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Being brave in wobbly moments

How to deal with quiet times in your business


I know. Telling a freelancer or entrepreneur not to panic when the work dries up is akin to saying “stop worrying!” to someone with anxiety, or “just think positive!” to a mate with clinical depression. Not helpful.

But. There’s this thing we self-employed folk do when we lose a project. Or a client fires us. Or a project is delayed – for now or for good.

We start spinning.

We convince ourselves it’s all over. We’ll never succeed on our own. Time to pack it in, get a full-time job for some soul-crushing, freedom-sucking corporate vampire, and hold out for that sweet sweet holiday pay.

It’s understandable, really.

The business world tells us we must always be on. Work round-the-clock. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Never take a break, let alone a holiday.

And if you don’t have the next forty bajillion weeks of work lined up already, who even are you?

It’s partly a problem with the system we build and run our businesses in. It’s good for the collective – for capitalism – if we don’t take a beat to breathe.

But is it good for us?

Mmm, nope. And I’m guessing that’s why you’re still reading. Because you don’t really want to give up all that delicious freedom just yet. You don’t want this moment to be the end of your enterprising career.

You just want to navigate the quiet periods without the emotional rollercoaster. You’d like to maintain a steady, stable mindset.

And it’s all possible. We simply have to see the down times in a new light. Instead of being a time of crisis, might they be a welcomed opportunity for creative pursuits? For hobbies? Reconnecting with old and new friends and business mates? Working your way through that glorious cookbook you were gifted four Christmases ago? Doing an audit of your business processes and practices? Designing a new program – or tweaking an existing one? Setting a new health goal? Creating content? (Psst: I’m writing this post between projects) Plucking up the courage to speak at an event – or finally create that lead magnet you’ve been putting off?

Could we start to appreciate the periods of pause, just as we celebrate signing a new client or having a big invoice paid?

A beautiful analogy someone offered in the Freelance Jungle Facebook group was that running your own show is like being on a wave. It ebbs and flows, rises and falls, drifts in and out of shore. And I just love that. Because it allows us to move with the current, across the seasons of our business. Instead of seeing the quieter times as an anchor pulling you down to the deepest depths of the ocean floor, envision this moment as drifting in the trough of the wave – before it rises to a crest once again.

Because it will always rise again. YOU will rise again.

And in those busy, can’t-catch-a-breath, haven’t-been-to-the-loo-all-day seasons, you’ll likely look back and long for a chance to pull out the acrylics. Or spend an afternoon in the sun with a book. Or take a few days off with the family. Or, you know, go to the toilet.

My point is, we need to change the way we work. Shift our expectations of ourselves, our businesses, and others in our community.

It simply isn’t healthy to run ourselves into the ground, struggling to meet deadlines. And it sure isn’t helpful to take ourselves on a delightful guilt trip when work wanes.

If you’re in a trough today, here’s a little activity you might enjoy:

Step 1: Face your feelings

Gently and with kind compassion, allow yourself to FEEL whatever comes up right now. If you need to grieve, get mad, call your mum, do that. Allow any feelings to exist – these are your signals that shine a light on the things you want to change. Thank them for being there. Give yourself a day to move through the emotions that come up.

Then say, “And that’s OK.”

“I’m freaking out right now. And that’s OK.”

“I don’t know how to find work. And that’s OK.”

Step 2: Write a list

On a whiteboard or in your notebook, create a list of things you’ve wanted to try but never got around to doing. What would you do if you had all the time in the world – and more than enough money to make it happen? Who would you see? What would you create or experience? What business tasks would you tackle?

Get it all down on the page – the more micro you make each task, the better. And then pick something from the list to do. Repeat this every day for the next week.

And any time the wave subsides in the future, you can return to your list and take a stab at something else. Thankful for this time to return to the things that bring you joy, and help you feel alive. Appreciative for a chance to float in that endless salty sea, look up at the clouds, and just rock on.

In the next post, we’ll look at some practical steps to take when you lose a client or face a quiet time in your business. For now, I trust these two steps ease the emotional muck and help you begin to shift the way you see the seasons of self-employment.