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I have been asked to write about how I survive the angst of being in between projects as a full-time freelancer.

Today is the perfect day for me to discuss my thoughts on this topic because as of one hour ago, I put out my fourth proposal (of this week) with the hope that a client will soon sign on the dotted line.

I have always compared freelancing to fishing. Right now I have 4 baited lines in the water and I’m hoping that one of the reels starts to sing (or even better – all of them!) so I can be busy with work over the next few months.

Now that I have some downtime, how do I survive the angst?

By keeping myself very busy.

Downtime is common when you work as a freelancer but you really can’t stop and relax unless you have that luxury. You have to keep working. Of course, the first thing you should do is to try and keep fishing. Keep throwing out baited lines. The more lines you have in the water, the more chances you have of landing a fish.

Make phone calls. Scour websites like Linked-In and make connections. Call your existing clients and “check up”. Send a new portfolio of work to your contacts so they keep you top of mind. Only when you feel you’ve exhausted this area should you move on to other things.

I try and make sure that I spend a few hours every morning on some form of business development. It is something that HAS to be done.


Unless you have a full stream of clients feeding you constant work, you can’t be lazy. If you are lazy, you probably won’t survive. If you sit around and believe that work will simply come to you, you probably won’t survive. If you aren’t on top of all the different work-related tasks you should be doing constantly, well, you will survive but you’ll be sitting under a huge pile of things in need of your attention when the jobs start coming in. Freelancing successfully requires organization. When you have some downtime you should get organized.

Make sure your invoices have been sent out. Pay bills. Go through all the receipts you collected last month and add them to your yearly income tax spreadsheet. Upload your portfolio onto your IPAD. Update your resume. Update your profile on social networking sites. Put some new pieces on your portfolio site. Enter your work into some (award) shows and free book submissions. Educate yourself on new techniques and advancements in the industry. The list of things that can be done to fill the empty moments to grow your business is quite large.


Freelancing is a business. You have to run it like a business. You will wear all the hats. Sometimes, a month may go by before you land some work. Once you land the work, you have to produce it. Then you have to invoice for it and collecting the cheque may take 60 days. In order to survive, you need to be smart with your money. You need to be constantly putting eggs in your basket and lining up projects. Landing steady clients that give you ongoing work will take time. Sometimes, wearing all the hats gets to be too much. This is when you must step away.


I believe some angst is good. Angst is a form of fear. Fear keeps you on your toes. It stops you from being lazy. It drives you to go out and find that next project.

However, it has taken me several years to finally push some of that angst aside. I like to take advantage of the downtime. August is dead? I’m going camping. I have a day off this week? I’m going food shopping so I can avoid the supermarket on the weekend. There are a ton of advantages of having an open schedule. So if you are organized, and you have nothing left to do for the day, be sure to take advantage of the situation.


Another way I like to survive the downtime is to dive into my many hobbies. The more hobbies you enjoy, the more chances you have of surrounding yourself with a new group of people. All of these people know other people that can use your services.

So what you are in fact doing (by joining clubs, forums etc.), is networking. In the past, I’ve managed to find new clients at the poker table, on the golf course, and at the supermarket.

As a creative individual, I like to create.

I believe that only a small percentage of my creative capability is used in my career. I once gutted and renovated a house for 8 months. I build things. I map, chart, and organize a canoe trip for 9 guys every year. I create in other ways.

You’ve always wanted to write a book? Write a book.

If you’ve wanted to learn how to cook? Start cooking.

I wanted to start painting again. So when I found some downtime last year, I did just that.


When the stress of downtime comes along, and you feel like you’ve exhausted your current options for finding some new work, try and push everything aside and do something that makes you happy. Write a blog. Take up gardening. Go fishing. Buy snowshoes and go for a nice long walk in the woods. Play golf. Enjoy some time for yourself.

Do whatever it takes to get you back behind that desk, refreshed, revived, and once again ready to take on the world.

Ronnie Lebow is a successful Toronto-based freelance creative brand builder who works for both agencies and marketers.