Dealing with gig loss: The Born Freelancer’s 10-step program

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

Getting that first gig is perhaps the novice freelancer’s hardest obstacle to overcome. But the endless hours of toil, of self-doubt and of worry quickly recede into a half-forgotten haze replaced by indescribable exaltation once the sale is made.

The freelancer will then eventually have to face the third hardest obstacle to overcome—the loss of that hard-earned gig. (The second hardest obstacle to overcome is, of course, making the next sale.)

It is inevitable. As soon as you win a freelancing gig you must also face the certainty that, sooner or later, it will come to an end.

Typical one-off jobs have obvious beginnings and endings. You do the job, it is over and you move on to pursue the next. Other jobs involve an ongoing relationship in which you provide a regular service with no actual end-date indicated. Most freelance careers consist of a combination of both. This healthy mixture requires constant attention and renewal by continually adding new revenue streams especially as older ones drop out.

Much as hardened more experienced freelancers may deny it, it is always difficult to deal with the loss of any revenue stream. Especially those ongoing regular gigs that you wish could go on indefinitely. The ability to adjust to and cope with revenue streams ending I call…

-The Art of Rebounding-

1 Your favourite freelance gig may end suddenly without warning or any reason given. You can be doing a great job and the gig may still end. This is especially confounding, confusing and hurtful. Many of us were brought up to believe you would always be rewarded if you did your best and your best was very good indeed. Sadly, in the freelance world, this is often not the case. There are always circumstances beyond your control at work behind the scenes to which you are not privy. When changes are needed and managerial types have no idea what else to do many choose to rid themselves of anyone that they can. In other cases, it’s just a matter of all good things must end. It’s sometimes hard to tell which is which. I was once working for a TV show that was having to retool itself for its next season in order to stay alive. What that meant was dropping their stable of freelancers like me in favour of hiring a few new regular staff. There were no hard feelings, it was just business. I knew that but it still hurt. I thought I could continue to help them make the transition to a successful new season but sadly I was never asked.

2 Look out for early warning signs. There may be subliminal indications that a long term gig is about to end. A publication I once had a happy long term relationship with suddenly sent me a flurry of their brand related merchandise as unsolicited gifts… key fobs, t-shirts, badges, scarves… that kind of thing. Several months of silence later there was a change in ownership, a change in direction and I was out of a job. I was shocked. In retrospect I realized they were a kind of parting gift. If only I had been paying attention at the time!

And if I had, what would I have done differently? I would’ve contacted everyone I had a good relationship with at the job and sounded them out. The problem is, you don’t want to seem paranoid, which is often a downside of the freelancing process. But as the old joke goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you! One of your best sources for all the latest information is the office receptionist. When possible make them your ally. They may be a fellow freelancer on the side. It was a receptionist friend who once warned me that changes were afoot at another job with an unambiguous “Don’t get too comfortable.” You can then choose to (a) remind them of how useful you have been in the past and hope to continue to be to them in the future or else (b) spend more time actively pursuing alternative gigs. I’d suggest doing both. It’s also the ideal time to get that testimonial I mentioned in my last post. If nothing else I found that a little advance warning can usually help soften the blow when it comes.

3 You will probably feel depressed, despondent and dejected when a gig ends. This is perfectly normal and must be acknowledged. Avoid the obvious dangers of overeating, overindulging in drugs or alcohol, or any other form of over-self-medicating. They will not solve the problem and will only make things worse as they will leave you in no fit shape to take on new challenges. Also, try to avoid excessive isolation. It can exacerbate depression and make molehills seem like mountains. Finally, don’t beat yourself up. Not for being temporarily depressed (which is a perfectly normal response) and certainly not for losing a revenue stream. Your reputation is not on the line. Never confuse simple business tactics of your former employer with a slur on your abilities. Should depression continue or intensify immediately seek professional counselling.

