The Lull Before the Fall (The Danger of Freelancing Complacency)

The Freelancing RollercoasterWe’ve all heard it said, “With freelancing it’s feast or famine.

What the speaker means, of course, is that when you freelance you either have way too much work, or not nearly enough work. My own experience confirms that the saying is somewhat true. Getting your income through freelancing can be a real roller coaster ride!

The question that I want to address today is this: is the “feast or famine” cycle our own fault?

To some degree, I do think that we freelancers are to blame for it. Naturally, there are market and economic trends that are beyond our control. I’m not talking about those. What I’m talking about is plain old freelancer complacency.

See if the following scenario sounds familiar to you:

Your freelancing business is a little bit slow, so you decide to market your services aggressively. You participate in every relevant forum that you can find. You apply for a variety of jobs. You might even advertise. Before long, your marketing efforts pay off. You have, not one, but three excellent and lucrative long-range projects lined up that will keep you busy for the next few months.

When this scenario happens, what do most of us do?

What we should do is think to ourselves, “Wow, my marketing strategies really worked. I need to keep on doing that.

At least, that’s what we should do.

In the real world, however, the following response is much more common, “Wow, it looks like I’m set for a few months. It looks like I’ll be busy. I can relax my marketing efforts for a while.

Or, the freelancer may think to themselves, “Wow, I’m way too busy to do any marketing right now. I’ll get to it later.

The freelancer has fallen into a lull

In the above example the freelancer just fell into a lull, or a false sense of security. They are no longer promoting their business — they are reaping the benefits of past marketing efforts.

Well, you can pretty much guess what happens to the freelancer who adopts this stance. (And we all adopt it from time to time.) Here’s the end of the scenario:

One of those lucrative projects is canceled. Another project requires less work (and you get less pay) than the client projected.

Before long, the freelancing “feast” has become a “famine” and you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Steady the Cycle, Here’s How

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are some steps you can take to even out the freelancing “feast or famine” cycle. Here are a few of them:

  1. Have a marketing routine. Dedicate a set amount of time each day to promoting your business. Whether it’s participating in forums, applying for online projects, or contacting previous clients – make sure that you are consistently doing something to market your freelancing business.
  2. Give advertising a chance to work. If you use advertising, then you should know that it typically takes a while to work. Just because you don’t see immediate results, that doesn’t mean that your advertisement isn’t working. Give it a set of period of time and measure your results.
  3. Don’t fall prey to “manic” promotion. Many freelancers panic when they find themselves without work and begin to randomly and haphazardly promote themselves wherever they can whenever they. A less frantic targeted approach is much more effective.
  4. Keep in touch with clients. One of your very best marketing resources is a happy client. Clients can provide referrals, testimonials, and future work. Make sure that your current clients are happy with your services. Stay in touch with them and discover what they like (and don’t like) about your work.
  5. Be financially responsible. No, that “windfall” during your freelancing “feast” period doesn’t need to be spent all at once. Set some of that money aside for a slower period. Better yet, put the “windfall” into your freelance business account and pay yourself a salary.

How do you manage the “feast or famine” freelancing cycle?


  1. says

    Great post, Laura. I know I’m guilty of manic marketing, and a few of the others you mentioned. I don’t really have many slow times though. (My “slow” time is working 8 hrs instead of 12. LOL)

    Lovely pic too. :-)

  2. says

    Good point. It’s highly possible indeed. The feast or famine does exist, though, just as with any other industry. There will always be peak times and down times to deal with. Depending on how you handle it, those peaks and downs may be just bumps or they may be roller coasters… but they do exist. Best way to handle them? Know that tomorrow will be another day :)

  3. says

    Great advice James!

    If you’re prepared for the slow times then I think that you can lessen the impact.

    It’s just so very easy to relax when things are going well. (I know that I’m guilty of letting up on my marketing when my workload is full.)

  4. says

    I think James makes a great point — even if you work constantly and have an unlimited amount of drive, there will still be busy times and slow times.

    The best thing you can do is try to maximize the good and minimize the bad, all the while keeping your sanity and happiness.

  5. says

    Replace marketing with “applying for jobs” and I agree: you need to job search every single day. Also, if you’re doing print, use lulls to catch up on pitching. Voila! No lulls.

  6. says

    Great discussion!

    Mason – I do recommend that freelancers save a portion of their income during the “feast” times.

    Allena – Great comment! Personally, I view applying for jobs as a form of marketing. While I’ve been approached by some clients directly, I’ve gotten other gigs by applying for them. So, applying for work is definitely important.

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