December 2016 marked my first holiday season as a full-time freelancer, but my monthly income report looks more like a part-time freelancer’s. Why? It’s hard out here for a (pimp) freelancer during the holidays, especially if you mostly work for independent clients like I do, and not big companies. The only reason I made a decent part-time income was because I have two recurring projects with small companies: an online product review company and a small publishing house. If I didn’t have those clients, I would have made $17. Yeah, that’s right. $17. From a single blog post editing job.
Even the product review company slowed down their assignments. Normally I get between 3-4 assignments from them per month. I got one in December. The holiday slump is real. Just check this sadness out.
This is a screenshot from my Freshbooks homepage. Freshbooks is my invoicing system. It lets me send professional invoices, keep track of my income and expenses, and generally keeps my finances organized so that I don’t get eaten alive by the IRS. I plan to write an in-depth review on it in the near future, so click that follow button to get an email notification if you’re interested.
Anyways, as you can see, December is just pitiful, especially if you notice that my expenses were unusually high because I bought a course on affiliate marketing. November took a hit, too, because of the Thanksgiving holidays, but it was still workable. You’re probably thinking, “God, Hannah, how did you eat?” I got lucky, my friends, very lucky. You see, my husband works for Amazon. Now, in every single month you see listed in that chart, except for December, my income surpassed his. However, Amazon gets crazy over the Christmas holidays, and they require employees to work 60-hour weeks, which means overtime checks out the wazoo. So as my income went way down, his went way up. Which means we were actually able to eat, pay bills, and buy presents for our loved ones while still having some extra cash left over, thank goodness.
Next year, though, my husband probably won’t be working at Amazon. He’s completed his certification classes and is looking for a new job in drafting. To do that, though, he’s probably going to have to start off in an apprentice-type position or even work as a freelancer himself. The point is I don’t know if we’ll get as lucky during the 2017 slump season. So, based on my experience this year, I’m going to make a survival plan.
2017 Survival Plan
To cushion December, I’m going to kick things up to eleven in November.
I didn’t pitch in November. I networked and made some valuable connections, though. I got one new short-term client, too. However, my projects for my anchor clients were still going strong, and I had no idea of the struggle to come. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself by pitching and potentially landing too many new clients. However, I overlooked something very simple. I’m my own boss. I can schedule projects for when I want. For instance, I could have pitched authors, landed a new editing client, and then scheduled the edit for the beginning of December, citing that that was my next opening. That’s a very common practice, but I was unaware that I would need a boost in cash inflow in December (because the year before I was part-time and not making enough to really notice anyway).
The beginning of December was pretty normal and didn’t foreshadow the impending doom shortly to come. The review company sent me that one-and-only assignment that first week. However, it wasn’t completed until about mid-month, and that’s when the slump hit in full force. I didn’t get another assignment from them until January 3rd.
In 2017, I’ll start searching job boards in the last week of November for jobs that I can land and complete in about one to two weeks’ time. That way I’m sending more invoices out at the very beginning of December when the holiday bug is just starting to make people giddy but hasn’t yet lured them into extended vacations or that slow, dreamy state that comes with the anticipation of a holiday vacation.
This timing will be essential for anyone like me who relies on individuals for business. I work mostly with authors, and authors usually have other jobs (sad but true). When the middle of December hits, they’re already making plans. They’re slowing down their productivity at their day job, and that also translates into their writing work. I have a client who started a rewrite, based on my previous edits, in November and planned to have the manuscript back to me for a second go-around in December. Well, that didn’t happen. I get it. The holidays are busy, and rewrites are tough enough as it is. He got back in touch on Dec. 30, after things had died down, and he’s scheduled to send me the manuscript this month.
I think the key is going to be padding the front end of December with down payments from pitches and invoices from quick one-off jobs picked up from boards. Plus, if I pad the beginning, I can relax and enjoy my own Christmas vacation.
Pad the Savings Account
In addition to padding the beginning of the month, I’m going to pad the savings account for a few months ahead of time. I always put aside $100 a month; it’s a staple in our household budget. I also always put aside 20% of my monthly income to prepare for taxes. However, I’m going to pinch a few pennies to have more money left over at the end of August through November. If I can just put away $200 or so more, that will cover the cost of gifts and help out with bills if things get tight at the end of December.
The holiday slump is a fact of freelancing life. Right as I began to feel it myself, I also began to pick up on it in the freelance writers’ networking group I belong to on Facebook. There were whole threads on whether it was improper etiquette to send a magazine editor queries on Christmas Eve. There were countless posts on Christmas day of people asking things like, “Am I the only one writing up three pitches today?” (No, no they weren’t.)
You can’t change it, but you can prepare for it, and you better bet your sweet bottom that I’m going to be prepared next year. Just know that it does get better. It swoops down on top of you for a brief period, and just when you think it’s about to smother you, January hits, and it flies away. You’re probably looking at that chart up there where January has nothing but an expense listed, and you’re going, “Uh … you’re a big fat liar, Hannah.” No, that’s just the way freelancing works. I’m working on two writing projects now, and I have two editing projects lined up. (One was from a past client who emailed me unexpectedly. Yay, New Year’s resolutions! They’ll send you business.) The invoices will start going out this week, and the payments will start rolling in mid-month.
You can get through the slump. The key is to know it’s coming, unlike I did, and then you just act accordingly.
Have you experienced the holiday slump before? If so, how did you prepare for it? Got any tips and tricks I haven’t thought of? Leave them in the comments.
3 thoughts on “How to Survive the Freelance Holiday Slump”