10 Steps for Fearless Freelancing in the Recession
Are you ready for the recession?
During a recession, many clients cut or stop their use of freelancers. With an estimated 59 million freelancers in the U.S., competition for the remaining freelance work will be fierce. Developing the right mindset and taking the right actions will help you thrive.
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
When I started writing this post in mid-July 2022, most experts were saying that a recession in the United States was very likely in the first two quarters of 2023. By the end of the month, we were in a recession, after gross domestic product (the total value of goods and services made within a country during a period of time) fell for the second quarter in a row—the traditional definition of a recession.
The recession in the U.S. will be mild, predicts the Economist, but the recovery will be “painfully prolonged.”
Globally, the future is “gloomy and more uncertain” and the global economy “may soon be teetering on the edge of a recession,” says the International Monetary Fund. The downturn in the global economy could rank in the bottom 10% of outcomes since 1970.
What the Recession Will Mean for Freelancers
Just as a balloon rises and falls, so does the economy. Recessions are a natural part of the business cycle. I’m not an economist, but I’ll try to explain what happens during a recession and how the recession is likely to impact freelancers.
A recession happens after the economy has grown as much as it can. Then the economy starts to contract. At a certain point, the contraction becomes a recession.
The National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months.” A more traditional definition of a recession is two quarters in a row of contraction in GDP.
During a recession, sales and profits drop. Businesses, non-profits, and other organizations cut costs by laying people off, not hiring new staff, and cutting spending on things like marketing. Many stop or reduce their use of freelancers.
Why This Recession May Be Worse for Freelancers
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people began freelancing. The 2019 Freelancing in America survey, conducted before the pandemic in the summer of 2019, estimated that 57 million Americans were freelancing. By 2021, 59 million Americans were freelancers, according to projections by Upwork and Edelman Intelligence in the Freelance Forward 2021 survey.
All freelancers now face a lot for more competition for freelance work.
And it’s going to get worse.
By 2028, about 90 million Americans —about 57% of the workforce—could be freelancing, according to projections by Upwork and Edelman Intelligence (in their 2020 survey).
Increased competition for freelance work and paying more for everything due to staggering inflation means that this recession may have more impact on freelancers than past recessions.
How to Thrive During the Recession
If you prepare for the recession, then you’ll get more freelance work than if you just hope for the best. And the time to prepare is now.
Being prepared means developing the right mindset and taking the right actions. Here’s what you can do to start preparing now. These 10 steps are part of my ultimate guide to freelance success.
Step 1. Develop the Fearless Freelancer Mindset
In a recession, what you think—your mindset—is just as important in what happens to your freelance business as what you do.
Developing what I call the fearless freelancer mindset (a growth mindset, grit, and resilience) will help you thrive.
If you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can change your freelance future by learning new things, being persistent, and taking the right actions. You’ll be willing to work hard to reach your goals.
Grit is having the perseverance and passion to stick with your long-term goals until you reach them. It means carrying on even when you make mistakes or don’t feel like you’re making progress.
Remember how Charlie Brown kept trying to kick that football even though Lucy pulled it away from him every time? Charlie Brown never gave up. He had grit.
How successful we are is largely dependent on grit, says Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
While grit is something we always need, resilience helps us when bad things happen—like a recession. Resilience is the ability to meet adversity head-on, adapt, bounce back, and keep trying.
How to Develop the Fearless Freelancer Mindset
There are many ways to develop a growth mindset, grow your grit, and build your resilience, including:
- Be positive
- Take action
- Create a strong, supportive network (covered under step 9)
- Build the marketing habit (covered under step 3)
Learn more about the Fearless Freelance mindset
Step 2. Stand Out from the Competition
To many clients, one freelance writer or editor (or another type of freelancer) seems just as good as another—unless you have a freelance brand and client-focused marketing messages. Then you’ll stand out in a sea of freelancers.
With more people freelancing every day, standing out is more important than ever. This will help you:
- Attract more and better clients.
- Do less marketing, because clients will know more about you and quickly see you as more professional than other freelancers.
What’s in a Freelance Brand?
A logo and tagline are the main ways you show your brand. Your freelance brand is also made up of:
- Tone of voice: Your company’s values, personality, and way of thinking.
- Business name (or your name and title)
- Client-focused marketing messages: Clear messages about how you meet client needs.
Learn more about freelance brands
Step 3. Build the Marketing Habit
Steady, high-paying clients don’t use freelance jobs sites and content mills. And they aren’t going to magically find you.
Instead, you have to go out and find them. And you have to attract them with client-focused marketing tools and by doing a lot of marketing.
If you’re like most freelancers, this is hard for you. But it doesn’t have to be.
You can make marketing as easy as trying your shoes—by making marketing a habit. The more you practice a habit, the easier it gets.
