The Freelancer’s Holiday Survival Guide

I can tell you first-hand that holiday survival as a freelancer can be tough. It doesn’t always matter if you’re new. Of course, if you kept your day job (or if you were lucky enough during the pandemic to not get laid off) while starting your freelance business, you’ll probably not shit your pants right now when it appears your clients stop talking to you and you wonder if you’ll die by New Year’s from starvation. Even experienced freelancers, regardless of their field, can get swept up in the holiday frenzy. So, if you’re a new freelancer, take heart. It can be scary as fuck. Here are some of my best tips in this freelancer’s holiday survival guide.

Prepare Early for the Holiday Slow Down

Yes, I know you’re thinking or yelling at your screen But Robin, it’s fucking November and I have clients taking off a week for Thanksgiving. Yeah, I know. Guess what? They might take off one week or two weeks or more around Christmas or around the New Year. So, you need to prepare for that right now. You have one month (from the date of my publishing this) to prepare. I mean, this is the freelancer’s holiday survival guide. We are officially in the holiday season. Thanksgiving is holiday number one. You still have Christmas and New Year’s. It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate them or not. So, how can you prepare for them? Well, chances are, you may not have prepared for the Thanksgiving lull. If you’re experiencing the Thanksgiving lull:

  • Update your website or portfolio. You don’t need to work for the whole week. I’m sure, if you were a busy little bee for a good portion of the year, that you bitched about not having any downtime. Congratulations! You now get a break. Use the time wisely and update your website or portfolio. That includes your blog, your social media accounts, and your Upwork profile (if you have one). Make sure that they are search engine optimized to meet the needs of your potential clients and written in a way that is easy to understand. Look, I’ve had potential clients reach out to me that honestly don’t understand what SEO is and I have to break it alllllllll the way down to using a search engine without making them feel dumb (because they aren’t dumb – many of my clients have law degrees or medical degrees; they just don’t understand how the internet and algorithms operate). Do you have a Google My Business for your business? Are you utilizing LinkedIn? Twitter? I am blown away when freelancers tell me they don’t use these avenues. They just sit and wait for things to fall in their laps. It doesn’t always just fall into your lap..
  • Think about the Christmas break. No, I am not looking to give you a heart attack or stroke. In fact, I want to enjoy your Thanksgiving break, but you need to be smart about the holiday slow down that many experience. I mean, you’re reading this for a reason. You know that you could experience another slump next month. So, what can you do between now and then to plump up your income like your Thanksgiving turkey? Can you find one or two more clients? Even if it is just a temporary gig, it can help add to your bottom lime. By the way, I’ve had “temporary clients” end up being some of my best long-term clients. Ask for those referrals. Apply for those gigs.
  • Keep this in mind as a learning experience for next year. Seriously. I went through this for a couple of years. Because apparently, I am a slow learner… Actually, I would have these really nice projects bumping along and send them back to the client for editing or whatever, and then I’d get an email, “Oh we’ll get back to you after the holidays! Have a great Christmas!” So, I’ve learned to keep my schedule full as well as the right ideas to put into the minds of long-term clients to keep other things moving forward.

Related: Working from Home: How to Get from Idea to Reality

Be Proactive with Ideas

As someone who routinely writes SEO web content, social media content, and acts as a manager for Google My Business, this is a prime time for me to tell all of my clients that they must start thinking about what they want to accomplish during the first quarter (minimum) of 2021. This does two things for me:

  1. It keeps me at the front of my clients’ minds. Other than my husband, which my non-Upwork clients know work with me (it is against Terms of Service for my husband to work on my Upwork projects; so, he does not work on those. I am a stickler for integrity!), I am a one-person show. I stay fairly busy now, regardless of the time of year. This week, Thanksgiving week 2020, it’s a tad slower, but there’s still plenty to do. When you showcase what you know, it makes you an expert in the eyes of those you are working with. It gives them something to think about. It is up to you how much information you want to give. I am pretty liberal about how much I share because I know that my clients won’t go out and do it on their own. They are busy people.
  2. They usually say, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do it!” And then I have something to do during a time that was previously slow. It also puts them on my schedule (and they know it). Now, as it stands, I always make time for existing clients when they need something done.

