Most creatives I know are very, very busy. We always have more ideas than time to execute them. But in the rare event that you — a designer, an illustrator, an artist, a photographer or a craftsman — find yourself out of work and without any ideas what to do about it, here are some suggestions.
Some of these are also great content marketing ideas for creatives that I have personally found to work very well.
1. Work pro bono
Pro bono work (latin expression for the work done for free) is typically performed for those people and organizations who lack the funds to pay for your services. However, you should be careful about who you give out your services to.
Stick to helping non-profits that you personally support – human rights organizations, animal welfare organizations, environmental groups, organizations that help and educate children and youth etc. It's a great way creatives can contribute to their community in an ethical way, by doing something we find enjoyable. If you're not in a position to donate money to the causes you want to help, donate your services.
Don't work for businesses for free. Just because a project isn't profitable, it doesn't count as non-profit.
2. Create stock resources
Stock resources can take a while to become profitable, so most creatives don't do it because they don't think it's worth their time. But this type of passive income can prove very helpful after a couple of months. The items may be cheap individually, but if you happen to make an item that gets many sales, in the long run you can earn a lot more than you would from a client project.
You can sell website themes, print designs, illustrations, icons, fonts, music, video clips, photos, and more.
3. Create a tutorial
You have skills that others would love to learn – share your knowledge with the world! You can write a tutorial and publish it on your website, or film a video and upload it on YouTube where it may get an even bigger audience.
Tutorials are awesome for many reasons:
- It's the best marketing tool. Creatives who share their knowledge get far more attention than those who just make great work.
- You're creating something useful for other people.
- You're presenting yourself as an expert on the subject.
Writing Photoshop and coding tutorials online was how I kick-started my career: some of my very first clients found me through my tutorials, and I got some press and awards for this work too.
4. Write a bunch of articles
If you don't have a blog, it's time to start one. If you do, use this time to write even more than you usually do.
Start with writing a list of topics you're familiar with, and can write or talk about. It doesn't matter if someone else is already writing about these topics. You have a unique experience, and therefore are able to write from a unique viewpoint. Feel free to check out what others are writing about and see which topics are popular, and what you can expand on.
Use the "extra" time you have to write drafts for as many possible topics from that list. Later when you're busy, you can pick any of the drafts and edit it further until you have a polished post you can publish. It doesn't have to be perfect – you can update it later if you want to. If you blog regularly, your writing will improve very quickly.
Some people advise to stick to a schedule of one post per week. Go with what's doable for you, but try to make it regular.
Read more of my blogging tips in my posts: How to be a remarkable blogger and attract loyal readers and 6 Things I Learned From a Successful Blogger (And How I Applied Them).
5. Tweak or redesign your web site
Don't let the shoemaker's children go barefoot. This is the right time to bring a critical eye to your own website, and improve whatever you can. Read about copywriting, conversion optimization and usability, and make the changes to your design and content. Small changes that can take less than a day of work (that we normally don't do when we're busy) can amount to a huge difference.
If your design looks outdated, work on that as well. You don't have to start from scratch – small improvements in typography and colors can change the overall look dramatically.
(I kept postponing my own website redesign for months because I had no time to work on it, but when I had a dry spell, I jumped on it and completed it within 2 weeks.)
6. Update your knowledge
When you're busy with projects all the time, you barely have the time to improve your knowledge and skills. And if you're working in a dynamic area where technology is developing very fast, if you stop learning you'll soon fall behind.
Find out what's new in your area of expertise, and brush up your skills. Even better, combine learning with a small personal project, so you can update your portfolio right away!
7. Learn a new creative skill
Have you always wanted to learning something, but haven't had the chance? Do it now!
Don't feel guilty about doing something non-related to your actual work. You'd be surprised how much the skills you gain outside your regular work can affect what you do. And who knows, maybe learning this new skill will bring about unexpected career opportunities.
8. Design a holiday greeting card (even if it's summer)
Unique holiday greeting cards are a great way to show people you care, plus market your services in a non-sleazy way. Win-win!
If you find yourself out of ideas what to do, this might be a good time to prepare for the holiday season, which is typically very busy for everyone.
9. Create free resources
Like tutorials, these are a great way to be generous, while bringing attention to your skills. People love freebies!
10. Work on a personal project
Are you waiting for that perfect project where your skills will truly shine? Don't wait for it, create it yourself.
Combine your knowledge with a creative skill you have, and pack it into a product you can give away or sell, like an e-book or a video workshop. (I wrote my book The Human Centered Brand whenever I had time to spare because client work was slow.)
If you're a designer or an illustrator, it's easy for you to make the product look beautiful — you "just" need to figure out the product.
If you're a website designer, you can make an online project using the latest technologies, unlike anything you've done for your clients (see number 6).
If you're out of ideas, just go with illustrating or designing something that already exists — a fairy-tale, a movie poster, famous people's quotes, etc.
One thing NOT to do when your creative business is slow
I see people doing this a lot, because they've got "nothing better to do anyway". Still, I don't agree with it.
Don't join contests – they suck. It's just not worth your time, and any of the 10 things above is a much more productive way to spend your downtime.
Do you have any more ideas? Have you done something in your free time that brought you more money/recognition/work than you expected? Share in the comments!