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.