Navigating the Hard Times of Freelancing

August 29, 2018

Had Vincent van Gogh lived in contemporary times, he would likely have found himself facing similar challenges most creatives do at one point or another. Freelancing has taken the world by storm, and with it has come exciting opportunities for creatives to do what they love all while building careers. But, with all things, there are some important difficulties to understand when freelancing that we're going to address here.

Capitalizing on the difficult times in freelancing requires support and knowing that you’re not alone in that struggle. And you're not. We’ve all been there: maybe the phone doesn’t ring for a few months, some clients forget to pay on time, we could worry that an illness will appear, the costs of life rise ever so often. The occasional hard times of freelancing can be tough, but the reward of doing something we love that translates our sense of inner-purpose into physical (and digital) creations is why we pursue it with unmatched love.

Importantly, we should remember that summer is ending, employers are clapping the sand from their shoes, and catching the train back to their offices in the city. Fall is in the air and now is the time when companies are back in the work mindset, ready to seriously hire.

So how should we navigate this tricky, counter-intuitive climate until they drop a message in our inboxes?

Elegance is refusal, so curate

During downtimes when work is difficult to come by, we like to adjust how we engage with our friends and communities on social media. By checking our non-curated social media feeds less, we’re able to overcome the feelings of missing out on gatherings due to either a focus on our goals or a lack of money to spend. If we think about it further, this also takes some additional, unnecessary pressure off of our shoulders to find a job or gig. This supports our focus and our ability to devote ample time to making ourselves stronger creators and candidates.

Instead of scrolling non-curated social media feeds, identify artists and creatives whose work and careers you admire. Read about them. We can guarantee that no person you look up to or envy made it to where they are without some failures in their efforts. Great places to find artists and creatives are at Artsy, Artnet, and in news articles at Campaign and Adweek. Check if they have social media - see what they do, how they position themselves online, and note if there are any techniques you can borrow.

“Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere”

It might seem like a no-brainer, but reading is an overlooked method of expanding our imaginations. Whether it's poetry or prose, a report on the consolidation of advertising agencies, or news of an account moving to a new firm, reading empowers us to improve how we create and how we present ourselves. In fact the benefits of reading go beyond keeping us on the ball of the latest movements in the art and advertising worlds. Reading exposes us to new styles, voices, tones, and vocabulary. This enhances our writing ability and our understanding of nuance in how we communicate with audiences.

That's an equally important skill for designers, who communicate, yes, often visually, but who must know the words that resonate with audiences and how to translate those words into symbols and images in design. By keeping ourselves informed and forward-thinking about the needs of clients and the environments in which they operate, we make ourselves more knowledgeable and thoughtful. This inspires confidence in clients and potential employers.

Make time for personal projects

In quiet periods, the feeling like we're not doing enough job hunting, sending enough applications per day, perhaps even reaching out to enough contacts in our networks, is common. That it's easy to write that each of us moves at a different pace and is likely to find our version of success at different stages in life doesn't make the statement any less true. If we could expunge the thought that we have no time from our heads, it would make the quality of our output greater. Unfortunately, it's up to you to decide to give yourself some time to work on personal projects.

Let's say in a dry spell, when the phone has stopped ringing and our inboxes are just offers to sign up for hotel credit cards, that we're going to design a personal ad for a beverage to compete with White Claw. So we put in about a week or two of work on the ad, spending half-an-hour or so each night job hunting instead of four hours per day, and have the finished project. We can now add that to our portfolio as an example of our style, tone, and aesthetic. This shows clients and employers our personal passion, commitment to design, and skill in putting it all together.

Take free online classes to learn new skills

Making time for personal projects should also include making time to learn new skills. With resources like and free tutorials from Adobe, we have unprecedented resources to meet the challenges of unprecedented technological innovation and business changes. As Gillian Hadfield, Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Southern California says, "the speed with which business evolves these days forces everyone — from businesses themselves to suppliers to the competition — to respond quickly."

By that logic, forcing ourselves to hit a quota of job applications each day when we haven't taken time to up-skill ourselves is unlikely to be as successful as our taking the time to attempt to match the pace of tech evolution in businesses today.

Tune out occasionally

Finally, we encourage you to spend time outdoors. Common wisdom is that going for a walk can make us feel better. But in a report published in Psychological Science, three University of Michigan researchers empirically tested and found that nature, "filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities to replenish." If you can't go outside, or if you're unable to leave the city (which causes more dramatic grabs for our attention due to the "heightened stimuli" - thus reducing the replenishing effect), viewing pictures of nature can also help to restore our attention-span and cognitive ability.

Freelancing can sometimes be a stressful experience for us. Whether because we feel like we don't have enough time or that a lack of work invalidates our skills somehow, it's important to remember that van Gogh didn't achieve acclaim for some time after his life. What this means is that you should never allow a lack of praise or work to impact the integrity and authenticity of your creativity. As one of our favorite creative directors recently said, just because an ad or piece of design won an award or accolade does not make it any more beautiful, moving, or impactful than a work that has not.

Follow these steps, be kind to yourself, and embrace what you love.

With warm regards