Getting through the famine period

4 minute read

If you are a full time freelancer, you have, or surely will encounter a famine period, because only thing sure in freelancing is uncertainty. Of course, with great marketing and engagement, that uncertainty can be reduced to a minimum level, but it still exists. Let’s say you encounter a famine period. That can happen for a variety of reasons, you being fired by a client, you firing a client(you can and should do that when you feel the need), client not having any more work/money to keep you on, or the worst one of all, health/family issues taking most of your time.

Whatever happens, you should always have a certain amount that goes from your earnings to a savings account. I handle that by working through an equivalent of a LLC company in the US, and pay myself a monthly paycheck. That way, enough money stays on the company’s account as a certain part of savings, and you should make sure you have at least 3 paycheck’s worth in the account, before you go and buy that new and shiny Apple product you just have to have right now. Of course, be sure to leave enough for taxes, especially if your government does not require you top prepay them for the following year.

After we have the company account, and enough money that goes into savings/taxes, you should consider your personal savings too. On that side, try to reduce your spending until you get to at least full 3 monthly burn rates of savings. If you don’t know how to achieve this, there is a great book on the subject Rich Dad, Poor Dad written by Robert Kiyosaki. It should teach you enough to get started.

When famine happens, and it surely will, the savings backbone and mentality described will help you get through the bad period much easier, and let you continue living your dream job, instead of defaulting to full time employment every time you have a bad financial week or month. The first thing you should do is take a retrospect and analyze what had happened. If the client had fired you, was it your fault, or theirs? Did you communicate all issues with the client, Maybe there was some scope creep, or you just bit more than you can chew. If you have fired the client, why did you do that, what trait of the client you found so annoying that you just couldn’t wok with them? Can you try to spot and avoid that type of client in the future? If the client ran out of work for you, can you offer them more? Or reformulate your offering to maybe suite that type of client better? If the client ran out of money, why did that happen? Was it something your work has caused, could you somehow guided the client to better decisions, and maybe profitability?

After you have summarized everything, it is time to fire up your sales funnel. If you don’t have one, go to a user group, and as if someone has extra work you could take over, if you engage with your local group on a regular basis, they will get to know you, and throw work your way, even when you don’t need it. Contact your previous clients, ask them if they may have some work for you, or know someone who has. Referrals is one of the best ways to get good clients, and be able to provide them with great value.

In the meantime, take a vacation, you have earned it. Being a freelancer, I sometimes dread for vacation time, but always wanting to do/learn more keeps me from resting completely. I know that I should try a screen free day, as soon as possible.

Go learn something new. If you are a Ruby on Rails developer, go and learn a frontend javascript framework, Ember or Angular are good enough. Learn another language, maybe a functional one, Elixir seems to gain popularity, Clojure already is fairly popular within the developer community. Invest time in yourself, you have all those savings to keep your mind at ease. You could even learn a real(non-programming) language, that will make your synapses fire differently, and knowing a foreign language never did any harm to no one. Start writing a blog, just for yourself if you have no audience. It will help you channel everything you know, learn it better, and maybe gain you some tracking in the community.

The famine period will make you desperate to find work, that is something we people feel and can’t really get away from it, but hopefully you will be able to rely on your savings, until you find a client that fits you just right. And if you can’t find a client in 4-5 months, then go and look for a full time job, maybe using some of the hot new skills you have learned.