When your freelance writing business needs emergency resuscitation

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Today’s guest post comes to us courtesy of Yolander Prinzel, one of the funniest, sharpest people I know in the freelance writing business. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express, Covestor.com, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her new book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is available on Amazon.

There may come a time when your freelance writing business temporarily flatlines and needs an amp of epi. It happened to me last year, when almighty Google decided to take me off the first page of search results for my specialty and hide me back in the weeds with the bloated mafia corpses.

It may sound bad, but a dry spell doesn’t have to mean the end of your business. When it comes to emergency resuscitation, there are two things that can help you pull through:

#1: The Profits You’ve Set Aside

The profits that your business earned in the good months, and that you’ve set aside, are what you use to pay your salary while you create and implement the action plan that gets your business back into a normal sinus rhythm. It’s a good idea to review your personal spending and create an emergency budget to live on so that you can cut your salary and let your profits last a bit longer. (And have you created a go to hell fund, as Dr. Freelance prescribed a few months ago?)

#2: Your Action Plan

Here are six steps your emergency action plan should include:

1. Diagnose the funk: You have to face the cause of your business slowdown in order to fix it. If you cover your ears and sing “The Girl from Ipanema” in an effort to ignore the trouble, it’s never going to go away—and your income is probably never going to recover. To make a diagnosis, consider doing a client satisfaction survey, reassessing your marketing methods, and reviewing your networking process.

2. Reach into your network. Touch base with clients and editors you’ve worked with in the past who might have new work for you and let them know you’ve got some openings in your schedule. You’d be surprised how many will email you back and give you assignments that can lead to even bigger things. Remember, though, that if client dissatisfaction is at the root of your business slowdown, you may not have any bites.

Your client network isn’t the only resource you’ve got, of course. You can also reach out to writer friends and see if they need any help with big projects or if they can send gigs your way that they’ve turned down. Then, talk to designers, editors, and proofreaders in your peer group—anyone who might have a lead on some work. (This is also a reminder to stay in regular touch with them—no one wants to hear from you only when it’s an emergency.)

3. Use your open schedule to create passive income opportunities. These will NOT give you a quick fix, but this is a good time to use your unscheduled working hours to create websites, books, training materials, and other products or services you can sell that will bring in residuals should your freelance writing business head south again. Plus, creating these tools keeps you busy and productive, which helps you stay positive.

4. Expand your service offerings. When the amount of new business I attracted started to drip rather than cascade, I added new services to my roster. Many of the new services were in categories that past clients had asked me about and I had turned down. I made sure to let my old clients know that I could now handle these projects and this made a huge difference.

5. Think about alternative ways to get your name out there. If what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, then it’s time to try something new. Guest post on a popular blog that your target clients read. Tool around on LinkedIn and join some of the groups your target clients are in, and interact with them. Be helpful and get noticed by virtue of your awesomeness rather than by pitching and hard selling. Join a forum your target client is likely to be in and do the same. There are tons of ways you can expose yourself to your clients (well, you know what I mean).

6. Continue marketing. Once you’ve made sure that mistakes in marketing aren’t behind your business’s brush with death, keep moving forward with it. It’s also a good idea to add in and experiment with some new marketing methods such as ads, cold calling, direct mail, and so on.

In the comments: What are your tricks to creating income and reviving your freelance writing business after an unexpected slowdown?

 Photo courtesy of LeoSynapse.

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  1. says

    Jake, thank you for hosting Yo’s brilliance. Yo, thank you for being brilliant. 🙂

    When I saw a slowdown recently, I did #2 and #4 right away. Just by moving from my specialty area into a related specialty area kicked up the interest by 80 percent.

    Also, I take the opportunity to reach out to new prospects on LinkedIn – not the creepy “I saw you looking at my profile” connection, but finding people in the same industry and just connecting. Plus once in a while, I’ll announce my availability on Twitter — one short message, not loads of messages begging for work.

  2. says

    Jake: Thanks for sharing your real estate to one of my favs, too. 🙂

    Yo, I feel your pain. A year ago, an unexpected series of events knocked my income for a loop. I lost one major client (her company downsized), another client got acquired and put a hold on an existing retainer agreement (that lasted the whole last quarter of the year), and the third client went on maternity leave and her staff did not move forward on any of the projects she had left to them for the last quarter.

    Can you say ouch?

    I had to dip into the profits (as you suggest in#1), which did not make me happy. I stepped up my marketing, which admittedly, I had gotten a bit lazy on. I was doing it. Just not as regularly as I should have been.

    I made some new connections that paid off with referrals and ventured into a different market (still in my niche, but with an even more specialized focus).

    Slowly the income returned. I am working on passive-generating income as we speak – er – type. This was painful, but could have been a lot worse – although I would not like to test that theory.

    I love your get-down-to-business approach, Yo. Guess we need to wear our big girl or boy pants, huh? 😉

  3. says

    @Yo, I’m reminded of the old grade-school taunt: “Just because you’ve got a pointy head doesn’t mean you’re sharp.”

    @Lori, the LinkedIn stalker function actually *stops* me from searching people I don’t know (or old girlfriends, LOL). Ick.

    @Cathy, I’ve had a few surprise exoduses (exodi?) in the past few years. I can’t decide whether it hurts more or less when someone departs through no fault of mine…but it is definitely an argument for diversification, because you truly never know.

    Thanks for all the comments, and Yo, thanks for a thought-provoking piece!

  4. says

    Sometimes a slow period comes because you’re burned out or overworked and have slacked off on marketing and networking. In that case, a bit of down time can be a benefit. Take some time off and do something that energizes you. Remind yourself that the flexibility of freelancing one big reason you’re in it. Come back refreshed and ready to start exploring new ideas, new skills, and new areas.

  5. says

    Good perspective, Sheila. Pacing yourself is definitely part of the game—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Funny enough, I had lunch today with one of my graphic design partners, and the conversation turned to “What would you do if you took a sabbatical?” Come to think of it, that might make a good blog post!

  6. Yo Prinzel says

    Very true @Sheila. This summer, right as my slow down was happening, I’d actually taken about 2 months mostly off in order to nurse a very sick stray cat to health. Several weeks (and thousands of dollars later) I decided to start taking on new clients again only to realize that there weren’t any. It was a nice sabbatical, but it would have been nicer if Google hadn’t struck right in there. But man, I sure did feel energized. @Lori, I’ve used Twitter to good effect too, thanks for bringing that up! @Cathy NO PANTS! Your big-girl PJs, or whatever you want to freelance in ;-P

  7. says

    Great post Yo! 🙂

    Any updates on your search rankings situation? Have they been moving in the right direction again?

    Having that money to tap into is so important, not just for the unexpected downturns but also the ones you choose to take (like your time off to rescue that kitty — another reason you’re awesome). I took off three months last year to deal with health things. I didn’t have to. But I wanted to, so I could turn my attention to getting better and doing what was best for me in the long run. If you have nothing to tap, it’s extremely difficult to do something like that whether it’s illness, wanting to take an extended trip, wanting time off for maternity leave, etc.

    A good way to supplement that is to diversify your income sources as much as possible — both by working with more clients and also by introducing non-freelance revenue streams if possible (such as selling a book or e-book to your freelance writing prospects). It all helps!

  8. says

    Hear, hear, Jen. Diversification is an essential way to smooth out the inevitable hills and valleys.

    And you can pencil me down for “wanting to take an extended trip,” which is in the plans for this summer. No thanks on illness or maternity leave, though 🙂