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How Freelance Designers Can Thrive in a Tough Economy

Economies rise and fall. It’s a cycle that can impact all of us in both positive and negative ways. But freelancers can be particularly vulnerable to these shifts.

Working as a solo web designer means that you’re always fending for yourself. Still, an economic downturn makes survival all the more challenging. Things can become precarious before you know it.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, though. Tough times can actually be a great opportunity to experiment and find (or redefine) your niche.

Whether the economy has your business sputtering or not, it’s important to think about ways you can kickstart growth in your own little corner of the web. And we’re here to help. Today, we’ll offer up some ideas that empower you to do more than just weather the storm.

Look for Problems to Solve

The head-spinning pace of web development is one way to ensure that we remain essential workers in the online space. Something as (seemingly) simple as your favorite CMS upgrading a JavaScript library can cause all sorts of havoc.

Of course, there are plenty of other examples. Websites running any sort of legacy code are likely going to face incompatibilities at some point. Not to mention that plugins, themes and other tools we rely on don’t last forever.

Proactively looking for these types of issues on your client’s websites can be a solid source of revenue. This is a subject we should be thinking about anyway, as being inattentive to this evolution risks that something will break.

But it’s not just a matter of fixing old code. You might also explore other challenges your clients are facing. Perhaps there was a feature they really could have benefited from that wasn’t feasible a few years ago. Maybe it’s time to revisit the subject?

The main idea is to look for areas to repair or otherwise improve. It’s more than likely you’ll find a few things to keep your business going in the short-term.

A person using a laptop computer.

Revisit Your Finances

Whether you’re already feeling the pinch of a downturn or want to be prepared just in case, it’s a good time to look at your money situation.

The first thing to review is your expenses – especially recurring ones. Are you spending money wisely? Things like web hosting, marketing services or even software licensing may be bleeding your bank account dry. When you have less money coming in, some of these items could be seen as unnecessary.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to cut out each item completely. There may be some cases where simply downgrading an account level can save you some cash while still providing value.

It’s not always about cutting back, though. This could also be an opportunity to invest in areas that could make you more money now and in the future. Tools or even online educational courses have the potential to do that.

The most important part of this is knowing where you stand. From there, you can make decisions that can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Financial information displayed on a computer screen.

Explore Opportunities for Recurring Revenue

Recurring revenue is something that can carry you through tough times. It’s money you can depend on – bringing at least some level of certainty to your business.

Among the most common ways to gain recurring revenue is to partner up with another firm on a freelance/contract basis. Maybe it’s another freelancer who could use some extra help, or an agency that needs someone within your specialty.

These opportunities may start on a trial basis – which is smart. It’s always best to see what type of synergy the relationship brings. If things work out, you could have a long-term partner that provides a steady stream of income.

Then there is also the possibility of selling a product or service with some recurring revenue. A downturn could be the perfect chance to finally build that app or plugin you’ve been thinking about, or write the eBook that has been rattling around in your head.

What’s more, you can take on these projects in a way that suits your needs. You could, for example, provide regular updates to that app or even spruce up your writing as technology changes. Or, it might simply be a case of bringing in some passive income from your hard work.

Ideally, this will allow you to diversify your earnings. The more reliable sources of money you can procure, the better you’ll be able to maintain economic certainty.

A neon sign depicting a handshake.

Stay Patient

Maintaining patience may just be the hardest thing on this list. Especially so in the face of a downtrodden economy. Yet it is no less vital.

Mind you, we’re not talking about just sitting around, waiting for things to happen. Rather, it’s a matter of carrying out your vision and not wavering in a challenging time.

In practice this means going after the types of clients that are the best fit for you and your business. If you’re looking for a certain sweet spot when it comes to project size and revenue, don’t be afraid to seek out the right opportunity. That is, as long as you can afford to do so.

Avoid settling for projects you don’t want to do – unless it’s an absolute necessity. Otherwise, you may book yourself into a corner and not be able to take advantage when the perfect fit does come along.

A person wearing a wristwatch.

Look Beyond Mere Survival

A difficult stretch for the economy doesn’t have to be a bad omen for your freelance web design business. While the potential for a negative impact is there, you may not feel the effects nearly as much as a larger business would.

Why is that? Freelancers have a level of flexibility that makes it possible to adjust as needed. So, even losing a big client is something you can recover from. That might not be the case for big companies with physical locations and employees to account for.

It’s an opportunity you need to seize. If something’s not working, change it. Take it upon yourself to be proactive and develop symbiotic relationships with other firms. Help your existing clients up their game.

There are so many ways to keep bringing in much-needed cash. Do it well and you may even find yourself ahead of your previous earnings pace.

Yes, it’s a challenge. But it’s one you can meet head-on.