Walking the line, everyday

We will always advocate the free agent life here at KindredHQ. As far as we are concerned there is no contest.

But the reality is that sometimes the choice becomes much harder. Every freelancer, no matter how talented they are, has periods of time when there is no work. Sometimes that’s a week or so, other times the fallow period can feel like it’s forever. It is the single most stressful thing that you have to contend with when you are freelance.

If you’re like me, you become obsessed with finding work. You manically run around applying for anything vaguely suitable, while your confidence falls through the floor. It’s at moments like this when, despite all your freelance success to date, you will seriously consider going back to a permanent job.
In the early days of his career as a writer, Paul Theroux hit a fallow period, in his case this was due to writer’s block. Terrified that he had lost it, he sought advice from a friend, and got this reply:

“Dear Paul: The essence of the freelance life is freedom. Idleness is part of freedom and should not alarm you; you will find soon enough that you have more than enough on your plate. Relish these periods of rest. To be a freelance it is also necessary to believe, to know, to know profoundly that one is going to be all right—however unlikely it seems at any particular distressing moment. This faith your friends cannot give you; it is something you have to discover for yourself.”

Wise words, eh? But it is so difficult to do when you have bills and perhaps, even a mortgage. Despite having a reputation for late mornings, daytime TV and high levels of procrastination, most of the freelancers I know have a real work ethic. We were all indoctrinated that the new business pipeline must be kept full and flowing. No sitting about feeling sorry for yourself allowed.

I bet that all of us have sought to fill the shortest of spaces with work that doesn’t necessarily tick the box with regards to our freelance career development, just because it means we are working.

There’s a fine line between character building and soul destroying. (Colin Hay)

Sometimes however, things can get so scary that we contemplate a full time, permanent job. Plenty of us have given up on the dream for the apparent security of a full time job. At times like this, it doesn’t feel like freedom. It can be debilitating.The reality—or illusion—of being able to control one’s time ranks at the top of the list in virtually every survey of job satisfaction. Like Paul Theroux, most freelancers find it emotionally, if not financially, difficult to be unproductive when the whole point of freelancing is to be productive.

That’s why you should think twice about accepting a full time, permanent employee position. Because having experienced being in control of your own destiny, it is almost impossible to go back into corporate life. Well, not impossible, but you will feel compromised every single day.

The way to deal with fallow periods, particularly when you are new to freelancing is to have a plan in your back pocket that you can execute when you need to.

1. Developing your profile

When you are busy we tend to get our heads down and get through things. But for most of us, especially these days when people will search for you online, you need to keep your online profile up at the top of the Google page when people are searching for someone with your skills. Even if you are a digital naysayer, then you need to keep your name top of mind, usually best done by friends and colleagues who get asked for recommendations.

Write several guest articles for prominent blogs in your industry – hey – write for us! It’s amazing how that can improve your rankings quite quickly.
And comment on interesting articles in your field. Not only will reading others’ articles help you learn new things, it will also get your name out into the community as an expert. Twitter and Linkedin are good for this too.

2. Don’t let the days slip away

Sometimes not having any client projects or work can freeze us. You start the day with the best of intentions, but somehow end it not feeling like you’ve achieved much.
The key is to take small steps, not to try and tackle anything too onerous. Take One Man Band Accounting’s advice and spend an hour or so putting those receipts in your tax envelope, make sure all clients have paid their invoices and get your accounts in order.
Prune your website so that it looks polished and current. Stick in some newer projects and update the design. Promise you’ll feel better for it.

3. Expand your mind

You know how important it is to stay current and on top of your game. When you are busy, that can feel overwhelming. But what about using this down time to learn new stuff. I took a Code in a Day course, something that I’d always wanted to do. It doesn’t have to be something that is relevant to your profession. The whole point of this is to expand your horizons and improve your general literacy. Do something completely different.

4. Take a break

When was the last time you took holiday? No, I mean really took holiday. It’s important to take a break off every few months and recharge, see people you haven’t seen for a while, reconnect. Your next assignment will wait, at least for a week. And if you are stressing that much about going away, spend a few hours planting some seeds to germinate while you are away.

If you have exhausted all other options and you accept the offer of permanent employment in order to recharge your bank account, see it as just that. A straightforward contract which is about exchanging your time for money. Just because the employer sees it as permanent, you don’t have to. Arguably, seeing a job as transient will make you way more effective because you will be on a mission to prove your worth every day. Just like when you freelanced.

And you’ll be aching to get back to it.

Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

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