The January slow down – or how my freelance work dried up

drought, desert, lack of work



I’ve been awol for a while.

Did you notice?

It’s been a mad two months and something had to give.

That something was my blog.


Now, normally I would apologise, but for the sake of all things healthy I’m not going to. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow.

waterfall, go with the flow


What did I do during my break?

  • Produced panto (it went rather well despite a few hiccups along the way),
  • finished work for the year,
  • got on with my OU coursework (I’m halfway through an Eng Lit and Creative Writing degree),
  • set up my new bullet journal (yes, this year I have a fully functional one),
  • reviewed my business plan,
  • concentrated on my marketing (a lot),
  • fielded a few enquiries,
  • accepted an invitation to speak to a local writing group,
  • did some research on a personal project,
  • did some theatre stuff (we’ve started rehearsing a new play and sorting out workshops),
  • did a piece of pro bono work for a local charity I’ve been involved with for 20 years,
  • did some networking,
  • and did a hell of a lot of brainstorming.


What didn’t I do?

Any paid work so far in January.

I also didn’t panic.

don't panic



If you know anything about me, by now you’ll know I’m not a bullshitter. You’ll also know that freelance life doesn’t always run smoothly and that an end of year/start of year assessment is a good thing.


So I thought, especially for all you new freelancers out there, I’d show you how it really can be. And why it’s good to have money in reserve.

jar of money


Why no work?

There are reasons why there’s been no work so far this month:

  • a mix of prospective clients approaching me for work that’s not in my field ( – that’s fine, I pass the work onto colleagues when I can),
  • a few who find that their budget doesn’t align with my pricing structure,
  • a few who want things done in a very, very short space of time (I’m only human, if I bust a gut to get the work done it won’t be good, so I just don’t do that),
  • a few booking in advance for a few months time (I like this, I know I have work coming),
  • one or two jobs that didn’t come through (this made it into my yearly assessment of how I book jobs in),
  • some bad marketing choices on my part.


So, you can see it’s been a very, very slow month or two.

It’s not just me though, it seems to have been much the same for a lot of freelancers and independent consultants. Perhaps it’s just that time of year, but I personally haven’t seen things this bad for quite a few years.



So what did I do?

Like I said earlier, I didn’t panic. I still have enough to pay the bills, but it’s times like these that make every solo practitioner look closely at their business.

You have to ask yourself:

  • Is it just slow for me or is it the market in general?
  • Why didn’t work turn up?
  • Why didn’t those jobs come through after all, and what could I have done differently?
  • Have I been marketing effectively?
  • Is my business plan working?
  • Do I need to diversify or rein in my offerings
  • Do people know I exist?


In the no-bullshit, trying to be helpful spirit of things I’ll show you how I answered these myself.




End of year assessment:

  • Is it just slow for me or is it the market in general?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of both. Being remote I have to work extra hard to network and let people know I exist, but generally January is not a good time. Looking back at my accounts, January is always slow. This has been the worst January since 2015 though.


  • Why didn’t work turn up?

I’d say it could be a mix of the wrong time of year for finishing projects that require an editor or writer, and the fact that everyone is reaching the end of their budgets. Especially if clients’ accounts run from January to December. Of course it’s different for every client type.

Or it could be that the right people actually don’t know I exist. I’ll look at this later.


  • Why didn’t those jobs come through after all, and what could I have done differently?

Ok, this is something that I need to address. The jobs that didn’t come through were ones that relied on goodwill and a kind of ‘gentleman’s agreement’. They didn’t come through because the work fell through, and to make it worse I didn’t take a 20–50% up-front non-refundable deposit like a lot of my colleagues. Guess what I’m going to do from now on?


  • Have I been marketing effectively?

I guess my answer to this is no. However, it’s something I’ve been working on in my CDP so I know I’m moving forward. Professional development isn’t all about the skills that help you do your actual work, it’s also the professional development of being an independent contractor.


  • Is my business plan working?

Actually, yes. But business plans take time – mine’s a yearly plan and the year isn’t over yet.


  • Do I need to diversify or rein in my offerings?

As part of my business plan I am going to stop offering a few things and add a few. However, this has got nothing to do with the abysmally slow month. From my records for the past few years I know that my services on offer are fine, and that they are evolving.


  • Do people know I exist?

Hell, yes. Probably. But perhaps those clients I’m aiming at are possibly less aware than I’d like them to be.


So my end of year/start of year assessment shows that market forces are largely at work, but my marketing could do with a kickstart. I’m not panicking yet as I’m working on my marketing skills (something I’ve always been bad at for my own business), but if I were a new freelancer I might just be bouncing off the walls at the moment.

bouncing along the road

What to do when work dries up?

If you find, like me, that work dries up or is slow in coming, there are a few things to do.

As we’ve seen, an assessment is a good place to start. Take a look at your business, answer some questions and don’t try to fool yourself. See how other freelancers are doing: is your network finding things tough too?

Try to make sure that you have some cash set aside in case of a dry spell. I know, it’s easier said than done, but it can help dispel the initial panic.

Have a look at some alternative means, such as sending out emails to old contacts or new ones. I even considered those dreaded content mills. Seriously though, I decided to have a quick peek at some of them and hell, unless you’re really desperate … (let’s just say, they may fill a gap but the fees on offer are insulting to a professional with skills). Louise Harnby, a lovely supportive colleague of mine, has a fantastic resource on her website that gives some great ideas for finding work when you really need to. It’s a webinar that can really help you get out of a spot. And you don’t have to be an editor or proofreader to take advantage of her advice, this works for everyone.




It happens to us all.

At the end of the day, dry spells happen to most freelancers. You just have to be prepared for them and make the most of them. Yes, I said make the most of them.

Try to take a positive view of the situation and use the time wisely. Use it to review, redirect and renew.

Review your practices, business plan and marketing strategy

Redirect your energies into what can bring in the money you need

Renew your contacts if you can, or your business goals.


review redirect renew

Me? I’ve used the last month positively, to take a deep dive into my business. It can be quite scary to break from the timetable (my business plan review usually takes place around May), but it can also be liberating and an eye-opener. And I haven’t finished yet.

I hope your January has been kind.



Everyone needs a CTA, so here’s mine. If you fancy working with me, contact me. Don’t be shy, let’s chat about your project.



8 Comments on “The January slow down – or how my freelance work dried up

  1. Uncanny – I posted on blog on a similar theme -ish – around five minutes after you! Typically thoughtful and right on the money – yours that is!

  2. I admire you for so many reasons — including your approach to your business. Hats off to you for not panicking, and for instead using the time to evaluate and regroup! I hope February will be better (and I have a feeling it will be, given the fantastic work you did in your “down” time). All my best to you, and happy 2019!

  3. Pingback: The best copywriting book I’ve read – Northern Editorial

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