by Rachel Smith
06 April 2023
Sometimes, your freelance business resembles a dusty, barren landscape (complete with tumbleweeds). You’re stumbling around, looking for the oasis, and getting increasingly freaked out. But, take heart. Freelance work does go quiet sometimes. Clients drop off the radar. Commissions dry up. And there are LOTS of slow patch strategies you can put in place to get that needle moving again.
We shared what we do on this episode of The Content Byte – AND we joined forces with Rounded to see what our communities had to offer. What DO you all do when you’re keen to drum up business and get freelance work flowing again? The slow patch strategies you shared with us are super useful and valuable jumping off points for us all. So thanks to all who took the time to enter.
Journalist Nicole Conville’s approach is an oldie but a goodie: “Pitch, don’t bitch!”
Copywriter Heather Venz reaches out to previous agencies she’s worked with, lets them know she has availability and offers them a discount if they book by a certain date. “I also have an agency partnerships deck / rates card which I cold email to local agencies with a personalised email of introduction and I find I get a lot of responses!”
Emily (sorry, our super sleuthing couldn’t work out your surname!), over on the gram, recommends scouring Facebook groups and trawling through LinkedIn job alerts to see if anything piques your interest.
Freelance writer, editor and content producer Lisa Cugnetto likes to email regular clients first to let them know she has some availability. “Then I pitch stories to new and old outlets, update my website and sniff around job boards, groups and LinkedIn.”
Erin Huckle, who does PR and award-writing, gets extra active on LinkedIn. “Then I send an email newsletter out with specific action people can take to work with me – as a specialist awards-writer, this includes things like letting people know about upcoming award deadlines in case they’d like to enter (and have me write their entry). Plus I reach out to old clients and agency clients, letting them know I’ve got some last minute availability if they need any help. Then, I regret doing all the things as work piles in and I’m suddenly over capacity (but remind myself this is a good problem to have.”
Lifestyle, travel and education writer Shaney Hudson recommends increasing your strike rate. “Set yourself a goal- ten or twenty letters of introduction or cold introductions, and the law of averages means someone will need something. Possibly not that minute, but I’ve never not generated work using this strategy.” She adds, “I also try to remember: ‘This too will pass’.”
Copywriter and content writer Lisa Almond‘s slow patch strategy is to never burn bridges. “And this is literally a SLOW strategy, not just a slow patch strategy. But over 15 years I’ve found it’s contacts from X years ago that have found me or referred me the most. Just tonight I got a message from an old contact saying ‘Do you still do writing?’ But similarly in the reverse – it leaves the window open to reach out to your network in slow times. Once you let them know you’ve got time I find this is where the solid leads come from. I find it works for two reasons: 1) they know you and know if it’s been X years since they’ve worked with you then you have that much more experience and 2) any referrals they give are word of mouth and any marketer knows word of mouth referrals are worth their weight in gold. I’ve had many many issues with people in the past but you’ll never find me burning a bridge. You never know when you’ll need someone.”
We love Lachlan Nicolson‘s tactic of simply escaping a slow patch by going on a holiday. “Also post about your holiday on LinkedIn because people love seeing other people take a break. It’s actually a good way to frame up your business. You could add something to the post like, ‘getting refreshed to go back and help even more <insert your ideal clients>… Send me a message!”
Keeping a running list of people, businesses and organisations you’ve worked with or would love to work with is a brilliant idea (whether you’re in a slow patch or not) but it comes in very handy when things are quiet, says journalist and comms specialist Sandra Godwin. “Periodically, I’ll contact some of them to say hello and chew the fat. No hard sell, just planting the seed for a future need.”
Writer and content strategist Jody McDonald does a similar thing. “I keep note of people who contacted me at some point and seemed interested and legit, but weren’t ready to proceed,” she explains. “If it’s quiet, I go back to them and say, ‘Remember me? Need help?'”
Beauty copywriter Amy Hadley taps into former client files. “I’ll send an email to a client I haven’t spoken to for a while (or one that got away) about something I’ve learned or done recently. Perhaps it’s an event I went to, an expert I spoke with, or something really spot-on I’ve read. It shows them they’re on my mind, offers some free advice/ideas, and gives me a nice chance to look back at something I’ve learnt!”
Environment and sustainability writer Justine McClymont also starts with a personalised email to previous and current clients to let them know of her availability. “I ask if they’d like to book any projects in. I also think that posting another introductory post about yourself and what you do on LinkedIn is a great way to remind your community that you are available. For me, it’s always about how I can best support people and my clients. This is always at the forefront of my mind.”
