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When work comes pouring in, it's easy for freelancers to stay busy. When the phones aren't ringing off the hook, we find ourselves wondering what to do with our auxiliary time. Pushing our enterprises forward is about more than emailing clients to remind them you're still freelancing and itching for work. Here's a few pursuits to consider during those non-billable hours.
1) Start Writing
Being able to write well benefits many professions, regardless of whether writing is in the job description. Yet, few practitioners develop this important skill. On a basic level, strong writing assists client communication, but writing can also help formalize your professional thoughts. Think about what draws you to your job. Writing it out can help align your professional interests and define what separates you from your peers.
The most immediate way to begin sharpening this part of your brain is by actively maintaining a blog. Of course, a blog can drive traffic to your portfolio site, but it can also demonstrate methodologies for how you would approach each new engagement. This helps clients better evaluate why you're the right person for their project.
2) Increase Your Social Media Outreach
Building Twitter and LinkedIn presences are not only beneficial to your career, for freelancers they are nearly essential. Networking creates new opportunities, enhances credibility, and most importantly, helps clients find your work. Social media provides a forum to curate tastes, interests and inspirations. Create the biggest brand visibility to drive traffic to your portfolio site. Connections ripple, expanding your network beyond your immediate colleagues.
Social media sites can be connected together, so a sent tweet can also propagate to your LinkedIn account, for example. This way, LinkedIn becomes more than a site that just hosts your resume. Of course, it's best to use this feature conservatively, as professionals may not want to see pictures of last night's dinner.
Creatives of all types risk being marginalized by not staying up on trends and shifts in their field. Social media can also be used as a place to absorb news and media. By following industry leaders you respect on Twitter, you stay abreast of the conversation, making sure critical ideas aren't missed.
Start networking here (it's free!)
3) Influence the Industry
- Conference Panels
Freelancers tend to live and breathe their jobs. You can probably talk at length about the benefits and pitfalls of the daily grind at great length. Chances are that others can benefit from your years of wisdom and perspective. Attending conferences is a great way to connect with peers, but since you're brimming with insight, why not vocalize your expertise by participating in a panel? If you're terrified of speaking to a crowd, panels ease the anxiety by diffusing attention to several speakers, as is common in the roundtable, moderator-led format.
Conferize collects hundreds of global conferences, organized by interest. Since you're slammed even when you're not working, use a conference to take a break, an excuse to travel somewhere you've never been.
Podcasts provide insight into many industries, sometimes to an obsessive level. Take note of shows that spark personal interest and professional relevance, then contact the hosts to see if you can get interviewed. This is another venue where your unique creative insight can be utilized. Show hosts are looking for content just like any other online enterprise. By initiating contact, you'll be saving them the task of hunting down their next guest.
This article contains a handy list of sites geared towards podcasts that enable anyone to find those relevant to their industry.
4) Give Back to Others
The happiest freelancers follow their passions. We remember a time when we pursued our work for little or no money simply because it was enjoyable. Volunteering for nonprofits is a great way to give back the skills you've developed with paying clients over the years. Lending your time can be intrinsically rewarding in its own right and helps us reconnect with why we followed our passions in the first place. The range of resources that are available to organizations varies widely, but they will always be glad to take on someone with infield experience. Lending your expertise will also challenge you to come up with new solutions in limited scenarios.
Finding nonprofits near you is as simple as conducting a web search. For example, those living in New York City can use the searchable NYC Service site to connect with nonprofit organizations that are open to volunteers.
Teaching is the best way to know you've mastered a discipline. Skills that now come as second nature to you are exactly what beginners need to learn, and no one wants to sit at home reading an instruction manual. Many fields are in need of teachers who can explain material in an informal, conversational way, especially when the subject is highly technical.
A great place to start is Udemy, which provides a platform for those wanting to create video content to teach others online.
5) Invest in Knowledge
Chances are, there is new software that could benefit your profession, or new features in the software you already use that you haven't delved into. Keeping current with software helps us stay on top of changing trends and helps us realize when we should switch to more efficient ways of working.
Lynda is one of the most comprehensive sites for software education, offering thousands of courses covering a wide range of software and disciplines. Cousera takes a wider approach in its programs, including many that don't focus on software at all.
6) Update the Site
You knew this one was coming. I'm surprised by how infrequently many freelancers refresh their website. I'm fairly certain yours could use one too. Websites are our calling cards, and not updating for months or even years is a sign that we're taking a passive approach to our livelihood. A stale site could be the reason you're not getting as many calls.
When revising the site, don't just put up new work because it's new. Only add work that's better than the work that's already there. Consider the reach of the client's name, the scope of the campaign (global, national or local), and how well the creative was realized.
Also consider reductive site updates. Take time to trim the fat, being brutally critical of old work that doesn't measure up to the standards of where your work is now.
Compare your site with other professionals and see if they're utilizing navigation tactics and styles that could benefit yours. Features that were once difficult to implement are now standard in many site-building platforms.
Maybe it's time for a complete site overhaul. Do you offer new services compared to years past? Consider bringing them to the fore by rejiggering your site to focus on these services. Or, maybe you're adept at coding and have maintained the site by hand. It may be time for a streamlined service to handle all the backend so you can focus on creating new content. Squarespace, Wix and Weebly are three popular sites to help achieve that polished website look with minimal effort.
Diversification is Crucial
Diversified freelancing is a multifaceted strategy to help during intervals when client work is at a lull. Expanding foreshadows to clients and peers that we're in it for the right reasons, and can even result in unintended revenue. These approaches can also have a feedback effect. For example, if you have a chance to appear on a panel, it's not much of a stretch to be approached about a possible teaching opportunity. These items edge us closer to becoming true experts in the field, favoring the possibility that clients will solicit our skills for their next job.
Tristan Kneschke operates Exit Editorial, a post-production facility specializing in high-end fashion color correction. He also writes about the industry for Premium Beat. You can find him on Twitter @ExitEdit._