Discover 10 ways to leverage a slow period in your freelance business to improve your skills, increase your value, and achieve your goals.
While some freelancers have figured out how to avoid business slowdowns and create a consistent, stable book of business, many freelancers and micro agencies experience periodic slowdowns that cause stress, worry, and fear.
Freelance business slowdowns have been on my mind lately because the school year is coming to an end and summer is about to begin. For years, I experienced a significant slowdown in new business — from new clients and existing clients — in the summers. Most of my clients were parents who paused or slowed down their own business initiatives while their kids were home for the summer. This was the time of year they all took vacations and extended weekends, worked shorter days, and focused on enjoying life.
While always temporary, at first, these slowdowns made me very nervous. As a freelancer, the worry, stress, and fear of not having enough business caused me to say yes to projects I should have said no to — projects I almost always regretted taking on. Luckily, I learned my lesson quickly and made some adjustments.
Why Freelance Businesses Experience Slow Periods
The first thing I realized was that the slow periods I experienced in my freelance business were the result of my choices and my business model.
- I was doing almost all one-and-done individual brand design and web design projects, and most small businesses don’t choose to tackle those projects over the summer or during/right after the holiday season.
- I also take the last two weeks of December off every year, which meant the first two weeks of December were spent finishing up projects and I wasn’t having as many sales conversations.
So every year, business was a bit slow in January, it ramped up significantly in February, exploded in March, and held strong through May, as my clients wanted to wrap their projects before summer started. After a slower summer, business would explode again in September when school started, and hold strong until I took my December break.
Two Ways To Fight Business Slowdowns
To move forward with less stress, I had two options:
- Learn to get comfortable with the slowdowns and actually embrace them.
- Figure out how to eliminate the slowdowns and build a consistent, stable book of business free of income peaks and valleys.
In my freelance business, I chose both options, just not at the same time.
One thing I have loved about being a freelancer and a micro agency owner has been the ability to build my business around my lifestyle and the current stage of life my family is in.
- When my kids were younger, I chose to embrace the slowdowns. I began to love the natural ebb and flow of work — the busyness of spring and fall, and the quieter winter and summer — because it gave me more time with my kids. It also gave me more time to focus on my business and work on it. Almost all of the systems and processes I created to facilitate growth were created during those slow periods when I had the space to create.
- As my kids got older and busier, and systems took much of the administrative work off my plate, I focused on eliminating the slowdowns and creating dependable, reliable recurring revenue through monthly retainer services. The combination of single projects and retainer partnerships reduced the pressure to always be selling, removed all financial stress, and caused the slowdowns I had come to love to disappear.
Ironically, things have come full circle.
In the past couple of years, I’ve had to consciously work to adjust things and reincorporate slower periods and open space in my workflow and schedule. I discovered that I need this space to dream and create and reinvest in my business.
Leverage Slowdowns To Build Your Business
Slow periods in your freelance business don’t have to create stress, worry, or fear. Rather than view a slow period as a negative, what if you changed your mindset to view it as a positive. What if it became an opportunity to work on something you normally don’t have time for — like reinvesting in your long-term business success.
Here are 10 ways you can leverage a slow period in your business to improve your skills, increase your value, and achieve your goals.
1. Review Your Bookmarks
When you work online, especially in a technical industry, it’s inevitable that you end up with 25 tabs open at a time and more articles, tutorials, and resources bookmarked than you’ll ever have time to review. Use slow times in your business to read the articles, watch the videos, and follow the tutorials. You’ll feel accomplished and decluttered at the same time.
2. Complete A Course You Bought
Revisit that course you bought but never had time to look at let alone complete. You bought it for a reason. Put your money and time to good use and get it done.
- You’ll feel better for justifying your purchase
- You’ll gain new knowledge to advance your skills or business
- You’ll have a big thing to check off your to-do list
3. Take A LinkedIn Learning Course
Pick a skill you want to improve or learn and take a LinkedIn Learning course or two like the ones created by Joe Casabona, Carrie Dils, Morten Rand-Hendriksen, Allie Nimmons, Roy Sivan, and Patrick Rauland. These courses are created for professionals by professionals and provide a great opportunity to reinvest in your skills and uplevel the value you deliver to clients.
4. Attend a WordCamp
With WordCamps happening around the world, there is almost always an event coming up. If you have a hard time escaping the office, traveling, or taking time away from work, look for a WordCamp scheduled during your natural slow period or a virtual WordCamp.
5. Watch WordPress.tv Videos
Many past WordCamp presentations are available to watch at WordPress.tv. From design and copywriting to project management and agency growth to theme and plugin development to marketing and branding, there are presentations on almost any WordPress-related topic you may be interested in.
6. Install And Setup A New Plugin
With more than 58,450 plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repository, there are a lot of WordPress plugins available. While all plugins may not be right for you, there are probably at least a few you have been interested in but haven’t yet had time to play with and test.
Set up a sandbox site, test new plugins, and familiarize yourself with what they do, how they work, and how they may fit into your client projects. Your newfound knowledge will come in handy for future projects and enable you to provide better consulting and advice to your clients.
7. Learn A New Skill
Technology is constantly evolving and changing and it requires you to continually reinvest in your skills to remain current. Unfortunately, when you’re overloaded with client projects, it can be difficult to stay on top of the changes and find time to experiment.
8. Create Systems and Processes
The best thing you can do when you’re busy is track your time and document everything you do each day, down to the tiniest of details. This data provides everything you need to objectively evaluate your business, the tasks that need to be completed, and your own workload.
During a slow period, use this information to:
- Identify repetitive and low-value tasks that can be delegated or automated.
- Discover opportunities to create documented processes and bring greater consistency to your work.
- Build systems to stabilize business operations, reduce cost, and save time.
9. Test New Ideas
Testing a new concept with clients when you’re already booked solid, overburdened, and have no wiggle room is a recipe for disaster. A slower time in your business, however, provides the extra margin and space needed to test out new things and trial new systems. During this time, you’ll have more freedom and space to have conversations, digest feedback, and adapt and adjust, which gives you a much greater chance of experiencing success.
10. Build Relationships
So much of building a successful business can be attributed to the people you know and the network you have built. Unfortunately, when you’re booked solid and operating at capacity, there is little time to nurture professional relationships.
Take advantage of extra space in your schedule to reconnect with strategic partners, referral sources, industry peers, and people in your network that you want to get to know better. It takes effort to stay top of mind, so schedule coffee dates, book a quick 30-minute Zoom catch-up, or reach out via social media.
Look For Reinvestment Opportunities
Without internal reinvestment and a commitment to improving your skills, you risk being left behind by competitors who are innovating better and advancing faster than you are. To remain relevant, maintain expert positioning, and command premium fees, you need to deliver premium services — and that means you must never stop learning.
If you’re not ready to reimagine your business model and eliminate the slowdowns in your business, that’s okay! Shift your mindset and get excited about the slowdowns.
Make a slow period in your business something to look forward to; something that helps you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Make it a positive time that is used to level up your skills, expand your capabilities, improve your operations, and build a better business.