The Freelance Client Mix

What I’m listening to: Out Loud (Live) by Dispatch

I forget where in conversation I was the other day, but the topic of clients came up. Hey, I’m a freelance writer — the topic will always come up. That’s a promise to you writers out there and a warning to those who aren’t.

But I was repeating what I’d mentioned on my recent post, 19 Mistakes That Hurt Your Freelance Business where I’d suggested that we writers have at least three regular clients in the mix (point #10 if you’re searching for it). That’s to keep you out of panic mode, as I like to call it — the “Oh shit!” reaction you get when one or more of  your clients pull the plug.

In fact, I was catching up on my Twitter feeds when I saw someone mention that panic in this way: “When your ‘big’ client starts taking longer to answer emails, you start stocking up on beans and rice.”

Yep. Been there. You too, I’d bet.

Mine was a case of two clients (I had three at the time) pulling the plug within a week of each other. The third client? It was a small-projects client. I could expect about $750 a month.


That might have been 2007 or 2008. It’s not happened since (yet and amen).

That’s because I went into survival mode. I don’t mean just until I replaced those two clients. I mean full-on, 24/7/365 survival mode. From that point on, I’ve planned for the worst.

It may sound extreme, but when you’re searching sofa cushions for gas money, you’re going to see the sense in it.

So let’s plan our client mix based on assuming nothing is permanent (nothing is).

Regular work. Here’s where I suggest at least three clients who funnel work to you every month. By that I mean the one-and-done projects aren’t going to work here. Think about it: how much marketing do you have to do to get a regular client? Funny thing is you probably have to do the same amount of marketing for a one-and-done, and if you’re not getting long-term benefit, it’s time wasted. Aim higher up your usual food chain (in other words, charge more and stop passively applying for gigs on job boards) and you’ll find clients who need regular writing help.

Occasional work. Sometimes the regular clients have way too much going on to send work your way. But hey, you still have to eat.  So where’s the money coming from? Those clients who need you two or three times a year for editing or proofing jobs, that’s where. Right now, I have three clients who fit that description. Know when they’re going to need you — it’s often the same time of year. That way, you can search for some of the one-and-done work to fill up the other months.

Filler work. Okay, so I can’t convince you to stop trolling job boards. Choose them wisely. Opt for ones like LinkedIn ProFinder, which allows clients to select you to receive their job posting. That puts you among a much, much smaller pool of candidates. I’ve already gotten one job this way.

Other filler work — blogs, one-and-done projects, resumes — can help you keep some income streaming in should things get tight later on. I’ve even been known to take articles or gigs that pay less than my minimum acceptable rate because the work is easy and it pays quickly. Only you know what’s acceptable to you.

Magazine work. This doesn’t belong under filler work because it’s not. Magazine work is some of my favorite writing, and it’s a way to enhance both your earnings and your name recognition. It doesn’t hurt to make a target of how many articles you want to write, or even how many magazines you’d like to be working with by the end of the year. You can supplement your income very nicely with just five or six articles a year, depending on what publications you work with.

Again, choose wisely. A magazine that pays you 75 cents and up per word is a much better gig than the one that pays 25 cents per word and gives you two articles a month. Too much work, not enough money. Also, beware the magazine paying more and wasting your time with multiple revisions (and shifting scope), in which case you’re losing money. Freelance survival tip: use your head and trust your gut. Click To Tweet

Writers, what does your client mix look like?

What have you found to be the best formula for you?

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  • Anne Wayman March 10, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Makes all the sense in the world. I’m one of those who still successfully uses some job boards… I’ve stumbled into good paying gigs I never would have found any other way pretty regularly. But I understand why others don’t like them. I never spend more than 20 minutes – well, the app may take longer, but the search is pretty quick.

    Multiple clients are a requirement imo.

    • lwidmer March 10, 2017 at 10:45 am

      I think 20 minutes is a good limit, Anne. I don’t know about you, but I would get so depressed if I spent any longer on them. And you’re right — with a lot of digging, you can unearth the occasional gem. It’s just that a lot of writers use these as their only source of work, as you well know.