Simple ways to build the marketing habit include:
- Start small and increase gradually
- Focus on actions, not outcomes
- Break the marketing habit into manageable chunks
- When you slip, get back on track
- Be patient.
Learn more about building the marketing habit
Step 4. Choose Your Moneymaking Specialty(ies)
When clients hire a freelancer, they want a specialist, someone with expertise in the type of freelance work they need help with. And they’re willing to pay well for that expertise—even in a recession.
That’s why specializing is so important. A moneymaking specialty offers lots of opportunities for freelancers like you—even in a recession—and makes it easy for you to find and reach prospective clients.
The most common ways to specialize are by industry, by project, or by a combination of industry and project. For most freelancers, industry specialization is best, especially if you’re fairly new to freelancing or have been freelancing for a while but aren’t as successful as you’d like to be. Industry specialization is a broader way to specialize. And it lets you choose industries with lots of opportunities and high-paying clients. You can do work outside your specialty(ies) too.
Go for the Money
Whatever type of specialty(ies) you choose, go for the money. Focus on industries and target markets where demand is still high and clients can still afford to pay you well. Also, focus on core services that clients need.
If you want to learn which industries, target markets, and clients will be best for you, network with other freelancers and do some research.
Learn more about choosing your specialty
Step 5. Find the Right Prospects
Instead of taking whatever work comes along, choose the steady, high-paying clients you want to work with (your prospects) and then develop marketing to attract them. Start by making a list of prospective clients (prospects). Then use direct email (Step 6) to reach out to them.
The best clients are usually large businesses, especially businesses that sell products or services to other businesses (B2B) rather than to consumers (B2C). There are other types of high- paying clients too.
Look for clients in the industry or industries you work in or want to work in. Within each industry, find target markets, or groups of clients, where it’s easy to find clients.
Find Your Best Prospects
Focus first on the prospects that are most likely to hire you now based on your background, experience, and skills. New freelancers, for example, aren’t likely to land Apple or Mayo Clinic as clients. Expand your prospect list to bigger, better clients as you gain experience.
Here are 4 ways to find high-paying clients for your prospect lists:
- Professional associations (the easiest way)
- Dun & Bradstreet
- Leading company lists
- Online industry directories
Learn more about finding the right prospects
Step 6. Reach and Attract the Right Clients with Direct Email
Direct email helps you attract the steady, high-paying clients on your prospect lists. When customized to each client and focused on the needs of that client, direct email is very effective in getting steady, high-paying clients.
Write a short, targeted direct email to each prospect that combines your knowledge of the target market/industry with language used on the prospect’s website. Effective direct emails have a compelling subject line and are concise, easy to read, and personalized.
Most responses come from follow-up emails, sent about a week after the original email. Get more steady, high-paying clients by continuing to follow up with clients who are interested in your services but don’t hire you right away.
Learn more about direct email
Free tool: Direct Email Swipe File
Step 7. Develop a Client-Focused LinkedIn Profile
More clients are searching for freelancers on LinkedIn and checking us out before deciding whether to contact us.
If you develop a complete, client-focused LinkedIn profile, then you’ll rank higher in search results. When LinkedIn generates search results, profile completeness and relevant keywords in the headline are at the top of the search algorithm criteria.
The keys to attracting steady, high-paying clients on LinkedIn are a client-focused headline and About section, both with the right keywords.
In your headline:
- Clearly say what you do and how you help your clients.
- Use relevant keywords, especially “freelancer” and “freelance [writer, editor, etc.]” and your services.
- Build on your headline and offer a clear, concise client-focused message in the first 220-270 characters.
- Continue to use the keywords that clients are likely to use to search for a freelancer like you throughout About. Clients often look for keywords related to titles, so use “freelancer” instead of “freelance services,” and “freelance medical writer” (or “freelance ADD YOUR FIELD HERE”) instead of “freelance medical writing.” Use other keywords related to your services, like the type of clients you work with, your key services, and industry-specific keywords.
- Your LinkedIn profile isn’t a resume. Include just enough key content—and the right content—so that clients know that you’re the right choice for them. Be interesting and conversational.
Learn more about developing a client-focused LinkedIn profile
Step 8. Develop a Client-Focused Website
An awesome, client-focused website will help you attract more clients with less marketing. But you need to grab the attention of clients in 15 seconds or less with:
- Content that’s compelling, clear, and focused on client needs
- Design that’s visually engaging, clear, and easy to navigate.
Quickly tell clients:
- What you do (your services)
- Who you do it for (your target clients)
- How what you do benefits clients.
If you already have a freelance website, it might be time for an update.
Write Compelling, Client-Focused Content
Use client-focused marketing messages, include the essential web pages for freelancers, and write conversational, concise, and scannable content. If you already have a client-focused LinkedIn profile, then you should have much of the information you need for your web content.
Highlight Your Content with a Professional Design
If your design isn’t visually engaging, clear, and easy to navigate, clients will quickly move on to the other freelancers on their list.
