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10 Useful Tasks for Slow Times
By Samuel Ryan     Freelance Lessons     Comments

As both a freelancer and former firm employee, winters always seem the slowest. Couple that fact with the economic slowdown and you can easily find yourself having more free time than you're used to. So what is there to do after you've already scoured the ususal job boards and are waiting for responses from proposals? Consider these ten ways to spend your extra down time.


1) Monetize Your Assets

 Trading time for money is not the only way for a web designer/developer to make money. Depending on your niche (and your client usage agreements), you probably have a healthy library of design elements, code snippets, photographs, and the like. Why not spend a few hours to take advantage of the many microstock sites out there (like iStockPhoto, vectorStock, the Envato Network, etc.) and monetize some of your older assets? Or if you're really ambitious, you could be create new assets. Just make sure the monetary return justifies your time. From personal experience with microstock sites, a small library can earn a couple hundred dollars each month with little upfront work.


2) Improve Your Processes

 You should always be refining your processes to be more efficient and professional. Analyze how you handle new clients or bill current ones; see if there are better ways to cut waste and make room for more billable hours. Freelancers often focus solely on their hourly rate and less on better efficiency (that often results in decreased expenses or increased billable hours). Good processes also open the door for growing your business in a financially sustainable way.


3) Tour the Current Landscape and Read Up

 It's not that hard to become a "dated" designer -- your portfolio from 2 years ago probably looks dated to you nowadays. You need to take any chance you get to look at current design or website trends and study them. Besides being a good practice, it's enjoyable to take some time to read or surf for purely aesthetic reasons.


4) Catch-Up Bookkeeping

 I don't know many freelancers that stay on top of their bookkeeping as well as they should. When tax time comes around, we just can't remember all those business expenses and scour through our credit statements, trying to figure out what we bought for $49.95 at OfficeMax. Instead of scrambling at the last possible moment, why not make another move towards professionalism and catch-up a bit?


5) Archive and Backup

 In my 12 years or freelancing, I've had my main work computer blow up twice (and one of those times, I was unable to recover a lot of data). And yet, I still struggle to backup or archive properly. Besides safeguarding you from disaster, archiving comes in very handy when you're looking for old sites or information to use. And remember, there's nothing wrong with allocating a half hour of a client's project time to archiving it (which helps both parties).


6) Drop a Note to Past Clients

 Your best resource in finding new work is tapping into your past clients. When things get slow, drop an email to past clients and see what they're up to; then inform them of some of your current work. Not only does this build rapport, but putting your name out there often reminds them of a project they might have for you. You will get a considerably better return on your time by hitting up old clients versus hitting up the job boards.


7) Get Self-Promotional

 If you have nothing to work on but the creative juices are flowing, use them on a self-promotional piece. Create Christmas cards for clients or develop a promo kit for potential clients. If you really like what you've done, submit it to a design site or mag.


8) Update Your Identity and Portfolio

 A lot changes in a year, especially as a new freelancer. Make sure any changes in your company identity or your resume are properly updated. Furthermore, review your portfolio and see what can be added or deleted. Re-read and rewrite your portfolio copy as necessary. And every once in a while, revisit your internal branding and see if you need to make any revisions.


9) Plan for the Future

 I would hope that every freelancer has a vision for his career beyond the next job/paycheck. There's no better time than a slow season to layout your plan for the next year(s). Write out both personal and business goals for the year ahead. Share those goals with someone who can help refine them and keep you accountable. Be ambitious.


10) Be Entrepreneurial

 Everyone talks about having these great ideas that they never had the time to implement. The truth is, people can make time for anything they want bad enough. If you're experiencing some downtime in your business, why not finally execute some of those great ideas? A good deal of successful online companies have started by "trying out" a new idea.

Community Comments
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Adam Bard
11) Write a blog post?

hard to implement, anyway thanks

Alon Peer
7) Get Self-Promotional
Get up to date with the current social media tools (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and make sure you're active and contributing to the social pool.

Read a book on an aspect of your business that needs improvement. Make sure you take notes while you read so you don't forget anything useful.

Andrew Phillips
These are really good tips. I'm going through a slow period at the moment. A few things I've been doing:

- Chasing up outstanding debts
- Working on marketing material
- Updating my portfolio site
- Drinking too much coffee

I have been getting the urge to back up everything lately now I know why.

Ann Arbor Website Graphics Design
Great List, its just harder to implement when one is busy panicking about the slow down. Still I have been doing a few of these things so I guess I am doing something right.

Read a book on an aspect of your business that needs improvement. Make sure you take notes while you read so you don't forget anything useful.

Mathew Liles
I always try to improve my skills or learn new things. Even in a slow down period new things are happening.

savas oyun
i have followed your writing for a long time.really you have given very successful information.
In spite of my english trouale,I am trying to read and understand your writing.
And i am following frequently.I hope that you will be with us together with much more scharings.
I hope that your success will go on.

Luke Marsh
I always find the best thing to do when you don't have any work on is to send all past clients/freelancers a newsletter with recent projects. It seems to get quite a few responses

Jay Kerr
Catch-Up Bookkeeping? Guilty! I hate bookkeeping and always put it off. I'm a designer and yes, I hate scrambling to put my taxes together at the last minute.

Updating my portfolio is always on the back burner because of client work. The last thing I want to do is update my own portfolio which is ridiculous considering that it is a big part of what gets me the next gig.

baby shower ideas
These are some great ideas. I tend to lean toward contacting old clients. It never fails once they hear from me they remember needing something done.
Drumming up a little cash is not too hard if you have a good network.

Golf Trolleys
Slow times in the web design business is the time to work on new skills. In a fast moving industry old web designs look like out-of-date clothing - obvious.

Great post. I would love to see more on this topic since it seems that we have more and more downtime lately.

Shamiul Hasan
informative and interesting article. learned lot of. hope more interest in next. happy blogging.

upvc doors
very difficult to implement practically

Lynchburg Web Design
Great post, this has been my slowest month so far...

When I have a gap in my schedule, I devote more time to my personal projects or write articles (I am mainly a writer) for pay per view sites. Some friends of mine, who are not writers, take photographs instead and upload them to sites such as iStockPhoto. The money is not much but it is better than wasting my time on a low-budget project for an insane client.

Liza Smith
Hi Samuel,

I have a different stand on the issue of slow times. I think that several online services marketplaces such as Elance, LimeExchange, Odesk etc, which can never let you run short of work.

Since the times are bad and every organization is preferring to cut down the expenses and resort to outsourcing, thousands of projects get posted everyday on these platforms.

So be smart to find work for yourself and then you can stay calm while others look all around for help in the ongoing economic meltdown.

These can be implement when one is busy panicking about the slow down

Lynchburg Web Designer
These are all great tips. I should definitely spend more time on bookkeeping..would make my life much easier around tax time.

Rabbit Hutches - Web Designer
I have taken to practically knocking on doors to see if anyone wants a revamp, i have found it tough over the last couple of months, I will heed your advice

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Sunny Days & Rain
What is all this?
My name is Samuel Ryan and I make websites. Sometimes, I write about it. I disappeared from this blog for a couple years, but I'm jumping back in now -- even began using my twitter account. If you care to know more, go here.