In the 22 years Iâ€™ve been a home-based freelance writer, Iâ€™ve experienced two economic slumps (around 1992 and the dotcom bomb in 1999) â€“ and one full-blown, butt-kickinâ€™ recession.
And Iâ€™ve never feared the pink slip.
I never went scrambling to the Want Ads, and only once filled out a job application â€“ for a contract gig with a freelance creative network.
For home-based entrepreneurs, this is the subtle, often overlooked, perk of soloing. Home-based entrepreneurs donâ€™t fear being fired, at least in the traditional sense.
Thatâ€™s not to say Iâ€™ve breezed through 22 years of business cycles with the detached aloofness of an obtuse, unsympathetic oaf. Iâ€™ve freelanced for media whoâ€™ve shed the jobs of friends too numerous to count. Iâ€™ve had clients fail, or worried as their Accounts Payable Department coffers have run dry.
I even had one clientâ€™s tab tear at my gut as it approached $15,000. Through thoughtful negotiations, understanding and patience, I watched as he paid me off â€“ in full â€“ over the next three years. I still work with him today (COD, thanks).
But Iâ€™ve never feared the summary termination or a budget ax that would leave me wondering where my next check would come from. (Truth be told, it helps that my wife is a nurse practitioner â€“ a rock-solid career in a job market hungry for health care practitioners).
How can a freelancer keep a sane mind and healthy stable of clients â€“ even as clients themselves pull back or close shop?
– Build that network and hone your brand. These are time-tested attributes in worrisome times. Through in-person meetings, online alliances and my social network via LinkedIn, my Facebook fan page (and the Twitter it feeds), people know me.
– Do damn good work. Every time.
– Ask for testimonials regarding that work product. Then post them generously, on your website, your blog, your fan page or Twitter feed. It ainâ€™t bragging if itâ€™s true.
– Be a professional. Beyond the work, carry yourself like a mature, market savvy expert. Donâ€™t quibble or whine with clients. Set reasonable â€“ even slightly higher than market rate â€“ fees. And deliver the goods on time, every time â€“ even early, if possible.
– Constantly learn and expand your offerings. Hone your skills, build on your own qualifications and always seek to offer more. Once just a writer, now Iâ€™m a â€œcommunicatorâ€ who provides social media and WordPress capabilities.
– Save for slow times. Slow-paying customers, belly-up clients, expenses that invariably exceed income (a maxim in business and life) â€“ youâ€™ll get hit by them all. Smart is the business owner who saves, both for retirement, and the rainy day.
Sure, entrepreneurship as a soloist is no guarantee of stability. Clients come and go. Receivables grow large and vexing. Sometimes youâ€™ll get more nervous than you ever hoped youâ€™d be.
But stay the course. Remain optimistic. And strive to retain your independence â€“ and distance from the job application.