When a freelancer starts out, the conventional wisdom is that they should spend all day, every day, looking for work: talking to contacts, knocking on doors, cold calling, and so on.
For me, that advice only went so far. Eventually, I found that:
- it felt like I’d exhausted all the contact possibilities for the time being — I was waiting on other people to get back to me, for example, and
- I was sick of it.
It’s true that you need to look for work to find it, and in the early days I made sure I always had paying projects on the go before I considered doing anything else.
But even with those projects I lined up before I went out on my own, I found myself getting bored with the work search. While finding work is certainly critical, few of us want to focus on that alone.
The period where you’re finding your feet as a freelancer can last for a while, especially if the projects are large and/or you’re approaching completely new clients without much of a track record to show them. To switch from creator or strategist (whatever you do for work) into pure sales mode for months on end can be challenging, not to mention demoralizing.
If the thought of not spending every second looking for work doesn’t terrify you, there are other things you can do to help support your new freelance business, and keep your mind sharp.
1. Personal projects that prove something
Developing folio pieces by working on a small web project for your local soccer club/sewing circle can be a good way to keep yourself motivated while you’re in work-search mode.
If you’re not swamped with other projects yet, you may well have the time and impetus to really get stuck into that pro bono work, and produce a great folio piece (while generating great testimonials) for yourself in the process.
2. Building networks
While you’re finding your feet as a freelancer, you can feel very much as if you’re on the outer. No longer are you thrust every day into the melee that a regular job with passionate coworkers provides. Building networks can be a good tactic for reducing that sense of isolation — which can be most keenly felt when you’re just starting out.
Arrange to have lunch or coffee with a couple of contacts each week. Spend the time talking not about your fledgling business, but about the field you’re working in, the projects they’re working on, and bouncing ideas around about the information you’re reading and encountering as you search for work. Of course, you never know where these conversations may lead, but see them first and foremost as opportunities to pick brains and have fun.
3. Study and skill development
The period where you’re finding your feet won’t be your most lucrative, but if the work search is getting you down, why not take a break to do some professional development?
Taking time out to attend a day-long course, a half-day seminar, or a post-work interest group meetup can help you to refocus, recharge the batteries, and learn at the same time. You may also make some interesting contacts. In any case, you’re almost guaranteed to take something valuable from the experience — hopefully, something that will inform your freelancing.
Can’t make time to attend an event? Consider doing some online training — a short course, for example — in an area where your skills are low or need refreshing. After a hard day spent searching for clients and projects, it can be a relief to indulge your passion for your field by building on your existing capabilities.
4. Overdelivering on the projects you win
Last — but definitely not least — is overdelivering. The period when you’re finding your feet is the ideal time to overdeliver on the projects you do land. You have the time and the motivation. What’s stopping you?
Yes, this will endear you to your current clients and encourage their vocal advocacy for your freelance business. But it also helps to ensure that you’re satisfied by the projects you’re doing, and proud of your work. That motivates you to keep going, and that drives you to look for more projects. It’s all a beautiful cycle!
What other tasks or “distractions” are valuable for those still trying to find their feet as freelancers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.