4 Always try to have multiple freelance revenue streams. It can help buffer the emotional as well as financial pain of losing a gig. Being a freelancer is about spending perhaps 50-70% of your time making the sales. Once you’ve made one and begun the project in earnest you should be working simultaneously on rolling out another paying gig as soon as possible.

5 Have another project ready to pitch. If you don’t have another revenue stream immediately ready to go, at least have a pitch ready. The point is to keep a number of ideas “on the boil” and ready to move into action as soon as the right opportunity comes up. The end of one revenue stream is definitely the right time to be pitching for another although in theory you should be doing so all the time. Pitch to your network of established contacts but also spend the time to seek out brand new contacts to pitch.

6 Spend any downtime researching new ideas and/or acquiring new skills. I have a file of dozens and dozens of topics which interest me and that I want to learn more about. There isn’t always time to do the necessary background research to find out if there is enough “meat” from which to create a pitch when you’re busy. Losing a revenue stream gives you a little extra time—the greatest gift of all—to do so. Likewise new skills. Whether it is learning to use a new piece of software or augmenting some latent ability now is the time to work on it. Tomorrow you may have no free time again.

7 Have savings. The best antidote to a discontinued revenue stream is a healthy bank balance to fall back on. I’ve written about this previously on this blog. When making money a freelancer must be frugal and save. When times are tougher you have to be even more “canny” (as the Scots would say). If you need advice, consult blogs such as one of my recent favourite discoveries, the witty and informative “BrokeTO” for inspiration.

8 Surround yourself with family and friends. Needless to say, they are your anchors during any violent storm in your professional life. Never lose touch with the fact that they are with you for the long haul. Gigs come and go. Remember that and prioritize accordingly.

9 Confer with colleagues. Making time to share your situation with your peers—either in real life or on line—can help take the sting out of most end of gig trauma. Solid advice and/or help can also be readily found. But be cautious what you commit to print or say in public. I recently overheard a cell phone rant on the bus from a fellow who had lost his 9 to 5 job on the masthead of a trade publication. Apparently his former colleagues were not offering much in the way of needed support. I was about to offer some words of encouragement to a fellow creative soul in distress when he loudly proclaimed—in his most scathing tone of voice—that there was nothing left for him to do, he would have to scrape the bottom of the career barrel and go freelance. I got off at my stop without ever saying a word. Moral: You never know where support or another job might come from. Poison the air around you (on line or in real life) at your own peril.

10 Do something positive for your health. When we are working flat out there are often sacrifices made to accommodate various nefarious deadlines. One is often our health. As a freelancer we have no greater asset than our health. (I have written about this elsewhere on this blog.) Now you have some time, make sure you are as well as can be expected! Go for a walk, join a health club, improve your diet—do whatever it takes—just make sure you are at your most fighting fit to take on new challenges when they arrive. And they will, before you know it.

Finally, always remind yourself how lucky you are to be freelancing and what a privilege it is to be able to wake up every day to a new adventure, a new challenge, and a new topic or subject in which to become fully immersed.

Posted on December 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Melissa Wilson
    on December 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Hey! Thanks for the link, Born Freelancer. How lovely to be pursuing one of my new favourite blogs only to find a link to my own!

    This post is fantastic, and a good reminder to everyone, I think. So much of this business is based on close, personal relationships, that I imagine it can only be too easy to pal around and forget that it is, in fact, a business. I’ve just recently entered the freelance game myself, so this is definitely advice I’ll make sure to remember when dealing with rejection, which I’m sure is to come often!

    • Written by The Born Freelancer
      on December 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      Thank you for your good thoughts, Melissa. A very warm welcome to the cold cruel world of freelancing! 🙂

      It is indeed a business and you will want to keep that in mind if you intend to survive and thrive. Of course – when it all works out for you – it’s also the best way on Earth to make a living. (You might like to read my earlier post about why I’m glad to be a freelancer.)

      I hope this blog and my posts continue to be helpful as you explore your exciting new career. I will certainly continue to enjoy reading BrokeTO.

      Best wishes and good luck from The Born Freelancer.

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