I know that many of you have been marketing a lot this month, so don’t forget to post your points for the Winter Marketing Challenge. Someone is going to win a $50 gift card from Amazon and it might as well be you! Post by Friday, Feb 9th (this Friday) at 9 pm EST.
January always seems to give me a sucker punch. And this year was no exception.
I ended last year on a high note with my highest earning year by far. I was braced for a slow January, but it didn’t come. The first two weeks of January were fantastic, with the second actually being my single highest earning week as a freelancer. Then guess what happened the third week? Nothing. I only had work from my one anchor client. I had several projects that were in various states of approval, starting or being delayed, but nothing else concrete.
I’ve always liked the quote that you can’t compare your behind-the-scenes view to someone else’s highlight reel. And so often that’s only what we see – the good things that people want to share. But no freelance career – no matter how successful – consists only of big paychecks, big clients and dancing in celebration in your kitchen. So, as hard as it is to share my own insecurities and lulls in my business, I try to do that as much as possible on my blog.
The first slow week was fine. I went to lunch with friends. I worked on my book. I organized a few closets. I worked on my one project. But no other work came in and I started to panic. But then asked myself what I would say to a freelance friend in my situation. So I contacted all my current and past clients to let them know I just finished a big project and had some availability. I got back lots of nice notes – we should have something soon, be in touch as soon as we have a project, can’t wait to work with you again. But no real work.
Then the sucker punch came
Hard and fast. I got taken off a client project because my writing wasn’t a fit.
No matter how many years you’ve been freelancing, no matter how many notes you’ve gotten from clients about how much they love your work and no matter how many clients consider you their go-to freelancer, it really really really rocks you when you get fired from a project.
I went into full blown panic – which reading this now seems a big dramatic since my lull was less than 2 weeks. But at the time, it seemed like a million years plus a day. Thankfully my freelance friends – huge shout out to Wendy, Stephanie and Liz – patiently attempted to talk me off the ledge.
Nighttime brought a very sleepless night where I had dreams that basically were me stuck in a Dante’s Circle of Hell where I endless wrote draft that completely sucked for the rest of my life. And then at 3 a.m. I came to what seemed like the very rationale conclusion that I was a complete fraud and my career was over.
My biggest advice is to never make career decisions at 3 a.m. and luckily, I fell back asleep before I took my website offline and followed through on any other drastic actions that I was considering. I’m slightly exaggerating my conclusions, for dramatic effect, but not by very much.
Daylight brought a heck of a lot more rationality and I managed (after large quantities of Diet Mountain Dew) to ask myself what I could learn from getting fired from the project. And the answer was that the team working on the project wasn’t a good match for me – my personality and my strengths – from the beginning. There was nothing wrong with the team. And there is nothing wrong with me. It just wasn’t my perfect client. And that’s perfectly okay.
A Day of Blitz Marketing
Even though I was only nearing the end of the second week of my lull, I decided to move into action mode. I’ve always felt that I waited too long during my slowdown in January 2016, which contributed to my lull lasting close to five weeks. So after one more day wallowing in pity for myself, I sat down on Thursday and did exactly what I would tell my friends. I started marketing strategically.
So of course I did exactly what I tell people NOT to do and headed straight for the job ads. I’ve been telling people for years that this is the least likely way to land a gig, not mention a high paying gig. But the appeal is strong – it seems more certain and deceptively easier. While it’s easier to apply than seeking your own opportunities, it’s definitely not easier to stand out and actually land the gig because these ads usually get hundreds and hundreds of applicants. And most of these jobs end up being pretty low paying as well. I am embarrassed to admit I wasted three hours trolling job boards and applying to a few before remembering my own advice.
Then out of the blue, a friend sent me a link to a VP of agency specializing in tech whom she thought would be a great client for me. I can’t tell you how much that simple gesture made me feel more positive and a heck of a lot less alone. And I remembered that I needed to get off the job ads and start approaching agencies and businesses likely to hire me.
So I got to work and then I:
• Spent a few minutes updating my LOI, added a few new clips to my website and made sure my LinkedIn profile reflected all of my brands and niches.
• Emailed several freelance friends that I was looking for work.
• Sent an email to an agency based on a job lead shared by a fellow freelancer on a freelancer forum
• Sent LOIs to 10 agencies
• Searched LinkedIn for potential new clients and started a list of agencies specializing in tech
• Contacted the agency director my friend passed on – and immediately heard back. My gut is that I will get some work from him in the future.
My Really Good Afternoon
About this time, I took a late lunch break and when I came back to my computer I had emails from previous clients offering me a total of $1500 in work that would probably only take me a few hours.
I felt better.
Then after I came back picking my daughter up from school, I got an email from a potential client that I thought I had scared off with my rates asking if we could talk first thing next week. I also received an email about a whitepaper project for a company worth $2500 that had been previously delayed, saying it was kicking off the next week.
I felt even better.
Then one of the content marketing directors whose profiles I had viewed earlier in the day sent me a LinkedIn Connection request. He had done the reverse of my trick of following on potential clients using the ‘Who Viewed My Profile’ feature, which I have used myself to find new clients. So I sent him a quick InMail asking if he used freelancers, a very short LOI (basically a sentence about the topics I wrote about and another listing my clients). Within just a few minutes, he replied and we made an appointment to talk on the phone on Monday.
I was calm.
Then my phone rang. It was the agency I had learned about from my writer’s group, and they offered me the gig. Even better, I realized that the agency director was someone I had heard speak several times and I regularly read his blog. On top of that, the new project could lead to more work and sounded super fun. Oh, it didn’t hurt that the project was for ginormous company.
I felt happy.
And astonished how in a few hours things had turned around.
Yes, it would take longer for someone will less well-known brands and a smaller freelance network to turn it around. But not dramatically longer. The main reason was that I immediately started taking the right steps – contacting clients, looking for new prospects and turning to my freelancing network. I didn’t wait. I didn’t hope things would magically fall out of the sky for more than a few days.
So, this week, I am swamped. Like, at least 10 deadlines swamped. And I am grateful.
How was your January? What do you do when you start seeing a slowdown?