Business In Arch Viz

By Simon Oudiette

What to do when work dries up?

I’m writing this little piece because I don’t have work in my pipeline at the moment and hence have a bit of free time. Also, because I know that I don’t feel stressed at all about this now, while several years ago I would be freaking out and would have probably benefited from reading the present article... to not freak out.
So what has changed since then?
Well, I won a million euros at the lottery so everything is fine. So just do that, ok? cool, bye!
Now, another method consists of two small changes : a little mindset shift and properly organized business finances. So let’s dive in. 

Money, money, money

Let’s be honest, the only reason a freelancer will stress out when they don’t have work is not because of an excess of free time, but more so of a decrease of income.
That stress can lead to dramatic mistakes in the way you manage your business that will add on top of the former mistakes you already made that got you in that stressful situation first.
Let’s start with the don’ts and we’ll work our way up to what to do to minimize anxiety now and in the future

Don’t give up on your usual onboarding process. 

It’s not because you’re in dire need of money that you need to jump on the first contract  that comes your way. As the saying goes, you can destroy in seconds a reputation you’ve been spending years to build up. And this saying still stays true even if you have little experience.
Whether you have many or few constraints, you should not give up on the process that is at the core of your efficiency and at the core of the quality of the work you’ve been delivering so far.

Don’t lower your fees

I wrote an extensive piece on why you shouldn’t work for free (99% of the time). But what about lowering your fees to get a commission? Well, turns out the same logic applies. Lowering your fees to get a client is the surest way to never be able to raise your fees in the future with that client, and to minimize perceived expertise with all the potential referrals you could get from that client.
Should you lower your fees, make sure to lower the level of delivery too, and by that I don’t mean make shitty images, but find ways to minimize the time you’ll need to spend on the images while retaining the quality and standards that you are trying to uphold.

Now, what about what to do now?

The followings are not in any hierarchal order, and should actually be done throughout the whole year whether you have work or not, but since you have no work, you can spend even more time on these topics now, yay!

Assess where might the issue come from

When work dries up, it is often easy and reassuring to blame it on external factors. The thing is, it most probably is kind of your fault, because as a freelancer you're literally in charge of everything. 
So before thinking you're doing great and it's everybody else's fault, it's a good thing to assess where there might be some pitfalls in your practice, and how you can potentially fix them. This can mean assess the quality of your images against the competition, assessing the quality of the relationship you've been building with your clients over time, the quality of your communication, the quality of your marketing and exposure, etc.  
Taking the pulse of your business by doing regular auto-critique is a good practice to implement. 

Learn and practice

There’s never too much time to learn and practice. So if you suddenly have an open schedule, make sure to keep on practicing and learning. Watch videos, work on personal projects you had in your drawers, and make sure to show you’re active on the usual platforms you use (your website, Instagram, linked in and whatever kids use those days).

Up your game in marketing

Marketing is the heart of the game in today’s economy, but it doesn’t necessarily mean some paid ads to flood FB walls. 
You can go reach out to existing clients and see if they have any potential work in their pipeline that will need visualization
You can also reach out to past clients that kind of never got back to you for more work. Before doing so though, you need to do a proper review of why this happened, and how you can market yourself in order to make them want to work with you again. 
You can also revisit past work to make new content or potentially propose additional services on a project you recently delivered.

Take a break

Wait what? 
This might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes having no work is actually just the perfect opportunity to take some time off if you ever feel like you actually need it. 
Freelancing work is generally very unevenly distributed throughout the year so it's good to take the time to pause when you can without feeling bad for refusing work. 
So if you're feeling tired and stressed, it might actually be the perfect time to just pause for a bit. 

What to do preemptively

Now, coming back to why I feel fine with the situation of not having work, is not because I’m actively doing stuff to find work, but because I pre-emptively did other things to minimize the pressure.

While the pressure comes mainly from a financial point of view, there are two things you need to track in order to get back your peace of mind.


Running a freelance business is akin to caring about your personal finance (while they legally shouldn’t be merged, they work the same more or less). One of the
famous advice given by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey is a simple yet
sensible one : fully funded emergency fund.

A fully funded emergency fund is basically a fund that covers for 3 to 6 (or even more if you want) months of expenses.

The whole point being, that if you’re not making any money, you can still pay your usual salary for several months as well as your expenses (software license, cloud and other subscription, rent etc).

I can tell you the pressure of finding work completely vanishes when you know you have enough in your business bank account to live for 6 months or more.

Now of course, getting 6 months of expenses in a fund is not something you do over a couple of months. Hence why you need to track properly your expenses, minimize them where and when you can, as well as make sure you’re charging properly for your work otherwise you will of course never be able to save a penny and that emergency fund will never exist, and your latent anxiety will never go away.

Workload distribution

Another thing you need to track that can potentially reassure you, is the number of contracts you have per year, and their distribution throughout the year.

As you can see from the table below, my years of work are pretty erratic to put it nicely, and I’ve never in 7 years had work every single month of a given year (actually it happened in 2022, but it's cooler to say it never happened so let's pretend). Now, even more interestingly, is that my highest revenue was in the year I worked only 6ish months of the year.
Of course, the data will vary from one individual to another,

Having this type of data is incredibly useful when it comes to lowering the anxiety about not having work. I can statistically say that I can have no work for the first 6 months of the year, and still make more than my best year. And I also know that statistically speaking, it’s very unlikely that I go 6 months in a row without getting any contract.  Of course the probability of getting zero work in a whole year is not 0 (especially when you have a recession coming your way :D), but it still helps in giving back some more rational signal to counteract your anxiety.
All in all freelancing always has its ups and downs, and this will happen whether you're just starting out, or if you're famous and highly in demand (lucky you!). So might as well tune our brain for this matter of fact, and enjoy the many benefits we still have as freelancers (and implement the few pieces of advice above just to stay mentally healthy and lower stress).

Hope this helps!

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About this article

In this article I cover common do's and don't's to have in mind when work dries up and you're starting to feel anxious about your business.

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About the author

Simon Oudiette

Founder at Horoma

placeStrasbourg, FR