Top 10 things you can do when your creative business is slow

Published by Nela Dunato on in Business, Marketing, Productivity, Tips for creatives

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 an artisan — 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.

Top 10 things you can do when your creative business is slow

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.

Volunteer for non-profits 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.

Well known outlets for stock graphics are GraphicRiver, ThemeForest, PhotoDune, iStockphoto, Shutterstock and Creative Market.

Watercolor textures and splatters

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. Create articles, videos, or podcast episodes

If you don’t have a blog, it may be 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 or talking 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. I used to publish every week, but now that I have an archive of well over 200 posts and videos, I take longer breaks.

Read more of my blogging tips in my posts:

5. Update and redesign your web site (or business documents)

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, search engine optimization, conversion optimization, and web 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. Did you know that just changing page titles can improve how well your web pages rank in search results?

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.)

In addition to your website, there may be other parts of your marketing and onboarding process that could use some love. Go over every document that you send your prospects and clients and fix typos, edit the sentences, add new images, and make the overall design nicer.

If you don’t have any business documents, go and make some! Here are some posts that can help:

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.

2 years ago I was doing hand-lettering practice just for fun, and now hand-lettered logos are what I do for a living. Learning always pays off!

Hand-lettering 'Creativity", brush pen in a sketchbook

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!

Some examples are wallpapers, templates, textures, patterns, Photoshop presets, printable worksheets, calendars & planners, blog header designs…

Free hand-lettered inspirational wallpapers

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 both of my books The Human Centered Brand and Creativity Keys whenever I had time to spare because client work was slow. (At times I actually stopped taking new projects on in order to complete the books, which I was thankfully able to do because I saved enough money.)

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.

Looking for more freelance business advice?

Checkout my big roundup post: Nela’s ultimate list of 32 freelancing tips

Your turn!

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!


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

6 responses to “Top 10 things you can do when your creative business is slow”

  1. Excellent suggestions! I like the idea of making a tutorial. It’s something that can be automated and not need constant attention to maintain. When I feel I need a creative boost I like to get out and about. It usually inspires me to create something exciting and new.

  2. Tweeted, and Pinned this! It’s GREAT! I just had to (unavoidably) quit my job, and my blogging business is pretty slow (pretty much nothing), so I’ve been trying to make the most of my down time: I’ve been crafting like crazy (I have my own booth at a hippie festival coming up the end of august), and I finished writing the first draft of my e-book that I (HOPE to) get published, and now, after having read this, I know that I have a lot more things to do to keep me preoccupied/busy! Thanks so much!

  3. Thanks, everyone! I’m so glad you enjoyed the tips I shared here :)

    @Sue: Awesome to hear that! I’m sure your readers will love it. I’m more of a Google Docs person myself, but I’m interested in seeing how Evernote works for you as well.

    @Billie: Ditto on that, nothing boosts creativity like breaking your routine and being outside. I’m in a phase where I’m feeling creatively depleted after months of hustling so I’m trying to enjoy the summer and hang out with people more.

    @China Barbie: You’re so welcome, I’m so happy to hear this is helpful in your current situation, and wish you the best of luck with your venture! I love it when people are taking matters in their own hands.

    I live in a country with 21% unemployment rate and almost everybody’s just sitting on their ass and sending out resumes, instead of brainstorming how they could make something for themselves. I just can’t understand that mentality.

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