Do you have a plan Z in case freelancing doesn’t fly?

For many freelance copywriters, the unthinkable is: what if we don’t make it?

Any freelancer can tell you the myriad pleasures of working for yourself, but there are plenty of downsides too, and job insecurity is high on the list.

Once established, most of us freelance copywriters have a few ongoing contracts, with short, one-off jobs as top ups.

But even regular, long-term clients have changing needs, and when we are the business, no work means no pay. One substantial client reducing their requirements can mean quite a shock.

How long we can live on a severely reduced income depends upon our expenses, our bloody-mindedness, the economic outlook, and the strength of our desire to avoid Plan Z.

What is a Plan Z?

A while ago, I wrote an article about the importance of having a Plan Z. If Plan A is the dream scenario, and Plan B is the compromise – what is at the end of the line? What is the ultimate situation that we will do anything to avoid?

You may wonder why I suggest looking down when we are all focussing so hard on not falling. Keep looking upwards – isn’t that the way to succeed?

Of course it is. I am not saying any of us should take our eyes off our goals, but we should know what the safety nets look like.

Plan Z needs to be realistic, but unappealing.

For me, if I was unable to earn enough through copywriting I would have to wind up my company (heart breaking), look for a job (dispiriting), and go back to the 9-5 (depressing).

It would mean finding childcare and a pet sitter, would bring various commuting headaches, and make my nomadic lifestyle very difficult to sustain.  It’s everything I don’t want.

So, I will type my little fingers to the bone to avoid my Plan Z. But, it’s not a fantasy that I can dismiss.  It could be real – I am just damn well determined to never need it!  Having Plan Z nipping at my heels makes me work harder and smarter.

When is enough really enough?

Every self-employed person knows that running a business means a few years of hardship, followed (hopefully) by a decent income coupled with greater personal satisfaction and freedom.  But, let’s not be daft about it. There has to be some point at which we admit that we gave it a good shot, but it’s not going to work.

Where that point is depends upon the person and the situation. Each of us needs to consider how far we are prepared to tighten our belts when times are hard.

What goes first? Do we:

  • Buy cheaper brands?
  • Cut down on the wine?
  • Cancel the gym membership?
  • Don’t take a holiday?
  • Don’t buy new clothes?
  • Skip meals?

At what point do we say that enough is enough, and it’s time to get a “proper” job? We must be realistic – the self employment dream needs to be firmly rooted, clear sighted, and economically sound.

Coping with quiet spells

While we may need to mindful of our Plan Z, we also have to be prepared to ride out the lean times of a feast/famine cycle.

So, when we hit a rocky patch – what will help us ride it out?

Financial honesty – how much money do we need behind us to take us through a few lean months?  How does that compare to what’s actually in the bank?  How long have we really got?

Emotional honesty – are we prepared for how wobbly being without work might make us feel?  What’s our emotional resilience like? Do we have good support networks to cheer us on and take our minds off worrying?

Productive use of quiet times

What will we do with our time?

Quiet work periods are a good chance to get back in touch with the network, spruce up our websites, get blog posts scheduled, attend CPD events, top up qualifications, or catch up with that bulging “To Read” file.

Using the time wisely makes us feel productive and capable, and in a much better position to win new work. It’s not often that freelancers have time on their hands.

Chin up! Plan Z is the buffers, not fate.

I hope none of us ever need to implement our Plan Zs, but knowing our worst option is both a stimulation to keep trying, and a reassurance that we’ll be ok if it all goes pear-shaped.

Do you have a Plan Z?  How close have you come to it?  How have you dealt with lean times? Let me know in the comments.

This post originally appeared in a different form on the Word Hen Ltd. website.


22nd February 2017

Leif Kendall

When I started freelancing in 2008, my back up plan was temping. I liked this option because it wasn’t permanent; I could just dip in when work was quiet, and then get back to freelancing. I actually fell back on this option, very briefly, and did a few days at the Environmental Health department, answering phones and trying to follow their ludicrous admin system. Luckily, some work came up while I was there – and I never went back!

But I completely agree that having a Plan Z is no bad idea.

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