The economic gurus seem to have a time-warped idea of what constitutes a recession: By the time they get around to declaring that we’re really and truly in one, it seems that they’ve missed the boat. Sort of like the weatherman who finally tells you it’s going to rain when your umbrella is already inside-out and you’re soaked to the skin. But while the talking heads are debating whether this “downturn” is the real thing or not, those of us who actually need regular paychecks to pay bills know that it’s shaping up to be a long dry season.
So, what do we do?
First of all, now is not the time to throw hissy fits about your clients, students, editors, bosses, or anyone else who sends you a check. If an editor is tinkering too much with your copy, smile and say “thank you.” If they ask for another revision, be delighted to oblige. If your students are acting like the crew in “Welcome Back, Kotter,” resist the urge to lecture them that if they don’t shape up you won’t teach them anymore. I’s need to be dotted, T’s need to be crossed, and if you type as badly as I do, you need to be a little more careful about your spell-checking and proofreading.
But beyond offering patience and perfection, what is there to do?
- Send a holiday update to ALL your recent editors, clients, buyers, managers, PR and media contacts, and colleagues. Tell them the positive news of what you’ve been up to, hope they are well… This serves two purposes: Bouncebacks may help you clear out your in-box of people who have moved on (Try finding out where they landed through Linkedin, Facebook, other social networking sites, or professional organizations). And it reminds them that you’re still out there.
- If you’re a writer or anyone else who works in the media, don’t stop pitching! Target your pitches to timely issues — including the economic downturn.
- If you are an artist (or anyone else who has tangible products for sale: Photos, paintings, crafts, CD’s, books), holiday season is your big sales season. Consider dropping prices or offering special purchases or discounts for multiple purchases.
- Consider taking a part-time or seasonal job. If you work in books, try a bookstore. If you work in art, try a gallery. This might put a bit of cash in your pocket, allow you to develop a chance contact or two, and give you a bit of an education about what’s important in selling the kind of work you do to the public.
- Sign up to teach a class.
- Redo your budget and cut back on expenses: Maybe this is a good year for hand-made Christmas presents or “coupons” for services you can offer. Having control of your budget and how it matches your income stream will give you peace of mind so you can work.
- A gift to any client or network pal who has been especially helpful this year will be appreciated and remembered.
If your financial situation can handle the downturn — say, you’ve got some savings and you expect enough incoming payments to meet your bills - but you’re going nuts because there just isn’t a lot of work coming in, this is a good time to retrench, rethink, and rejuvenate.
- Start that huge “project of the heart” that you’ve been putting off because there’s been no time to sink your teeth into it. Now might be a great time to write a novel.
- Take a class. In anything. Broaden your current skill base — or try something completely new that you’ve always wondered about.
- Write a list of all the work-oriented client-building and marketing tasks you KNOW you shoud do –and you WOULD do if only you had time. Well, guess what: You HAVE time now!
- Do a goals and objectives plan for the next year. Which new markets would you like to break into? How might you go about it?
- Don’t stop going to conferences to meet peers, and, especially, potential clients. Try to network across subject lines and fields: In others words, if you’re a writer, don’t just network with writers; Join a broader based communications group where you can network with editors, PR people, and media people.
- Get experimental: Remember that CD or story you wanted to write that you haven’t gotten around to because it’s so weird no one will buy it? No one’s buying anything, anyway, so take a chance.
- Practice your performing art — or build your inventory if your art is concrete (paintings, crafts, photos).
- If your art requires collaboration (drama, music, film) find some new collaborators and get together to jam or brainstorm.
- Get fit. Seriously: Most of us let this slide when we’re busy. Take advantage of the downturn to invest time in your health.
Finally, look to the Web.
- If you’re a musician: Get your Facebook page current, get your songs up on a music site, put your videos on U-tube.
- Writers: Update your websites and clips, start working your blog a little harder by networking with other bloggers and learning about traffic generation and maybe even ad revenue.
- Visual Artsts: Get photos of your newest work (or your photos) up on a site.
- Update all your “how to buy my stuff” information.
- Experiment with new Internet business models, such as sites that pay per click: They may not (and, I think, probably won’t) turn out to be sustainable long-term sources of income, but they will keep you writing and give you a sense for how they work, which might help you monetize your Internet efforts in the future.
- USE these sites for your own purposes. For instance, if you’ve always wanted to write about jazz trumpet but have never written anything about music, go to one of the Internet Content sites (http://hubpages.com; www.demandstudios.com, www.suite101.com) that, once you’re approved as a writer, let you write on virtually any topic you want. Go ahead and put up some articles on jazz trumpet. You might not be paid much (That’s an understatement), but you can use these sites to build your portfolio so that when the market for jazz trumpet critics explodes, you’re ready with clips and experience. (Please note: I am not recommending any of these sites as major or even viable long term markets. But they might be a way to build your credentials and readership, especially if you are just starting out or want to build credentials in a different field.)
- Check out all the social networking sites that just seem like one big time-suck. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but you’ve got some time to spend, so use it to figure out what works.