Freelancers — if you unexpectedly lost a client, would it crush you financially? Now's the time to increase your income sources, so you don't have to stress if one of your top clients disappears.
As a freelance writer, you already know the advantage of having multiple clients over a lone employer: If you get fired, you still have income opportunities and won’t be left high and dry. The Freelancing in America: 2016 study confirms the value of multiple income sources, finding that most freelancers say having a diverse portfolio is more stable than having one employer.
Or what if you have only two clients? And one of them is providing you with 75 percent of your income? And all of a sudden, they go out of business? That’s no good.
While adding to your client roster is important to help you increase your earnings and get better opportunities, there’s also a comforting aspect to diversifying your freelance portfolio. It means you can create regular income without having to scrounge for new clients if one takes off. Here’s how to get more frequent earnings you can rely on, without having to stress about what happens if a top client disappears.
Determine your ideal income source amount
You probably already have an annual income goal in mind, which is great to break down into monthly and weekly mini-goals to stay on track. Now you should ask yourself what your absolute base salary is in order to pay your bills on time and maintain life’s necessities. Whatever percentage difference that is can be used as a guide to determine the ideal percentage of what you wouldn’t miss in the short-term.
For example, say you have one client that provides with you with 20 percent of your income, but you could survive for a few months making half of what you’re currently making. Then, it’s OK to keep relying on that client for that income percentage — as long as you are adding in a good mix of other clients who can give you more work or help you with referrals when you need them.
Evaluate your current clients and figure out how losing each one would affect you and your savings. If the results would decimate you financially, it’s time to increase your income sources now before you unexpectedly lose one. In 2016, State of Digital reported that two different freelance surveys showed the average number of clients a full-time SEO freelancer has is at least nine. As a writer, this number varies wildly, depending on the types of writing projects you take on. If most of your time is spent on long-term projects like ghostwriting books with the occasional blog post here and there, maybe three clients at a time is your best bet.
If you’re a full-time content marketing writer, your workload breakdown might look like:
- Six articles a month for Agency 1
- Two weekly articles and one ebook a month for Business 1
- One blog post and one email newsletter a week for Business 2
- Unlimited pick-and-choose articles for Agency 2
Your income is likely a mix of projects at varying pay rates at varying regularity. Within a few months of freelancing, you’ll find a writing schedule you enjoy that includes an array of assignments that fit your work style. Aim to get consistent work from the clients you enjoy the most, at your best rate that accommodates for regular pay increases. As you learn what to expect from each client, you can aim to increase the work you do for other clients or look elsewhere for other income accordingly.
Never stop prospecting
You know you’ve hit your stride as a freelancer when you never have to cold call or send off hopeful emails for work, because the referrals are coming to you. The best type of full-time freelancing is when you get to choose only the projects you’re passionate about and say no to whatever your gut is telling you to.
To get there, you need to maintain a strong presence online and with professional contacts. You’ll have more opportunities to expand your client base that way, so you can keep refining the roster and work with those you truly enjoy. Keep these steps in mind as you work to diversify your income and avoid relying on just a few big clients.
The quicker you can diversify, the better. If you’re freelancing part-time and are looking to go full-time, reach out to professional and personal contacts to let them know your availability. Make a list of your ideal industries to write for, and contact marketing coordinators at a few businesses each day and explain your expertise. If you’re already full-time, make it a habit to keep going after your dream clients. Contact at least a few a month, because you never know who is hiring. If they’re not now, you can be at the forefront of applicants when they are.
Keep an open mind
While the joy of freelancing is having the freedom to turn down work, there are also unexpected benefits when you go out of your comfort zone and write for a client you never expected to. Look at opportunities for work, no matter how unsexy they may seem initially, as a way to expand your skill set. Even if you never write for the client again, you can form a powerful referral relationship that helps you get to better client fits.
Look for big things in small packages
Don’t turn a blind eye to smaller projects, either. Sometimes, clients will offer a meager one-time project to get a better idea of if you’ll be a good fit long-term, for better-paying and more intensive work. Especially if you’re starting out full-time, be open to accepting what comes your way with the intent of learning all you can and growing the relationship. You might end up getting more work through them or someone they refer you to.
Maintain your online portfolio and social networks
Businesses looking for writers want to see up-to-date samples and proof you are actively working. Add your new clips to your website or LinkedIn page, and check in regularly with mentors and other professional contacts. If you learn new skills, be sure to add them, too.
You might have a host of other money-making skills that aren’t being used in your current work. These could include teaching and presenting, marketing consulting, or using your writing chops in a different capacity than you are currently. For example, if you’ve written dozens of articles on content marketing for a variety of clients, you could turn what you know into a free webinar. Add the contact information of attendees to an email newsletter subscription. Include more free tips in your emails. Then you could write an ebook, which you can charge money for and promote to your subscribers. Creating another revenue source, whether it’s via an ebook, a webinar series or for speaker fees at conferences in your area, not only helps diversify your income, but it also makes you feel more fulfilled professionally — and, it could open even more doors down the line.
Successful freelancers are ones who hustle. What you achieve is up to you, but start by diversifying your client base so you can keep that steady income stream flowing. Then you can work to form the exact freelance business you want.
What are your tips for diversifying your client base? I’d love to hear them in the comments.