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Monday, July 8, 2013

When That Big Project Falls Through...Six Ways to Get Back on Track

I heard from another writer last week who just had a big project fall through. She asked me to keep her in mind for any work I might be unable to take on. In the meantime, she's stressed and scrambling to make up the work she'd planned on.  

This scenario is one of the drawbacks of "big gigs," or work that takes more than a few days to complete. When I started freelancing, all of my work was short pieces, primarily articles for newspapers and magazines. I also did some work for small local companies. I had a lot of deadlines to juggle--typically at least eight to twelve articles, along with corporate assignments, at a time--but each assignment took only a few days to report and write. 

But when I segued into writing books, I had to commit to longer-term work. Writing a book proposal, for example, takes me several weeks. To ghostwrite or write a book, I will set aside anywhere from three to six months, and during that time I don't take on other major projects. (I have written two books simultaneously in the past, but that made me a little crazy. And with a part-time work schedule, I can't commit to that these days.) Setting aside that time means I'm committed--and if my client backs out or the deal falls through (it happens), then I'm the one scrambling for new work. 

So what can do you when this happens to you?

1. Avoid the all-the-eggs scenario. I always have multiple assignments on my desk at any given time. Even if I'm working on a book, I like having the "quick hits" of shorter pieces. They're much faster to write and complete, and they help smooth out my cash flow. Sure, I'd rather get a check for several thousand dollars from a ghostwriting client, but those $450 and $800 checks add up, too. So make sure you have a selection of work eggs--even though some may be much more valuable--in your basket. 

2. Reach out to your current and former clients. This is the time to hit them up for work, but don't come right out and say, "I have no work! I'm desperate!" Instead, I'd write something like: 

Hi, Susan!

I hope you're having a great summer, first off. I'm wrapping up a couple of big projects and wanted to touch base to see if you're looking for any story ideas or have any assignments that might be right for me. Let me know if there are any areas you'd like to receive pitches on, and I will be in touch! 

Thanks and have a great day!

I always want to present the impression of being busy and in demand--even when I'm neither. It's all about perceptions. :) 

3. Consider old pitches. When I need to get the work pipeline moving, I'll go back to old queries and see which ones I could re-pitch with minimal work. I'll also look at recent stories I've done to look for new angles for other markets--what I call reslanting. These pitches take less time to write than a completely new pitch, and make my marketing time more efficient. 

4. Reach out to other writers. I will also email a handful of writers I know who work in the same subject areas as me with the same kind of email I might send to a former or current client to let them know I'm available if they're overwhelmed.  

5. Revisit personal priorities. Yes, my initial response to a no-work crisis is to get my butt in gear to line up more work. But I also use some of the time to address my own projects. For example, when I'm slow work-wise right now, I use the time to market Improvise Press and look for speaking gigs. This kind of work may not pay off in the very short-term, but it does have long-term benefits. 

6. Embrace the downtime. As a freelancer, you have more control over your career than the average wage slave. But nothing is entirely in your control. So roll with it. As I write this, my current ghostwriting client is behind, which means I have a lot less to to today than expected (at least until she gets the latest chapter back to me for editing/rewriting.) 

I've already adjusted my schedule to address this change. Instead of spending all day ghostwriting, today I'll finish an article (about a month ahead of deadline!) and get that off my desk. I'll get my usual Monday blog post up. I'll write some queries, reach out to some of my regular clients, and follow up on some reprint markets. I'll also contact some libraries about speaking there this fall. And then? I'll knock off work early, and take kids to the pool. This kind of "found time" doesn't happen often, so I'll enjoy it,--and get back to work tomorrow! 

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  1. I've definitely been there, done that. Until I get a signed contract, I don't truly clear my schedule for that project because I've had projects fall through, schedules get delayed, clients change priorities, or budgets dry up too many times to count. This sometimes means I'm courting clients for multiple long-term projects at once but I can almost count on one of the projects falling through so I feel like I'm covering my bases. In rare cases, two projects might coincide and I'd either have to decline one of them or work my butt off to finish both simultaneously but that's a rare occurrence.

    1. That's a great suggestion, Susan! And you're right--it seems like the bigger the project, the bigger the chance of it falling through. It makes sense to court multiple big projects at the same time. Thanks for your comment and for Tweeting the post! :)

  2. Yep, been there as well. Reaching out to current clients is always one of the first things I do. Since I'm already working with them, I usually have a reason to email them anyway, then I casually add "Oh by the way, I currently have room for new clients, so if you know someone who needs a freelance writer, I would appreciate the referral."

    Worked for me a couple of times. :)

  3. Great post, Kelly! I had a similar issue this year with a coaching project falling through. Ouch! All of your suggestions are amazing--and helpful for those of us who want to replace that lost income. I'd add two more. First, this is a good time to take additional education if you can afford it. Go to conferences. Take a class. (Added benefit: I often get my best speaking, coaching, and writing gigs from conference networking.) If you cannot afford a class, then give yourself more education by reading. Second--and this fits with number 5--downtime is a great opportunity to create new content either for a book, a blog, or a program.