Ask Existing Clients for Reviews & Referrals

Stop being shy about this. I know that some of you have a hang-up about this. “Well if they want to do it, they’ll just do it.” Sure…if they remember. If they have time. Look, your clients have lives. They have businesses. They may have families. They have hobbies. To keep their businesses running and growing, they get reviews and referrals. If you want to survive the holidays as a freelancer, make it a point throughout the year, and especially during the holidays, to ask them to post a review and to refer their friends and colleagues to you.

I ask my clients to please leave a review on my Facebook page for my agency as well as on my Google My Business if they are inclined to do so. They don’t have to do it…only if they would like to do so. Upwork also allows non-Upwork clients to provide you with a testimonial. I recommend that as well. If they don’t do it, no big deal. Life goes on.

As for referrals? Depending on what you do (and the ethics surrounding it since some professions do not allow any sort of incentive), you can offer a small incentive. I do. Sometimes I advertise it on my invoices. The majority of my clients are long-term and know the program exists so it’s not on my invoice anymore. I am very selective now in whom I agree to work with, referral or not. However, every successful referral gains the client 10% their next invoice. It isn’t a one-time thing, either. If a client makes five successful referrals, for example, they would receive the incentive on five separate invoices.

Contact Your Previous Clients

I am prefacing this with: previous clients with whom you had a healthy, positive relationship. Don’t jump right in with: I’m broke – what do you have for me? Inquire about how they are doing first.

Hi X,

I hope you’re doing well! Doing well, here. I recently had an opening on my calendar. I wanted to touch base with you and see if you needed help with anything.

Best,

[Your Name]

Robin Bull, confessionsfromthecouch.com

Wait for a response. If they say no, that’s fine. Then politely ask for a referral.

That’s great that you’re doing well and all caught up! 🙂 If you know anyone who could use my help, please pass on my information! Have them let me know that you referred them to me and I’ll [insert incentive language here]!

Best,

[Your Name]

Robin Bull, confessionsfromthecouch.com

Start a Holiday Fund

This isn’t for buying holiday presents. This is to help ensure your survival. If you’re really worried about surviving the holidays as a freelancer, then start a holiday fund. Starting in January of every year, start taking some of your money earned and squirrel it away. This will be your nest egg during the holidays. How much you want to put away is up to you. However, you must look at your budget and figure out what it takes for you to survive as well as holiday meals (if you celebrate) and presents (if you’re into that or have children or whatever).

Get a Second Job

I know, not a popular idea…but keep in mind that many people do this. There are lots of ways to find extra work. If you can’t find extra work in your chosen freelance profession, look in other areas you are skilled in. There is no shame in having the money you need to survive. None. I keep a free list of work from home writing and editing jobs. You can find remote jobs on Indeed quite easily. LinkedIn has jobs listed on it, many are remote. There are call centers that allow you to work from home. I keep using the “work from home” element primarily because of the pandemic. I know that working from home isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That’s fine, too. I have no issue with anyone who decides they hate it.

Don’t Quit Just Because of the Holidays

We all go through the holiday downtime. If you don’t, you are truly an anomaly. Maybe you go through it once and learn some valuable lessons and then you never deal with it again. Maybe you’re a slow learner (like me) and it takes you some time to get it right. Who knows…but don’t quit freelancing just because of the holidays. I mean, if you really hate it and this is your opportunity to just say fuck it, that’s fine. You’re allowed to not like something and quit. That’s cool.

Related: 3 Things No One Tells You About Success

Taking Off? Communicate!

If you have plenty of work and you plan to take time off, communicate with your clients. Don’t leave them in the dark. Let them know before you take off. And use your out of office responder. Plan your deadlines accordingly and work ahead if it is possible. Working ahead does a couple of things: it could provide you with extra money while you’re off and enjoying your downtime and it makes your clients happy because they get their projects early.

Questions? Comments? Drop them below!

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The freelancer's holiday survival guide provides actionable tips to help new freelancers survive the holiday lull.

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