Surviving Months Without Work When Starting Out

Let’s say you’re at the end of your wits trying to tolerate your job and you just can’t last a day more. Maybe the people you work with are toxic, or the work is just mind-numbingly deadening, or you just feel plain miserable having to haul your ass everyday to make that commute.

So you just quit right then and then and decide to finally make the jump to being self-employed—with little to no preparation. At all.

You then start diving straight into freelance work. But there’s one catch, there’s no work to speak of. You comb the freelance markets daily and apply to every job imaginable that remotely fits your skill, but still, nada. A week passes, a month, and another month until you were just about ready to give up your dreams of being a professional homebody. But horrific memories of your job keeps you hanging on to a fast thinning thread of hope.

After a long draught, you then finally land a job that gets you started on your freelance career. Whew. What a close call.

Has this ever happened to you? The jobless period, by the way, not the sudden quitting part.

Anecdotal evidence from me and my colleagues revealed that many of us got started with a vacant lull upon transitioning. Some luck out quickly, while others have to endure months without work. A close acquaintance of mine actually took five months to land her first gig. That’s one hell of a resolve, because I doubt many people can continue trudging months trying to find work.

It’s no easy feat to survive months without work, but is it possible? Certainly.

So how did I and a few others did it? Below are some tips you can use to cushion a no-work period should it happen to you (hoping it doesn’t).

Make Use of Your Every Available Skill Set


Maybe in your previous job your role was a customer service representative, but it doesn’t mean that you have to take freelance work within the same field or industry. The amazing thing about being self-employed is that you can start anew and pursue any other form of work you have the right skill set for.

In fact, this 2012 Freelance Industry Report uncovered that around 27% of freelancers started with jobs unrelated to their previous work.

Or better yet, why not try to source work basing on your two strongest skills? For instance, if you got a smooth, powerful voice then feel free to apply for voiceover jobs as well.

The key here is to expand your opportunities, not limit them to what you’re used to doing.

In the world of freelance, no job is really guaranteed and you can’t just bank on people’s words (or online contracts for that matter) that they’ll be giving you this or that job. Make sure you find other work that suits your skills even if it was something you’ve never done before.

Have A Highly Budgeted Existence

It sucks to have to say this advice, because I, myself don’t really like extremely restrictive budgets, but tough times require tough measures.

In the same report above, the feast-or-famine cycle is evident in the field especially for illustrators (28%), software developers (20%), as well as web developers and writers (both at 17.7%).

So how do you budget effectively then? Personal finance expert J.D. Roth says, not to always base your budget on your average monthly income unless it’s more or less consistently the same. The smarter way would be to base it on your minimum monthly income for the past year.

This ensures that you won’t be living off more than you can spend. To do this, just keep track of your every expense and don’t take any time off until things got more secure.

Save Enough Living Stipend for the Next Few Months


This is a staple in every freelancer starter pack. If you’re still working and plan on leaving in the far future, you might want to keep a hefty amount of your monthly paycheck to tide things over once you become self-employed.

For some, this is a tall order, because self-control can be really hard.

If you want, you can try to have a savings challenge, whether it be for a few months or a year. In order to reinforce this challenge, try to curb a very expensive habit you might have. For instance, if you’ve always ordered your coffee at Starbucks, why not try a take-out coffee ban for a few a months and see how that goes.

Another good option is to only spend using cash so you don’t rack up any necessary credit card debts.

These are just some saving goals you can take on, but the more effective strategy would be to develop a saving habit. This ensures that no matter what you’re financial standing is, you’ll know how to handle whatever comes your way.

Of course, what would life be if you can’t splurge from time to time, right?

If there’s a special occasion or any other instance that you think warrants it, then go ahead and feel free to do yourself a favor once in a while.

Keep Your Overhead Costs Down

Starting your freelance career is as cheap as it gets, but it could be tempting to deck out your office space from the get-go or to purchase lots of fancy, online tools that you think are essential.

Although some online tools are indispensable and downright helpful, you have to know which things are a necessity and which are not. Do you have to really buy a good deal of furniture for your new office space at home? As much as possible, just opt for the least that you need.

No doubt, it’s always remarkable to have quality things, but if it’s not just feasible with your current situation then hold it off for now.

Alternatively, you may also try to find newer options of the things, app, or software you want to buy if there aren’t many crucial differences between the two. Buy lesser priced ones, but don’t go too cheap to the point you’ll have to purchase something again in just a few months.

Financially Succeeding as a Newbie


If you can do all the said steps as you’re starting out then congratulations! You’re on your way to being in a better financial position.

To conclude, you’ll have to rein in your expenses and searching out low-cost measures to get your finances in order once you start freelancing. Additionally, make sure you update your goals as your circumstances change and never fail to keep track of your progress.

Throughout all this, I just want to say that you shouldn’t be afraid to quit if that’s really what you want. You might make a couple of wrong calls in the beginning, but it’s always part of the learning process.

Just make sure you don’t keep throwing money, time, and effort to things that are not just working for you.

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Also published on Medium.

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