The Great Freelance Taboo

I have an unexpected gap in my schedule, so I thought this week I would write about something that could be seen as taboo in some areas. No, I’m not going to muse about my personal life (never mix business with pleasure?), nor about politics (is there REALLY an Independence Referendum in my country at the moment??), nor even about whether Apple placing a U2 album in our itunes folder is a violation of our human rights (IMO they were only good around 1983 when they brought out the WAR album).

No, this week I am writing about … lack of work.


No matter how hard a freelancer likes to pretend that they have a full schedule all of the time for many, many freelancers there are times when there is no work coming in. It may be because a project has unexpectedly failed, it may be because work naturally comes in waves (imagine the rush to get stuff out for Christmas, then nothing in January), or it may be that there is just no work coming their way. Sometimes it’s all down to lack of marketing and ‘getting yourself out there’ but sometimes it’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Whatever the reason, at some point, even the most in demand freelancer will find themselves twiddling their thumbs and looking at a blank slot in their diary.

Such is a freelancer’s life.

Now, there are a few ways you can look at this sudden lull. You can sit staring at an empty desk, wailing ‘why me’ and going all melodramatic; you can spend the time looking over your marketing strategy and business plan (also sometimes being melodramatic if the mood takes you); you can catch up on some training, or you can kick back, take your time, and try to relax.

I like to try all of the above … well the first choice appeals to my theatrical nature.

When lack of work hits it’s too easy, especially for the new freelancer, to have a sudden lack of confidence. Did I do something wrong? Am I marketing myself all wrong? Am I talking to the right people? Does anyone know I exist? Will I ever work again??

Stressed Over Money

Fear not … there is usually something around the corner. If you have absolutely NO work on the horizon, pull your socks up and get your marketing strategy looked at, sharpish!

However, this doesn’t help if there are bills to pay and you have no money in reserve.

So, when lack of work hits, and you really can’t afford to take time off, there are a few things to try …

  1. Contact old clients and remind them you are still alive. Let them know you have a gap in your schedule.
    I must admit I HATE doing this … I’m not a natural marketer; the thought of it makes me feel ill.
  2. Hit social media and let people know you have a gap in your schedule.
    Be polite and for goodness-sake do not hit Twitter every half hour to scream that you need work. Have a look, there are lots of people doing that and it screams of desperation – and there is nothing that looks worse than desperation, even if you are desperate!
  3. Contact an agency.
    If you have a big gap, it may be worth signing up to a recruitment agency to see if they can put you on their books. They are in business for a reason and so are you … see if you can be beneficial to one another.
  4. Contact potential new clients.
    Have a look and see if you can spot a few places that may need your skills. Contact them in a professional manner, contact the right person in the company, explain what you have to offer them and state that you have an opening in your books. Be polite, to the point and be professional. It may be best to check first to see if they hire freelancers … some companies do and some don’t.
  5. Tell your professional contacts that you have a gap.
    You never know when one of your colleagues may have too much work or knows someone who needs your skills.

None of the above is easy. None of it. Unless you are supremely confident in selling yourself it will feel personal. Freelancers are, after all, selling themselves when they sell their services … we don’t have a big company to hide behind, we are not cogs in the machine, we ARE the machine.


Lack of work is real, and when it hits it can be a problem. There is no point in pretending that this isn’t the case. If you are constantly booked up, well done, you’re amazing. If you aren’t constantly booked up, don’t worry, you are just like the rest of us.

My current schedule gap is being filled with a bit of CPD (continuing professional development)*. I’m picking up where I left off in May and training in InDesign. It’s something I enjoy, so not only am I learning new things that can be useful in my work, I am having fun while doing it.

And that’s the joy of freelance, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one … you just have to show the world your happy face and go with the flow.




* If you have a project that could do with being copy-edited or proofread contact me and we’ll talk.

5 Comments on “The Great Freelance Taboo

  1. the siren call of CPD 🙂 I am doing a data analysis course with future learn this october! you could join me dear!!!!! 🙂 go on you know you want to!

    • oooh now that sounds like fun. However I too am taking a new FutureLearn course….on Shakespeare and his world.

      So much fun…I’ll check out the data course too 🙂

  2. I would recommend building up a network of colleagues in the same business, then you can even out each other’s lulls. I did this at the beginning and I now have a group of people I can recommend on to, and they will recommend on to me if I have a gap and they’re busy – or if one of us gets something that’s not in our core areas of expertise, it’s far better to be able to recommend someone else than just say “no”.

    • Totally!

      If you can build up a network it can be so much easier. If I can’t take on a job I always try to recommend someone I know can do the job (I did this recently).

      Mind you… it can take time to build up a network, which isn’t easy if you are new to the publishing business.

  3. Pingback: Top 5 Freelance Posts | Northern Editorial

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