Today, Ashley Gainer is joining us to share how she has overcome tough times and extreme lows in her freelance writing business, all while holding her head up high. She also shares how to tackle your goals and face your new to-do list head on, despite setbacks. Take it away Ashley!
Ever had the wind knocked out of you? You get whacked in the chest with a softball, and what do you do? Hold your arms up. Your rib cage readjusts, your lungs suck in air, and after a little bit you’re back to normal.
Within 48 hours, not long ago, about 90% of my client load vaporized. Some of this was planned — I was actively dropping clients to find higher-paying ones. Most of it though, came by way of surprise budget cutbacks and changes in direction. Every one of my remaining clients needed to cut me back or drop me all together, and they all did it at pretty much the same time.
I didn’t see it coming. Who would? It was like getting pounded in the chest again, but unfortunately, holding my arms up didn’t do a whole lot of good this time around.
Coping With a Client Load Reset
After the panic subsided, I began to see the possible good in this situation. I’ve been freelancing since 2010, and seriously (do-or-die) freelancing since 2012. In that time, I’d never faced a dry spell remotely this bad. This was both awesome and frustrating.
Awesome because I kept a roof over my head, despite being an at-home single mom for three years to an infant-turned-toddler-turned-preschooler with no regular childcare. Frustrating because I faced such enormous time constraints on my work that my client portfolio had to remain small and any upward traction I could get came slowly.
I had big ideas of what I wanted to be doing and how to scale my business, but there was no time to execute on any of them because every working hour was filled with client work. I squeezed marketing in, but basically I’d settled into a comfortable spot and ignored the (very good) advice to be marketing, always. Don’t make that mistake, as I did!
Now, with so much empty time on my plate (and a very supportive new husband), I could focus on taking coursework to move into a new niche, or building a new brand that I was really excited about. There were other opportunities presenting themselves, too – lots of exciting new directions I could take.
Once I could breathe again, of course.
A Step-By-Step Rebuilding Plan
Are you hyperventilating over your current (lack of) workload? I can totally relate. But staying there won’t do either of us any good. Here’s a step-by-step plan to reboot your freelance writing business:
Step 1: Feel it. Panic, overwhelm, fear, embarrassment, guilt. I felt it all – a lot of it. Going through those feelings is important – that’s the only way to work it out of your system and then be able to move forward. So have your meltdown! No judgment here.
Step 2: Take the next step ASAP. Maybe you know the next step. (It’s probably something along the lines of “marketing.”) If you really don’t know what to do next, find someone to talk to. If you don’t have a mentor or a go-to colleague, see if you can hire a coach for a one-off session. If that’s not in the budget, ask a couple of targeted questions in a freelancer community where you’re involved. What you don’t want to do is isolate yourself and stall out.
Step 3: Reach out to your network the minute you can see straight. Let your colleagues know you’re looking for work and ask if they have any leads on gigs that might be right for you. Post something on social media saying you’ve got room in your workload for 2-3 new XYZ-type clients. (A friend of mine does this and is back to a full workload within a couple days, every time.) Reach out to past clients to let them know you’re thinking of them and see if they have any new work they’d like to outsource.
Step 4: Act. Don’t stop moving. Pitch relentlessly. Focus on paying gigs rather than guest posts. Market heavily, but target it – don’t take low-paying gigs.
If you’ve got the time, do some housekeeping. Update your website by adding any services you’ve been thinking about – and then market them immediately. Finish some lingering coursework, or even take a business retreat and map out a whole new direction if that’s what ends up being right for you. Whatever you do, do it deliberately and quickly.
What I Did On My Summer Vacation
Here’s what my own version of this plan looks like:
Step 1: I had an extended freak-out session. It took a couple of days for me not to be on the verge of panicky tears, and it another week or so to see what the next step should be. I had another month of “business as usual” before it all dried up so the freak-out happened in pieces.
Step 2: Because I had so many different ideas about which direction to take, the best next step didn’t crystallize immediately. I talked with a couple of trusted colleagues, and then I hired a business coach for a 30-minute session. These conversations gave me clarity on how I could quickly and efficiently reach my long-term goals – building my parent-preneur.com brand, where I teach other at-home parents how to make money online without sacrificing time with their kids. (Lesson #1: Don’t make my mistakes!)
Step 3: I reached out to my freelancing network and mentioned that I had room for new writing clients in my newly narrowed field (entrepreneurship, money, and lifestyle) and asked if they had any recommendations for blogs to pitch.
Step 4: As I collected names of places to pitch (including checking out places where my fellow writers had clips), I took advantage of the low-hanging fruits (places where I knew the editor and responding to referral inquiries) and meanwhile spent about 10 days building my new site. Now that the site is ready, I’m spending about half my time building that audience and the other half pitching my writing services.
One of the benefits of being a veteran freelancer is that I know the clients are out there and I know how to get them – it’s just a matter of doing the work. And I’m planning to emerge from this crisis-turned-opportunity with a writing business that’s thriving again, along with a new business that I’d been itching to start for well over a year.
I’m looking forward to bringing you part 2 to my story, with some successes and big wins. What do you hope to accomplish in the coming months?
Ashley Gainer is a full-time parent and part-time freelance writer and editor who teaches other parent-preneurs how to be successful freelancers without sacrificing their time with their kids. You can find out more at parent-preneur.com, and join the Facebook group to meet other parents who are in the same place you are.