And the truth is, many websites of freelance writers and editors look awful! These websites look like they were designed by an amateur—because they were.
Hire a professional designer. It’s one of the best investments in your freelance business you can make.
Learn more about freelance websites
Step 9. Meet People Who Can Help and Hire You
Who you know—a.k.a. your network—can be more important than anything else in getting steady, high-paying clients.
Clients use networking to find freelancers they can trust. If you’re not in their network or the network of someone they know, they can’t find you.
Networking doesn’t have to be stressful or scary. It’s about getting to know people, not selling yourself. When you focus on getting to know people and helping them without expecting anything in return, networking is much easier.
Referrals are the easiest way to get the best clients. Professional associations are the easiest way to get referrals because they’re full of people who are working in your specialty(ies). You’ll meet colleagues and other freelancers who can refer work to you—and prospective clients too. Volunteering for your professional associations is the quickest way to build the trusting relationships that lead to referrals, and to impress the prospective clients you meet.
Make other freelancers a key part of your network. Other freelancers are a great source of advice and support, along with referrals.
Learn more about networking
Step 10. Be First in Line for Freelance Work
Up to 90% of the time, prospects aren’t ready to hire a freelancer when you first contact them.
Following up regularly (targeted follow up) with clients who expressed interest in your services but didn’t need freelance help right away is an easy way to get more clients.
And it only takes a few hours a month or less.
Be First in Line for Freelance Work
By following up, you’ll be first in line when the client is ready to hire a freelancer. Being first in line means that the client thinks of you—and not another freelancer—at that moment.
Professional follow up isn’t about “selling yourself.” In fact, most of the time, you shouldn’t even mention your freelance services. Follow up is about being helpful, relevant, and persistent.
Customize most of your follow-up to the client organization or your contact person. Commenting on news is an easy way to do this. Ways to find news to comment on include Google alerts, the company’s Newsroom page, and LinkedIn posts.
Another easy way to customize follow-up is by sharing relevant content like blog posts, reports, and podcasts. Sign up for e-newsletters in your industry(ies) and target markets so this content comes right to your inbox and you don’t have to waste time searching for it.
Once or twice a year, send interested clients a friendly reminder that you’re available for freelance work. But this must not be the only time you contact these clients.
Treat targeted follow-up like it’s a deadline for a client. Get it done.
Learn more about using follow up to get more freelance work
Get Help Preparing for the Recession
You can get still steady, high-paying clients and build a stable, successful freelance business—whether you’re a new freelancer or have been freelancing for a while. But you need to be willing to work hard.
The Mighty Marketer can show you what you need to do and how to do it. Here are 3 ways to prepare to thrive during the recession:
Use the Mighty Marketer’s free content
The Ultimate Guide to the Freelance Success You Deserve, a detailed guide for getting steady, high-paying freelance clients with links to more content on each step and free tools like a LinkedIn profile checklist and website templates.
Buy My Book: “The Fearless Freelancer: How to Thrive in a Recession”
“The Fearless Freelancer: How to Thrive in a Recession” gives you an easy-to-follow, proven process for finding the steady, high-paying clients who need your help—from a freelancer who’s thrived during three recessions.
My book includes links to dozens of checklists, templates, and other tools to help you recession-proof your freelance business, including the Simple Strategic Plan for Surviving the Recession.
Written during the COVID-19 recession, everything in the book—except for a few details about the COVID-19 recession was different than other recessions— is applicable to all recessions.
Take My Online Course Finding the Freelance Clients You Deserve
Like my book, Finding the Freelance Clients You Deserve gives you an easy-to-follow, proven process for finding steady, high-paying clients who need your help—in good times and in bad.
But the online course gives you:
- 7 modules with high-quality video lessons focused on what works best for freelancers
- Downloadable videos and transcripts of each lesson
- Examples, templates, and tips, to help you understand what you learned
- Assignments to help you do what you learned.
Also, in the coaching course, you get personalized guidance from me on building your business and review of key assignments. In the self-study version, you learn what you need to know and do the assignments on your own.
Get on the VIP list for the next course.
I offer Finding the Freelance Clients You Deserve 3 or 4 times a year. To get on the VIP list for early access, email me at: email@example.com and write “VIP course list” in the subject line.
Recession-Proof Your Freelance BusinessLearn more about The Fearless Freelancer:
How to Thrive in the Recession.
Learn More About How to Thrive in a Recession
Content from The Mighty Marketer
Finding the Right Prospects
Free tool: Direct Email Swipe File
More Ways to Thrive in the Recession
Finding the Freelance Clients You Deserve, online course
Other Content About Recessions and Freelance Competition
G.D.P. Report Shows U.S. Economy Shrank Again, The New York Times
US Macroeconomists Survey, the Financial Times and the University of Chicago Initiative on Global Markets, June 2022.
What America’s next recession will look like, The Economist