Navigating the Cadence of Freelance Work


A few weeks ago, I was feeling confident about the next month and a half, but after one project got delayed and another disappeared entirely, I found myself feeling uneasy.

Freelance work has been the single source of my employment since mid-2008. Rationally, I know that there are crazy-busy periods and then there are light periods. Yet my vision of two exciting projects to keep me busy had evaporated so suddenly, the surprise itself was uncomfortable.

So if you find yourself with some unexpected downtime, what should you do?

How about…

Taking some time off

If I’m traveling or taking off a chunk of time exclusively for leisure opportunities, it will be shared with my family and aligned with the kids’ school schedule. So my top priority right now is still to focus on finding billable work in the short-term, but if there isn’t any, then to focus on interesting non-billable work that builds my visibility and personal brand.  

Bonus tip: Use your time off to look through your contacts, set up some coffee meetings, blog, post on social media, attend meetups and events, and find any other opportunities to be visible. Certainly, enjoy some extra time for yourself, but remember that you need to maintain your longer term workflow, so don’t do anything that takes you out of the game for too long.


Travel anywhere is like a powerful reset/refocus button for me. When I work in my home office day after day, I get antsy. Finding local-but-not-home places to be is always good. Even better, as long as travel is work-justified, traveling somewhere and just having my work context be dramatically different helps reset me, clears my head and gives me focus.

Special offers

I already had projected some known available time earlier this month, and for the first time, I tried a new “special offer,” posting it publicly and also letting clients know directly: I would travel anywhere and cover my own travel expenses for any work that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do because of a client’s lack of budget for travel. It worked, and I traveled to Boston for an existing client. I just tried it again, this time lasting 6 weeks.  

Bonus tip: You can try a special offer whether focused on travel or anything else that you’d like. If you like traveling but want to have it business related, pick a city that seems like it has opportunity for business development and send yourself there. If I don’t end up with a full plate of billable work, I may just do this myself!

Even 9 years in, it sometimes feels hard to admit to myself that things aren’t always perfect in my freelance life. Of course they aren’t – for anyone – ever.

But I’ll keep focusing on my exciting journey, even if it means that I’ll get a bit antsy every now and again, and you stay focused on your career journey, whatever it may be!

See an extended version of this post on LinkedIn.

Cory Lebson

Cory Lebson

Cory Lebson, author of The UX Careers Handbook, has been a user experience consultant for over 20 years. He is Principal and Owner of Lebsontech LLC, a successful consulting firm focused on user research and evaluation, user experience strategy, UX training, and mentoring.  Cory also speaks and writes frequently on topics related to UX careers and practice, and is a past president of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) International and of the UXPA DC Chapter.

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