OPEN DISCUSSION: How can designers make money during client dry spells?

Lately, I’ve had a lot of designers email me who are experiencing dry spells in their workflow. For one reason or another, they aren’t finding new clients. Eventually, the client pool dries up and many designers are left wondering what to do.

So this time around, I would like to draw on your collective genius. Take a moment, leave a comment, and let us know what you do when you experience client dry spells. How do you keep making money?

If you don’t experience client dry spells, what do you do in order to maintain a steady flow of design clients? I (and many other worried designers who have emailed me) would love to hear what solutions you have on the subject. Go ahead, share your tips with us!

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  1. says

    There are a variety of side projects designers can work on to make money during dry spells, such as selling stock, developing products, or teaching.

    In my experience, the best way to avoid dry spells is with ongoing marketing. Many designers stop promoting their business when they’re busy, and as a result, their busy times are directly followed slow times.

  2. says

    It’s worth planning ahead for such dry spells. Building in to your career plan. With that in mind it’s quite necessary as a self employed person to diversify one’s income. I myself am both a personal trainer and graphic designer (as well as life coach but that’s kinda new and I’ve yet to establish clients there). I have a blog for my design/art and a blog for my PT/life coaching, so there’s two other opportunities to eventually generate a little passive income with an ebook, video tutorial series, selling textures, templates and so on. The income streams need to be many. If they’re not then make a long term plan to build them in to your career.

  3. says

    While I agree that proper marketing and planning can help you avoid dry spells, using alternate revenue streams in the meantime can help dull the pain. Themeforest or CodeCanyon from Envato are great marketplaces for those scraps of code or templates you’ve been kicking around. I’ve also found that offering maintenance contracts on projects you’ve done also bring in money without much effort (provided you have the skills to do so).

  4. says

    Good subject! I think designers can start being more creative in how we look at our work. We can start by coming with new ideas to use our talents.

    (1) Start becoming your own entrepreneur: sell creations you made, make posters, cards, design products etc.
    (2) Use your entrepreneur skills to work on something else (I, for example, will start a small online company selling Dutch wood slices for different uses=empowers my brand, keeps me busy and will bring some small extra income)
    (3) Not the ideal solution, but perhaps work part time at a design company you really like! It can give you extra experience and helps to improve the work for your own company.

    Just some things I came up with! Hope to read some tips from other designers as well ;)

  5. says

    Well one thing that one can do is create stuff to sell on a site like Themeforrest during those dryspells. Those times also give you a chance to fresh up on your coding skills. Things change so fast that I personally sometimes have the feeling I am getting out of the loop.

    You coudl aalways use the dry spell time to think about your business and see if there any areas that you can move into to make some extra cash.

    Last thing I would like to add is to start writing tutorials and sell them to the big guys (for example PSD Tuts+).

  6. Nick says

    Funny this article came up, I’m in a dry spell myself right now. I’ll probably have to do a couple of websites for cheap just to ensure that I get new clients.

  7. says

    There’s only one way to overcome dry spells and that is to avoid them. Here’s two ways: 1. Find a way to offer your services that will be needed on a REGULAR BASIS. For instance: LOCAL MERCHANTS… Offer to design their sale signs for a reasonable rate, they will be overjoyed with the professional signs that won’t take you more than 15 minutes to design. If you service 10 or 20 stores, those pennies add up to dollars.
    2. Do not be afraid to DIVERSIFY. okay, you’re and artist, but you may also consider teaching adult Ed or or working in an unrelated industry that you’re passionate about. If you’re a runner, work behind the counter in a running shop one day a week.. Don’t look at it as a failure when it could be a fresh new experience.

  8. Mike Korba says

    I recommend applying your creative talents in other areas. Lately I’ve been doing landscape design and the labour that goes with it. I’ve been getting many referrals which started by doing work for family and friends. It’s rewarding, gets you in shape and it can be lucrative.

  9. Peter says

    Learning a new skill definitely boosted my workflow. I’d always been a designer for print but when work started drying up I picked up some books on Web Design, HTML/CSS, Dreamweaver etc. and started putting them into practice. Since I’ve added web design to my services it’s opened plenty of doors for me. In fact, the majority of my work now is on websites and email marketing.

  10. says

    After a decade of freelance work I’m in a dry spell right now.

    I live and work in Juarez, Mexico, perhaps everyone here know my hometown for all the bad news, drug cartel’s etc…I thought it was a consequence of the violence or the financial crisis here in Mexico, but when I read this post I thought that is more important how do we(designers) are able to manage our work time vs mkt time to keep us on track.

    Now I trying to invest my time on learning and improvement my skill, like migrate to AS3, learning marketing tips to increase my ability to justify my work, etc, and now take a few advices from your post’s. Thanks!

  11. Ben says

    I’ve had my fair share of dry spells and I’m currently experiencing one. I normally sharpen my photography skills and market my skill to other prospects ( with no luck). Any suggestions? Seriously, I’m thinking about another profession.

  12. William says

    I have not worked in over a year. I was a graphic designer and web developer for 12 years and worked with fortune 500 companies before the recession. I sank years of my life including an expensive college degree into this and now have nothing. I am going to be living out on the street soon if something doesn’t change. I sincerely fear this occupation has a dead-end future.

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