How to wait out a lull
When I went freelance, everyone warned me there would be lulls. Quiet times and gaps between projects are part of the deal, they said. I thought ‘forewarned is forearmed’, until my first lull came along from nowhere and slapped me in the face.
Since the very first day I went freelance I’ve been working flat out. (No exaggeration — I finished my job on the Friday and started my first freelance gig on the Saturday.) I’d been turning down opportunities. There was even a period early this year where I was so busy I felt like I was drowning. It was validating — my business is thriving, people like my work, I’m earning a good reputation.
It was all going great. And then, it wasn’t. Out of nowhere — a lull. I went from working a little over full time, to working a day a week. The big project I was working on slowed right down, and a few leads I’d lined up fell through.
At first I figured a rest would do me good. And it did — for the first couple of weeks. I was a little worried about money, but I’d expected (and prepared) for that.
But when the third week of the lull rolled around with no new work, the slapping started. I wasn’t good enough. Slap. My work was terrible. Slap. I was failing. Slap. Setting up my own business was a mistake. Slap.
By the time I was a month into the lull, crushing dread replaced slapping. I felt rotten and filled with self-doubt.
And then as suddenly as it started, it was over. The big project picked up and a new one came in, and I was comfortably busy again. But the dread isn’t gone. I’m scared I’ll get slapped and crushed again.
So I’ve come up with an action plan, which I’m sharing, as I suspect I’m not the only one going through this:
1. Save 50% of everything I earn
A friend told me to save 50% of everything I earned — well above the proportion I needed to save to cover my tax. I hated the idea, but grudgingly did it anyway and cut back my spending. OH BOY! am I glad now because it’s been my saving grace. It meant I had a decent buffer of cash to see me through the lull (and the aftermath while I wait to get paid). I’m aiming to replenish the fund over the coming months and get to a point where I have six months worth of living costs in the bank, just in case.
2. Don’t forget the ‘pipeline’
Talking it through with other freelancers helped me realise my lull was in part the result of working too much earlier in the year. Because I had so many projects on the go, I neglected my ‘pipeline’. I hadn’t been doing the things I normally do to get conversations started about work and didn’t see the impact until a few months down the line. Plus, if I’m honest, I’ve realised I’m not great at creating opportunities for myself. (I’m working on it!)
3. Do something with the downtime
It was tempting to spend all my time hustling or to accept a contract for something I didn’t really want to do. Instead I used all the extra free time to:
- take on some pro bono work I couldn’t have done otherwise
- throw myself into a creative project (taking 36 photos a day every day for a month)
- swim in the sea (a lot)
All these things have been a good distraction from worrying, plus they helped me with point four.
4. Put work in its place
Part of the reason my lull made me feel so awful was that I’d slipped back into some bad habits around the role of work in my life. Work shouldn’t be everything, and it shouldn’t be my sole source of validation as a human being. But I behaved like it was and that’s why I experienced my lull as slapping, crushing rejection. Redressing the balance by doing other things has helped get my perspective back and realise I have a purpose and utility outside work.
Have you been through a lull? How did/do you cope with them?