Freelance writer Vivienne Pearson admits when work is slow, her reality is to ‘panic and generally consider myself unworthy’. “But that’s probably not the vibe you – or other freelancers – are looking for! Instead, I’ll add that, once I’ve had a nap, gone for a beach walk, eaten some chocolate, played Mario Kart with my son and been consoled by my hubby or a friend, I pitch editors ideas that have been brewing, reach out to former nice clients (for my particularly agencies or copywriters I’ve subcontracted for) and try to get motivated to work instead on my marketing (shudder) and on side projects (fun!).”
We also loved the humour (and the grit!) in journalist, content producer and digital marketer Aleczander Gamboa‘s two-phase slow patch strategy. “The first phase is personal – after having a cry, drinking a bottle of red wine, napping, then re-reading a document I wrote called ‘The Most Important Document of Your Life’ that reiterates my life vision, purpose, goals, and why I’m going through all of these growing pains of running a business, I finish that phase by loudly exclaiming, ‘It’s all for the plot’. Then the professional phase – I update my portfolio with recent works, touch base with older clients, work on side projects and pitch article ideas to editors I know. Sussing out LinkedIn is also a great help too!”
“A LinkedIn post works every time,” says copywriter Angela Denly. “Even if it’s not people who see the post, it seems to set off ‘the vibes’ to get work flowing again.” She also suggests planning something fun for yourself as it’s uncanny how work will come along to ruin your relaxation time.
Freelance communications professional Ruth Dawkins’ strategy is to share a post on LinkedIn to her most engaged audience. “Most of the people I’m connected with on LinkedIn would be people I know and/or I’ve worked with before, so it feels like a good place to do a softer post like that rather than a hard sell and full introduction.”
Digital creator, Ashley Swallow, has a few slow patch strategies she tries. “Reach out to existing clients to see if they have any work coming up, repurpose content on social media, connect with your community and most importantly, spend the down time upskilling!”
When writer and editor Brooke Jacobson is in a slow patch, her strategy is to think laterally about local businesses who might need her services. “Sometimes just posting on the local Facebook business pages for your suburb can bring in new clients. It’s nice to let your neighbours know who you are, and what you do!”
Copywriter Jacinta Marshall has a unique slow patch strategy: she starts showing interest in other businesses. “Start asking questions in your business networks. Be the person that wants to know more about their business, because that reinforces to your prospective clients and referrals that you actually care about other businesses, and you’re not out to just talk about your own!
Slow patches are an opportunity to connect, says Jess Lomas – who recommends reaching out to other freelancers in your field or adjacent fields. “It’s a good way to network and explore the possibility of collaborating. It might also give you you a new perspective on your services and introduce you to new clients.”
Copywriter Rashida Tayabali has a number of slow patch strategies, but like many here she’ll post daily on LinkedIn when things are quiet. “I double down on my marketing… email all my past clients and potentials who might be interested in my services, and reach out to my network with an offer if they recommend me to their clients. I focus on building relationships and skill development during slow patches. I learn, boost my knowledge and communicate.”
When work is slow for PR and comms specialist Lexi Kentman, she gets cracking on her socials. “I start posting more frequently on Instagram – to showcase past projects, and spotlight what I can do for potential new clients. I also follow up any warm leads, and I reach out to existing clients to find out what’s coming up – and where I ask where I can add additional value (ie looking for extra project work). I am a BIG believer in being vocal about putting it out there that I’m looking for new/extra work. I am also known to spend a bit of time on LinkedIn looking for new opportunities there.”
Science PR and comms specialist Claire Harris has a 5 step strategy worth sharing here: “1) I’ll always go back to clients I’ve worked with before to check in and say hello… 2) If I’ve been quiet on socials, share something on LinkedIn that’s valuable to people. 3) Revise what’s been selling well and double-down on that. 4) I’ll go back to business strategy and see if there’s things I advised/told myself to do before but haven’t done. 5) Take it as an opportunity to take a break!”
If a slow patch strategy drags on a while, applying for jobs makes sense to many of us. “I’m in the midst of a slow patch this week!” says Lisa Ikin, “and I’ve applied for two jobs. I’ve [also] updated all my socials, emailed a couple of clients and taken the dog for a walk.”
Keeping your skills sharp, writer and editor Alison Hill recommends volunteering for a non-for-profit during down time. She did this for CleanUp Australia. “It can let you show your skills in an area you feel a particular connection with – hugely satisfying.”
Writer Natasha Poynton likes to approach a slow patch in different ways depending on how she feels. Sometimes it’s about paying attention to other areas of her life. Other times, she “agitates (which is how I think of it in my head)” and becomes proactive with sending emails, reaching out, freshening up her profile. “But timing is critical. If I leave a slow patch going too long, inertia sets in and I find it harder to pull myself out of it. For some reason, it always amazes me about the direct correlation – the more effort I put in to agitating, the more I get out of it. Though it really shouldn’t be a surprise!”
So many amazing strategies! If you have one you’d like to add, please hit up the comments! Thanks again to everyone who shared their wisdom.