15 Productive Things Designers Can Do with Downtime

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Designers, freelancers in particular, go through various cycles and it’s almost inevitable that you’ll have times when you’re between client projects and don’t have a lot to work on. During these situations, there are still a lot of productive ways to use your time.

This article is intended to show you a sample of things you could focus on when you don’t have enough client work to keep you busy. Read through the list and find a few that interest you the most. Keep these in mind when the slow times come and you’ll always have something you can do to keep moving in the right direction.

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1. Start a Design Blog

If you have a blog on your site, chances are it doesn’t get a lot of your attention when you’re busy with client projects. The time you have between projects can provide an opportunity to update your blog and reach more readers. Blogs are excellent sources for helping new clients find you, they can attract links to your site, and they can allow you to have another avenue to network with others in the industry.

Hosting the blog at your portfolio website is a common choice, but you could also start a separate blog that’s not connected to your freelance services. If you want to write about design or create quality blog content with other designers as your target audience, this may be the best option for you.

Start Your Own Blog: We have a step-by-step guide that shows exactly how to get your own blog set up in just a few minutes. Learn how to start your blog the easy way.

2. Write for Other Blogs

In addition to writing for your own blog, you can also use your time to write for other design blogs. There are lots of blogs out there that pay for articles, and even more that accept free guest post submissions. Freelance blogging can be an excellent supplement to your income from client work, and any type of work on other blogs will help with exposure, name recognition, and link building.

Writing for popular blogs will also push you to do your best work and you’ll probably learn new things in the process. From my experience, one of the most beneficial things about writing for other blogs is the opportunity to network with influential blog owners and editors. When I launched the Vandelay Design blog in 2007, I spent a lot of time writing for other blogs in the industry and it was one of the key things that helped grow my own blog.

3. Design Stock Graphics for Sale

One of the best ways to use your design skills to make money is by creating stock resources to sell. There are many marketplaces that sell stock photos and graphics, and you can apply to become a contributor. Alternatively, you can also sell at deal sites like Mighty Deals and InkyDeals, plus you can sell the resources at your own website or blog.

The types of resources you could create include:

  • Icons
  • UI sets
  • Vectors
  • Illustrations
  • PSD files
  • Fonts

Those are just a few examples and there are many other possibilities. Designing stock resources is an ideal option because you can work on these projects whenever you have spare time, and you can stop working on them when you get busy with client work. It’s one of the best ways for designers to earn passive income.

4. Design Templates for Sale

Making money by selling website templates, WordPress themes, or Shopify themes is a realistic possibility. These resources will take more time and effort to create than stock graphics, but the income potential is also higher. Top-selling templates or themes can earn huge amounts of money for the designer/developer.

If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to decide if you want this to be a side project or a major part of your business. Selling at a marketplace like ThemeForest is a good option if it’s just a side project since you won’t have to dedicate a lot of time to building your own audience. But if you want it to become a full-time business, selling at your own website is a better option.

5. Follow Up with Past Clients

If you’re in a situation where you currently don’t have any work, why not get in touch with your past clients to see if there’s anything that you can do for them? This can be an easy way to pick up a new project, as many of your clients will need some tweaks on their website, business card design, help with marketing, or any number of other things you can offer. Even if the client doesn’t have any immediate needs, it helps to stay in touch with them, and when they do have a need for your services you’ll be on their mind.

You could also ask you past clients for referrals or set up a referral program to give them extra incentive.

6. Be Proactive with Networking

Having a solid professional network is essential to success as a web designer, especially for freelancers. Why not use some of your available time to reach out to other designers, developers, marketers, or anyone else that you would like to network with?

Your networking efforts could include:

  • Face-to-face networking in your local area
  • Attending conferences or seminars
  • Reaching out to people by email
  • Connecting on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks
  • Leaving blog comments

Even though networking is really important, it often takes a back seat due to our busy schedules. Building your network is an ideal use of your time when you’re not busy with other projects.

See 5 Principles of Effective Networking for more tips.

7. Work on Your Portfolio Site

Your design portfolio website is a critical asset to your business, but it probably doesn’t get much of your attention when you’re busy. When was the last time you updated your portfolio site?

You can take this time to add new items to the portfolio, post new testimonials, make tweaks to the design, or completely re-design the site.

Most potential clients will judge a designer by the quality of their portfolio website. If you want to increase the number of clients who come to you when they want to hire a designer, improving your portfolio site is one of the most effective things you can do.

Don’t have a portfolio site yet? Setting up your site is easy. Read our guide How to Create a Portfolio Website that will walk you through the simple process.

8. Setup a Portfolio on Behance, DeviantArt, etc.

In addition to showcasing your work on your own portfolio site, there are a number of community-oriented sites that allow you to showcase your creations. Some of the popular options include Behance, DeviantArt, Carbonmade, and Coroflot. Find a bigger list of options in 17 Websites to Showcase Your Designs.

Uploading your worth to these sites doesn’t replace the need to have your own portfolio site. You can have your own site and also create a portfolio at sites like these to reach a larger audience and build your network.

9. Create Freebies

Creating resources to give away for free can work in tandem with some of the other options we’ve already covered. If you have a blog, you could design freebies to give away at your blog. If you sell digital products like stock graphics or templates, you could give away some free products to get people in the door.

Freebies are always appreciated, and the highest quality freebies are also great for attracting links and social media shares. There are any number of types of freebies you could work on, including textures, Photoshop brushes, vectors, icons, design elements, etc.

Creating a releasing free resources can be the perfect way to grow your profile within the industry.

10. Read a Book

Most of us would love to be able to dedicate more time for learning and improving in certain areas. There are tons of quality books that designers and developers could benefit from reading. It’s difficult to find the time to read when you have a lot going on, so why not use your downtime to pick up some new skills by reading a book. If you’re not sure what you want to read, we’ve got several collections that might help:

11. Follow Tutorials

There are thousands of quality tutorials available online that can help you to learn new skills or techniques. It could be a Photoshop tutorial, Illustrator tutorial, coding tutorial, or anything else that can help you to learn something that will help in your work. This is also something that tends to be neglected when you’re busy, so the time between projects is perfect for going through tutorials.

Here are some collections to keep you busy:

12. Learn About Photography

Photography can be an ideal creative activity for designers. Many designers enjoy photography, and learning more about it can even help in your design work. Not to mention that having some quality photos can be useful for your design work as well.

Many designers like to photograph textures that they’ll use in their work. You may want our article on how to photograph textures or just simply get out and practice.

13. Volunteer for a Non-Profit Organization

If you want to put your skills to work for a good cause while you don’t have other projects to work on, consider volunteering your services to non-profit organizations.

I recommend that you work with an organization you’re personally involved with or that a family member or friend is involved with.

There are certainly some situations where an organization that is getting free work won’t put as much emphasis on the process as they would if they were paying for it, which can make things difficult for you. This can be made a little easier if it is an organization that you’re involved with, and it also helps if you’re passionate about the organization and its work.

14. Get Outside

Sometimes it’s nice to simply get out of the office and away from the computer. Getting outside and being around nature can provide inspiration. You also may feel refreshed and ready to go when a new project comes along. Depending on how much time you have available, you may even want to travel and experience new places.

15. Enjoy the Time Off

Not everything that you can do with your downtime needs to focus directly on work. Sometimes it is best to simply appreciate the slow times by relaxing. When new projects come along, you’ll certainly need to focus and dedicate yourself to the work. A short time off can help to recharge so you’ll come back with more energy and enthusiasm about your work.

Next time you find yourself without work and between clients, turn to any of the ideas covered here. You’ll be able to use your time wisely and work to grow your business even when you don’t have clients.

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