldn’t I be sending out letters of introduction to every ad agency in North America? Wouldn’t doubling my sales time make me doubly effective?
But I was also tired. I was also not in dire straights (this is why I endeavor to save such a high percentage of my income—so that slow times are not also panic times). I was also just a little bit excited by the idea of all that space opening up in my schedule.
Space that I could use to finish my novel.
Because for my whole freelance career, I’ve always had a side project. A travel guidebook. A blog. A novel. Something that might make me money someday, but started out as an experiment or a passion project or something I do just because I love it.
I’ve heard other freelancers pose the question of what you do when client work is slow, but for me there are always ready answers. Sometimes outdoorsy things like cycling or hiking. Sometimes cooking experiments. And in between all that, always side projects.
And so in the early summer, after the most devastating of my client losses (a project I was so very looking forward to), I simply took a break. I still applied to the occasional gig. I still kept putting out there that I was looking for work. But instead of worrying about how to fill my workdays, I devoted huge chunks of time to finishing my novel—a tale of epic pirate revenge based on a true story.
Then my sales activities started to pay off and I signed a new dream client (techy and challenging and smart) partway into the summer.
And I was deeply grateful that I’d taken that slow time as a gift instead of a stressor, an opportunity instead of a failing.
I’m writing this as a reminder to myself for the next time things get slow. Go on that hike. Take that bike ride. Finish that story. Read for a friend. Volunteer on a project you believe in.
Do more sales, yes. But also take that time for what it is: a gift.