How to Cope When You Hit the “Feast” in the Freelance Blogger Feast and Famine Cycle

“I should be grateful, but…” 

Has this ever happened to you?

For months your blogging income was stuck at near-poverty level, and you would have done anything for more work. Then, almost without warning, more work started flooding in — and suddenly, you’d do anything to get back the time it’s taking to keep up.

Three months after this first happened to me, the “feast” of work continues and so does the periodic “indigestion.”

Sure, it’s nice to be rid of the financial worries from the time when my regular income was a third of what it is now; but I hadn’t anticipated the recurring fears of inadequacy, the surges of irritability, the lows of emotional depression following the highs of frantic work.

It can be stressful being in a profession where your income rises and falls with busyness — “busyness” defined as keeping up with a LOT of small individual projects at once.

I’m learning to cope. This is, after all, the earning level I hope to stay at or above for the rest of my working days.

My top nuggets of wisdom for other freelance bloggers who’ve been served their first “feast”:

Life Has Its Trade-Offs

Most of us try to fit major new responsibilities into our lives without taking anything else out.

News flash: most of our lives are pretty “full” already, and when a container is full, contents have to be removed to fit new ones in. Truthfully, few of our familiar activities are as indispensable as our comfort zones would have us believe.

Principles for deciding what can go:

  • First, eliminate complaining, gossip, and pity parties. Seriously. Some researchers say the average person complains 30 times a day. But even four complaints per day means more than fifty hours a year wasted in negative ruts.
  • Most television watching and Internet surfing are mere time-killing. Eliminate shows and sites that offer no genuine pleasure or nurture.
  • Drop any down-time activities you’re sticking with for no better reason than habit.
  • If you still feel overloaded, consider whether it’s “all in your mind”—you may feel rushed simply because you’re used to feeling rushed, regardless of what’s actually on your schedule.
  • No matter what, save at least 2–3 time slots a week for nurturing close relationships, refreshing yourself spiritually, and working on long-term goals (travel to France, write a novel, earn a martial arts belt, get your M.A….). All too often, these are the first things to go by default—and they leave a hole in your life that bad attitudes will fill.

Learn to Want What You Have

We tend to see the frustrating parts of what we have and the ideal parts of what we don’t have. Even if freelance blogging has you working a 50-hour week, make a point of staying grateful for the good parts:

  • The learning opportunities
  • The chances for creative work
  • Your growing portfolio
  • A steady income stream
  • The privilege of being able to start your day as early or as late as you choose—without navigating rush-hour traffic

Organize Your Schedule to Suit Your Nature

Of course, the privilege of starting your day as late as you choose has some caveats: it’s one thing if you’re a night person and do your best work after 11 p.m., but if you’re like me and consider the day pretty well spent by 9:00, you’d better plan on getting up early and starting work right after breakfast.

But since you’re blessed with freedom to create your own schedule, don’t feel obligated to copy the “standard” template of 8–5 Monday through Friday with breaks at 10 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m.

Points to consider:

  • At what time of day are your energy levels highest? Schedule your most creative and challenging tasks for those hours.
  • Do you like to work strictly according to the clock, or do you prefer to keep at a task until it reaches a natural stopping point?
  • Do you prefer working in your own home, a library, a coffee shop, or a rented office?

If you plan a schedule that should fit you perfectly, and still find yourself procrastinating, you’re probably dragging your heels in semi-conscious fear of doing “imperfect” work. Start each day by affirming your excellent blog-writing skills (why else would so many people have hired you?) and list of successes — and ask someone to hold you accountable for sticking to your schedule.

Learn to Estimate Work Time

As with most aspects of life, how fast you finish writing a post is greatly influenced by how fast you expect to finish it.

If you think of yourself as someone who always finishes at the last minute, your subconscious will influence your work speed — often tying you up in unnecessary editing — to keep you from finishing before the last minute.

Just learning to visualize yourself finishing in plenty of time may do wonders in relieving “overloaded” feelings.

That said, some posts really do take longer than others — and it’s not always a matter of writing time being directly proportional to post length. Sometimes, short posts actually take longer because they require more trimming of unnecessary words.

