Avoiding The Freelancer Feast & Famine Cycle

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Freelancing can be a lonely game; particularly when the chips are down. A lull in workload, a drop in enquiries or losing a client can have you scrambling for the exit door back to full-time employment. It’s part and parcel of a career as an independent consultant.

According to statistics from August 2018, there are 2 million freelancers in the UK. This figure is only rising too. Naturally with this comes an increase in competition. Welcome to the famine cycle. On the flip side, more and more companies are utilising freelance consultants to improve their business. Here comes the medieval feast.

For a whole host of reasons (stress, lifestyle impact etc) I try and maintain a steady level of freelance clients. I believe too much or too little is detrimental to your mindset so maintaining a steady flow will improve your business in the long run. 

Over the past 3 ½ years as a freelancer, I’ve implemented a number of strategies which have seen me break this cycle. Sure I still have times when I question myself but the below points have helped me stem the flow of negativity.

Cycle Your Clients:
Cycle Your Clients

This may be seen as a controversial point however from time to time I tend to freshen up and move away from one client and take on a new one. Particularly within the SEO/PPC industry, you can offer real value in the first 6-12 months. It’s my absolute favourite phase of any freelance job; getting the client ticking again.

I love the initial optimisation and growth strategy. It’s where I excel. I do however feel clients can become stagnant so I would always recommend freshening up clients. Freelancers are hesitant to move on from clients however I believe if you stay with the same batch of clients for a long period of time it’s not dissimilar to working full time.

New clients offer a fresh perspective, new challenges and personal growth you may get from existing. It also keeps you on your toes in offering real value.

Always be marketing:

Marketing Freelance Business

I’m always stunned by the level of freelancers who no longer market themselves. Whether that’s via Facebook Groups, Upwork or their own personal website. It’s common for freelancers to rest on their laurels once they have a steady stream of clients. This is the wrong approach.

I’m a huge fan of the analogy used by Andy at Liberate.life where he sees cash as water and their money reserves as the tank. I think this analogy works for freelancing and marketing too.

Think of water as potential clients, current clients & lost clients and the tank as your freelance business. The image below may help a little.

Water Tank Analogy

Marketing your business creates the water (potential clients) which flows into the tank of your freelance business. From time to time your tap will release water (clients) whether that’s due to a drop in workload from the clients, freshening your client list or any other reason.

In order to beat the famine cycle I always recommending replenishing the tank with fresh, potential opportunities. I still spend time every week marketing myself as a freelance consultant despite not having the capacity to take on any further work. Marketing consistently builds your brand for when you need it. Whether this is content writing (blogging), networking or even finding opportunities. Marketing is the heartbeat of any freelance business.

Become more than a freelancer:

Side Projects

I’ve alluded to this in the past via my articles however I run an online educational business as well as freelancing. Over the past three years freelancing I’ve been fortunate to see significant growth with the educational business that I only freelance 25% of the working month. 

This pivot has allowed me to successfully ride any quiet spells with my freelancing. It also enables me to pick and choose the clients who are aligned with my ethics and the areas of Digital Marketing I enjoy. Try to have an alternative revenue stream aside from client work. Whether that’s an online business or offline (Dog walking perhaps?) it always helps to have a revenue stream which is away from your day-to-day.

Have multiple (but not too many) clients:

Multiple Clients

I read recently about an incident where a client owed a freelancer £6,000 due to late payments. The company then got into financial trouble and as a result, the freelancer was panicking as they hadn’t been paid. The freelancer was working for the client 3 days a month and this was her primary revenue stream.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of client retainers; particularly smaller client retainers as I believe they can prevent these situations from happening.

Spread the risk and diversify your income stream with multiple small or moderately paying clients. Having 4-5 moderately paying is much less risky than 2 significant payers. Even now when I am freelancing just 25% of the month I tend to have multiple clients.

3 months of savings:

Freelance Savings

The issue with the famine side of freelancing is that many freelancers simply do not have any savings to get them through the rough times. As a result, they panic, move away from the work they enjoy and take on any type of work to pay the bills. This is incredibly admirable however having a base level of savings means you can resist the panic and work on finding the next client or project you may enjoy working with or on.

My baseline is 3 months of expenses saved. This means I never panic about the loss of a project as I know I have a safety net to fall back on. Although not directly linked to the cycle the subliminal effect of having this enables you to stick to the brief and ride the poor spell out.

Any tips of how you break the feast & famine cycle? I’d love to hear them. Let me know via Twitter or email and let’s continue the chat!

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