• Jenny Stallard

Feast and famine feels

Whatever your freelance persuasion, there is one thing I’m sure is universal (as well as the feels!) and that’s the ‘feast/famine’ scenario. You know what I’m on about, don’t you? Yep, it either rains… or it’s a drought. And personally I’ve never been able to get used to it. However hard I’ve tried, the famine, the drought, strikes me like I’ve never experienced it before. And it leads, often, to panic. My work relies a lot on me finding work – on pitching for commissions, on seeking out where people might need short-term cover, on searching job boards for maternity cover contracts and posting on alert boards that I’m available for work. It’s kind of a sales job – not just selling stories and copy and ideas, but selling myself, too. Which is hard when you also hate asking favours.

Feeling like the only one with no work to do? You're not alone!

But then, when the feast or rain comes, it’s still a shock, too. There’s a weird limbo where you get used to having some time to yourself. And perhaps you focus on something else. Like, well, a new project like Freelance Feels. Which is no bad thing: After all, without the huge, gaping, tear-filled lull I experienced, this wouldn’t be a project at all. So, in some cases, yay to the freelance famine.

But in those ‘famine’ moments, it can be desperately hard to focus. You start to panic – for me this has meant applying for internships (every time I write that I shout at myself YOU ARE A VERY EXPERIENCED JOURNALIST!!!!). But shorter term, there are lots of things you can do to keep the famine panic at bay.

I’ll write about exercise more in a longer post, but for me, it's key. And I’ve found that it really depends what kind you embrace as to how it helps. I’ve always been a bit of a runner but, as the sun came out in May 2019, I went for a 9am walk with a good friend who lives nearby and has a dog. Honestly, the day that then panned out after that walk was so markedly different to the one before (which I had spent most of indoors unless you count hanging the washing out). So actually, it made me realise that it’s not so much the exercise as the routine it brings and distraction. And that dogs are the best, obviously.

Why does freelance work come in waves? Whoever I speak to about this agrees – it’s either all or nothing. Periods where we wonder if we’ll ever get a call again, or emailing new clients, updating our Instragram and twitter, putting ourselves out there, whatever our freelance persuasion. Then, like a tsunami, in it all comes. Up goes that ad for a role you know you’d be perfect for. And suddenly, a fire is lit within you. Talk of finding a full time job, or setting up a shop instead of whatever it is you do is gone, replaced by ‘argh! Deadline!’. Right?

I find the balance hard to cope with and it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to. One of the key things, I think, is to try not to put potential clients or roles on a pedestal. I have such a habit – and I think it’s partly a journalism thing – to see commissioners and features editors as ‘above’ me. As the higher power with the power to give me work or not. That’s partly what also fuelled wanting to start Freelance Feels and go in a new direction with my career. Because waiting for people I don’t even know in person to ‘approve’ of an idea was completely emotionally debilitating at times. Writing out some job ads, I felt like I’d just left college. I’d stare at my CV and say out loud ‘What else does it need to say for them to want to interview me?!’

That’s the key with the feast and famine – it’s about you controlling IT , not it controlling you.

One way to do this came to me after meeting a lovely friend Marianne Power (find her blog here, she’s ACE) for coffee. I said I’d had some quieter weeks and, as a freelancer too, she said ‘That’s fine’. She said it in such a decisive way and it really stuck with me. It was like she was telling the ‘quiet times’ that they had no hold on us. That they would pass, and that they always do.

Fast forward a week, and I had a couple of commissions and a new part time role to apply for which really looked up my street. I went out and bought some magazines to ‘research’ (because if you can’t buy tax-deductable 'research' items when you’ve got a quiet day, when can you?) and found that one had a lot more that I could relate to than I realised – I’ll be pitching to them, I thought.

We forget, in the panic of the famine, to pause and take stock. These quiet days are only quiet if you let them be. Just because there isn’t work to be done for a client, doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done for you. Whether that’s research, listening to some relevant podcasts, or reading a relevant magazine or book, there’s plenty you can do to widen your ideas, or client base, without knocking on virtual doors.

Trying a new exercise (I am determined to get to the local lido this year), or even producing something that, fair enough, isn’t paid, but might lead to work, such as a post on LinkedIn, or updating your social media bio, website. Even tidying your desk can be productive (housework is not a way to deal with a quiet day, RESIST!!!). Because come on, I bet there are receipts to log – including the one for those magazines and that coffee you bought while out and about.

I try to use my quiet time in the same way I would a lunch break if I were in a full time role. Throw yourself at a task as if it were a lunch break task – for me recently that’s included finding a new phone deal and looking into microphones for the Freelance Feels podcast. Baby steps, and soon you’ll find that rain starts falling and you’ll be glad you put the quiet time to good use.

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