Recently, I lost a lot of work. Work that brought in over half my (ir)regular monthly income, to be more precise. Enough work to trigger significant worry and mild panic.
It was nothing to do with the quality of my work (I was assured) but simply down to the company (my employers) not having enough work to go around. I had been hired as a freelancer when the company was experiencing growth, but as that growth had unexpectedly slowed down to a trickle, my services were surplus to requirements.
Losing income and the associated money panics can send even the most level-headed freelancer/small business owner into the slumps. However, throwing your own pity-party isn't going to make the situation easier to manage. As hard as it feels, in my experience what will get you through the tough times is some kind of plan of action. Here's mine:
1) Vent offline
We all know moaning about our lot on social media makes us look unprofessional but it's so much harder to resist doing it when life does seem to have dumped us in it. Resist, resist, resist...get someone to hide all internet-capable devices if necessary! You can get the sympathy you deserve from your significant other, friends or family. Unless you're part of some kind of high-powered family firm, you can afford to let them see you sound desperate, whiny and disheartened - but you definitely can't afford social media-savvy potential employers see you that way.
2) Accept the situation (and turn it to your advantage)
It sucks, but constantly wondering "why me?" isn't going to change it. It's happened, now it's time to move onwards and upwards. If your employment has ended on a positive note (you're not being fired for incompetence, for instance!), a thank you email is a great way to show your appreciation for the employment (however short it was), for the company and for your employer, to offer your services for any future work and to ask your employer to recommend you to other clients.
3) Acknowledge the lessons learnt
In my case, I had a very clear reason as to why my workload took a sharp nose-dive, but often it's not so clear-cut. If you haven't had a clear answer why your services are no longer required, draft a polite email to your employer and ask them (you might want to include it in your thank you email), and take time to consider all the feedback you receive, positive and negative. I'm a huge believer in feedback as it's one of our greatest learning tools and can highlight areas for improvement that you never considered.
Think about what you could have done within your business practices that might have changed your current situation - would having a written contract have helped avoid this? Should you have been clearer about your hours of work, availability, turnaround times etc.? Something I should have done was not be so quick to consider this job as "regular" income after only a few months. I would have been better prepared if I had planned to earn the same money from multiple sources, rather than trusting it would come from the same source month after month.
4) Retrace your steps
How did you get that work in the first place? You must have done something right to get your foot in the door and it may be worth repeating the same steps.
If it was a specific freelance or jobs site, bookmark it as somewhere worth returning. Go back to your application letter and highlight what you think may have made you stand out to that employer. Revisit the demo, audition or portfolio sample you sent them - did you tailor it to them or was it more a sample of your strongest work? Re-read any correspondence you had with them before, during, after the job - is there anything about your audition, application, work or business practices that they single out? If you got the job through personal recommendations, consider why your contact would have recommended you - or better yet, ask them!
5) Embrace the opportunity
If the work you lost was a large ongoing project or regular work, chances are you'll be left with some holes in your schedule. Sure, a portion of that time will be taken up with finding work to replace the work you've lost, but you might well find you're still left with a bit of spare time.
Take the opportunity to work on those projects you've left to one side while you concentrated on "real work". If you've put in the time and effort into your business, the work will return, but until then, why not use the time productively and tick off some of those tasks you've been saving for a slow period? Updating accounts, revamping your website, polishing skills, reading that amazing book on creativity, creating that free e-book, writing blog posts, making sure your portfolio is up to date across all the job & freelance websites...all of these can get lost and forgotten in the process of day-to-day money-making. Now's your chance to catch up.
And if you've got projects, particularly revenue-generating projects like e-courses, e-books or workshops that you really need a solid block of time to get done, why not consider a Make-Cation?
In the few weeks since I lost my footing, I've actually become very thankful for the extra time it's given me to reassess my priorites, make progress on projects, catch up on TV series that I've been meaning to watch for ages and you know, have a break. Losing work is scary, but hopefully this post has shown that it doesn't have to be the end of the world.
What are your coping strategies when you have a sudden dip in work?