Other factors that influence your writing time:

  • Number of outside sources required (some clients want a set minimum number per post)
  • How much you already know about the subject
  • How many posts are on the day’s schedule (working on multiple posts, even if you finish each in full before starting the next, entails a brief loss of productivity with each shift of focus, so three 500-word posts take longer than one 1,500-word post)

Also, if you have multiple posts in one day, you may not be able to fit them all into your peak-energy time. To manage this situation with minimum loss of productivity:

  • Give the most challenging post(s) your prime energy slot.
  • Take 10–15-minute breaks (away from your computer!) between posts to minimize energy drain caused by abrupt shifts of attention.
  • If your clients-and-projects list is very long, take good care of your overall energy levels through adequate sleep, daily exercise, and a healthy diet.

Know How to Deal with Awkward Situations

There are three common situations that have the potential to send a newly busy blogger into “this could ruin me” panic (it probably couldn’t, but you’ll want to know the best coping strategies anyway):

Scenario 1: You really are taking on too many projects.

Often, this situation exists only in your imagination: you’re busier than you’ve ever been, and doubts about a new-to-you situation are playing on your anxiety. (Keep concentrating on your strong points and the individual jobs, and you’ll adjust.)

However, it is possible to say “yes” to every request until commitments reach impossible levels. Your concerns about doing too much are probably legitimate if:

  • No matter how carefully you prioritize your schedule, you’re working late hours every day.
  • You’re taking far fewer breaks.
  • You’re neglecting non-work responsibilities.
  • You find yourself getting unusually upset at interruptions and minor distractions.
  • A longtime client hints that your work is declining in quality.

If you’re in this situation, don’t just let the pressure build up!

Figure out how much time you can reasonably spare for work each day; suspend all nonessential outside commitments (remembering that meal breaks, sleep, and human relationships are essential); finish the most important and urgent projects first; and if you can’t realistically fit in everything by deadline, ask for extensions sooner rather than later.

(Asking for a deadline extension isn’t as black a mark on your record as you might think. Most businesspeople are used to delays, and in any case it won’t make as bad an impression as turning in something that was obviously written at 3 a.m. after you were already exhausted at 10 p.m.)

And in the future, recheck your existing schedule before agreeing to any new job.

Scenario 2: You get a “lowball” offer from a new prospect.

Many inexperienced negotiators panic in this situation, imagining that to ask for more money will not only lose them the client but earn them an industry-wide reputation for being “difficult.” Actually, this is virtually never the case.

Unless your prospect is a real cheapskate who doesn’t appreciate the value of his own blog (in which case you’re better off without him anyway—dismiss him with a polite “Thanks, but this isn’t my type of project”), there’s no reason he should object to negotiating the price.

Make your first counteroffer on the high side—preferably adding concrete information on the value you will provide—and you’ll be surprised how many people agree without further argument.

If the prospect instead makes a new counteroffer in the mid-range, it’s up to you to decide whether to negotiate further, whether you can live with the new offer (or adjust your services to fit it), or whether it’s a sign you two aren’t right for each other. In the latter case, a polite no-thank-you and good wishes should allow you to part without hard feelings.

(Side note: you don’t have to feel obligated to max out your offer at $100/post just because that’s what another client pays for posts of the same length. Unless you have a set price list, feel free to let clients decide individually what you’re worth to them.)

Scenario 3: Your value has outgrown what a longtime client is paying you.

If you have a good working relationship, there shouldn’t be any trouble asking for a raise — especially when timed to coincide with the new year or an anniversary of the date you started working for this client.

Lead into your request by noting details on the value you’re providing. If they can’t budget for more, but you hate to terminate the relationship, suggest writing for them less often, for example monthly or quarterly rather than weekly.

Leave Room to Grow

Finally, no matter how busy you are, don’t take yourself off the freelancer market completely, especially if your regular big clients are limited to one or two.

In a field where there’s considerable leeway to cancel with little warning and no severance pay, your “feast” of blogging jobs can turn back into a “famine” overnight. If you’ve kept up momentum on the marketing side, there’ll be a much better chance of finding your next “meal” before you have to start draining your savings.

Besides leaving time for marketing work, make space for seminars, conferences, business networking, and non-blog writing projects.

Keep your skills and knowledge base expanding, and not only will you stay in demand as a freelance blogger, you’ll keep your mind and sense of possibility alive and growing—and even at your busiest and most challenging times, you’ll find high levels of joy in blogging and in life as a whole.

Bon appétit for many “feasts” to come!