• Advice

5 tips for breaking the freelance feast or famine cycle

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

I recently experienced one of those lulls in freelancing that can be a bit scary to endure. The workload from one of my anchor clients began to trickle in–a marked change from the steady stream of work I'd been receiving from them for the last year. It was unsettling. Thankfully, I'd implemented several strategies to combat against getting myself entrenched in the dreaded freelancing famine.

Always be on the hunt

The best time to look for a job is when you already have one. As a freelancer, not being open to opportunity, or not actively pursuing job possibilities, can be a death knell for your career. Actively pursuing job opportunities, however, is not the same as continually applying for gigs you see advertised (although that's not always a bad idea).

I belong to many writing groups on Facebook and try to check in on those groups daily, scanning conversations, contributing when I can, and looking at any posted job opportunities. By doing this, I've actually discovered a couple of the marketing agencies I now contract work from; this is also how I nabbed one of my anchor clients.

Don't let yourself get too comfortable

To avoid being slammed by an utter drought, don't put yourself into a situation where you rely on a single client–or two–to provide the majority of your monthly income. If you suddenly stop receiving work from that client, you don’t want to be in a financial bind.

Try not to get too comfortable with your current client base and always be open to new opportunities, or at least be able to spot potential opportunities as they avail themselves. I learned this the hard way, early on in my freelance career. I had regular work coming to me through a marketing agency, and because I wasn't on the inside, I had no warning when that client abruptly ended their contract. I was left in a vulnerable position, but the experience taught me one of my greatest lessons.

Keep feeding the pipeline

I take time each week to explore opportunities that may result in additional work. This can include anything from applying for job opportunities I come across in my networks, to refreshing my website portfolio, in addition to portfolios with creative agencies I belong to online. Nine times out of ten, I don't have the capacity to take on more work when I see a job opportunity that looks like a good fit, but I take the time to apply anyway; even if I don't get the job, I've expanded my network, and those editors or clients will often keep my information on file for another time.

Speaking of editors, LinkedIn is a powerful tool that is oft overlooked. All of the editors I've worked with, pitched, or queried are in my email contacts, and when LinkedIn pulls their email and suggests that I connect with them on the platform, I do. Doing this has yielded work for me, as it put me back on an editor's radar.

Don't be afraid to apply for job opportunities or reach out to contacts that may come your way, they just might pay off down the road.

Diversify your income streams

Diversify your income streams by having multiple outlets for opportunities. For example, the handful of anchor clients I have are offset by the fact that I also have portfolios with at least five different creative marketing agencies, each of whom pull from their freelancer pool to work for their clients. I never know when I'll be contacted for a project, but I’ve created additional funnels for paying work.

Networking comes in handy here as well. I recently talked about this in an interview and it rings true for many–always try to pay it forward. If I'm approached for work that's not necessarily a good fit for me, and I often am, I try to suggest other freelancers I know who would be a good fit. When you're regularly reaching out to other freelancers this way, you'll be pleasantly surprised to see how often job contacts begin to be referred your way. Pay it forward and you'll be rewarded.

Use down time to bring in more business

This goes without saying, but I'll say it for the record: if you do find yourself in a position where your workflow has lightened, use your down time to work towards generating more business. You'll be hitting freelance job boards hard, but also take that time to refresh your website and portfolios, guest post somewhere, or publish articles in your industry. Whatever you do, do something other than panic.

Lauren B. Stevens is a freelance writer, crafting content for businesses by day and creative nonfiction at night. With bylines across the internet, Lauren’s creative writing has also appeared in six print anthologies. Lauren lives outside of Baltimore, and when she’s not reading and writing, she’s traveling and hiking with her husband and son.