How to Survive a Work Drought

Work drought

Working for yourself is something many people aspire to, but being self-employed or running your own business is not without its challenges. Unlike a regular job where your salary pops into your bank account every month, being self-employed means your income may sometimes be variable. It’s great when you have more work than you can physically do, but when work dries up for whatever reason, it doesn’t take long for the cash flow to dry up, too. But although this scenario can easily snowball into a nightmare of Stephen King proportions, with a bit of careful planning and some damage limitation strategies in place, you can survive the drought.

Where Has All the Work Gone?

When work dries up, it is a good idea to assess the situation fast. Ask around to see if everyone else in your niche is in the same boat. If they are, you can take a bit of comfort from that. It isn’t ideal, but at least you know others are sharing your pain. If you are the only one struggling, however, think about why that might be the case. Did you put all your eggs in one basket and when a major client bailed you lost a significant portion of your income? If so, learn from this mistake and next time make sure you think about taking on lots of smaller clients instead of one large client, thus spreading the risk.

Saving for a Rainy Day

One lesson I have learned the hard way during my years as a freelancer is that saving for a rainy day is essential—unless you enjoy eating baked beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since it is inevitable that work availability is sometimes affected by wider economy, the best way to ride out the lean times is to have some savings put away.

When the money is rolling in and you have potential clients beating a path to your door, it is undeniably tempting to think the good times are going to keep on rolling. But as a small business owner, sole trader or freelancer you can’t afford to take such a short-term view. Always, always have savings in reserve to help tide you over when work dries up. This rainy day fund may just keep your business ticking over when everyone around you is going to the wall.

Become a Marketing Whiz

If business has been good for a long time, you have probably gotten out of the habit of marketing your services. After all, why would you need to go looking for work when clients have been calling you? But if work has dried up, it is time to brush up on your marketing skills. Make a point of setting aside a specific amount of time per day to spend on marketing your products or services. Make a list of different methods to try and explore every possible avenue in your efforts to find work.

Tighten Your Belt

Unless you fancy going out with a bang, cutting back on your expenditure is sensible when work is thin on the ground. Look at where you can cut costs. Even finding a cheaper electricity supplier could make a difference—every little helps!

Diversification Rocks

As I have already mentioned, placing all your eggs in one basket is a risky proposition. Should that client refuse to pay or simply disappear one day, it could leave you massively in the lurch. Diversifying your income stream is a sensible plan for lean times. Get creative and consider branching out into different areas or offering new services. Look at your competitors and see how they are coping—and if they are doing something different, give it a go.


No man or woman is an island, and irrespective of what business niche you are in, networking is never a waste of time. Keeping in touch with your peers and potential clients, both in the real world and online, is a useful way of keeping up to speed with what is happening in your niche. At best it could land you a new client, but even if it doesn’t, at least you will benefit from the support of people in the same predicament as you.

Have a Back-Up Plan

Have a backup plan for when times are tough. Hopefully it’s only a temporary situation, but in case the work drought lasts for a while make sure you have a Plan B before you end up in a dire financial predicament. This could involve taking a part-time job to help pay the bills, or even putting your business on hold for a few weeks or months until things pick up again. But either way, do not be tempted to stick your head in the sand in the hope that your problems will go away. They won’t!

As long as you have savings in place and a few creative marketing strategies in mind, there is no reason why you can’t survive the lean times. However, do make sure you learn from your experiences so you can use them to your advantage the next time it all goes pear-shaped.


This post was written by Laura Ginn, owner of Ink Elves, a freelance writing company based in the UK.

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