Freelancing is not an easy vocation (I say, as I sit on my deck with a glass of ice water in the warm spring sun), though it has its perks. Sometimes, there is a ton of work or just the right amount, your bank account is flush, and you love what you're doing. Other times, you're eating Ramen every meal, couch diving for pennies, and practically begging clients to either give you work or pay you for completed work.
So how do you stay motivated when you don't have enough to do? When you can't make your mortgage payment? When you're not getting paid enough for the projects you're working on and don't have time to seek out other projects?
I have the most difficulty with this one. It seems stupid to stop and go for a walk, or read a book, or go out for dinner when I have mountains of emails to respond to, strategies to implement for finding work, and blog posts to write. But what I've found is that if I don't sit back once in a while and spend a day or a few hours doing what I want to do, I get tired and worn out, which, you guessed it, negatively affects my work.
So find something that makes you happy and do that thing.
There's always something good to think about. Every time I have to go on a business trip that I'm not looking forward to, I focus on riding the airplane. I love riding airplanes--I love flying. I could do it every day. So I focus on that instead of the upcoming trip. Maybe a flower you planted is blooming, or you wrote a really good email, or three years ago you made a client really happy. Whatever your one good thing is, focus on that and take your attention of of your trials and tribulations, so you get move forward with positivity and get excited about your work.
One of my biggest fears of freelancing is being up a creek with no paddle, done tons of work and not gotten paid, not having time to look for work but not having work scheduled ahead. So I take twenty minutes one day and I make a plan. Sometimes the plan looks like this: "I'm going to finish this darn blog post and go eat ice cream." Sometimes the plan looks like this: "I'm going to spend a minimum of fifteen minutes a day reaching out to clients for work or submitting proposals for the entirety of this month. Sometimes (less often), I map out the next six months of my life down to the minute, and tell myself it's all going to be okay.
Whatever I do, it always (and I seriously mean always) makes me feel a little bit better, because I'm no longer overwhelmed by all the everything or all the nothing. I have given myself something to do, and that motivates me to keep going.
Some of the most relaxing weeks I've had are ones where I haven't had a lick of client work, but I've made an effort to learn something new. I've learned about building websites, SEO, character development, writing comics, web content--even Welsh. Not only does it give me something to do, but it gives me knowledge to apply to future projects, new skills to pitch to potential clients, and just enough motivation to make it through the next slow and torturous week.
Are you doing what you actually want to be doing? Why not?
This might seem like kind of a lame question, but sometimes it's worth it to step back and look at what you are doing, and figure out what exactly you don't like about it. Is it that you just don't make enough? Then raise your prices. Is it that you don't have enough clients? Broaden your scope or seek out new strategies for finding clients. Is it that you want flexible hours and free time? Some full time positions offer this, and a lot of part time ones do, even if you have to head into the office for a few hours a week.
When I don't like what I'm doing, I find that it helps to step back and figure out how it will get me to my ultimate goal, and if it doesn't help me get there, I quit doing it or I do it just long enough, or I finish the project and vow never to take one on like that again.
This might not work for everyone, but for me, updating my website is like getting a makeover. I look at it and say, "What do I want people to know about me, and how can I change what I have?" I might spend an hour making a new page, a week making a new suite of pages, or a month, completely overhauling the entire thing. When I'm done, I feel like a new person--and I have something to show off and be proud of. Nothing says, "I'm active and engaged in my business" to a potential client than a brand spanking new website, plus it gives you a reason to post about yourself on social media and maybe drum up some more work.
When work is slow, this is a great strategy. Building your portfolio does a variety of things. First, it keeps your skills fresh and your mind sharp. Second, it gives you something enjoyable to work on. Third, it shows potential clients the wide variety of things that you can do for them. Finally, it feels good to finish a project to your own qualifications instead of someone else's. Then, you can jump back into work with renewed energy, and be proud of the thing you've created.
Don't let the doldrums get you down. Freelancing is a rollercoaster, and you know that while it may be down right now, eventually it will go back up--you just have to get to that point. Finding ways to motivate and inspire yourself will help you make it when freelancing gets rough.