Why You Need an Anchor Client and How to Find One

Anchor client

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No matter how well-organized you are, at some point during your first year freelancing, you'll probably start to have doubts. For many, the cause will be simple: too many clients, not enough money, and not nearly enough free time. How is it possible to work 70 hours a week, and barely break even?

Before you blame your budgeting skills, consider: while it's important to maintain multiple clients, so that you're never left scrambling when one disappears, having too many small clients can leave you cash-poor and exhausted. To make it as a freelancer in the long-term, you need an anchor client.

What Is an Anchor Client?

An anchor client the cornerstone of your freelance-business portfolio. They're an ongoing gig or long-term contract that promises a certain amount of money and time commitment. Ideally, this client pays you enough so that you can make most of your bills with just this gig; most importantly, this client always pays you on time.

An anchor client basically provides you with most of the benefits of a "real job"—i.e., semi-regular infusions of cash and some structure—without requiring you to show up every day and sit through interminable meetings. (Also, of course, without actual benefits like retirement and health insurance, but nothing's perfect.)

How to Find an Anchor Client

Here's to find an anchor client and build your freelance business:

1. Develop one of your smaller clients.

The single best quality you can cultivate, as a freelancer, is reliability. If you're the person who always does what she says she's going to do, when she says she's going to do it, you're the person who'll get more work when your clients have it to offer. By doing your very best job with the clients you have, you'll put yourself first in line for work down the road.

You also have to tell your clients that you're available. Be on the lookout for opportunities to expand your workload with your favorite companies. The best anchor clients are the ones whose work really excites you.

2. Position yourself as a cheaper alternative to an employee.

As you develop relationships with your smaller clients and build trust, you may hear about job openings at the company. Look for gigs that sound like something you could do on a contract basis, and throw your hat into the ring.

The majority of employers would be delighted to hire a contractor instead of a full-time employee. It's cheaper, because they don't have to pay benefits, and they won't need to deal with a layoff or termination, should they no longer require your services.

3. Go back to your network and work those connections.

If you transitioned to freelancing after spending several years working for other people, you have a built-in network for contract work. Keep your old bosses and colleagues in the loop, and make sure they know you're always looking for new clients. Connect with them on LinkedIn and other social networks and carry business cards, in case you run into folks in real life who might need your services.

It takes some practice to do this without feeling like you're asking for a handout, but just remember: if they have more work than they can handle, you might be the solution to their problems. You can't make someone hire you who doesn't need you, so there's nothing wrong with being prepared to make a case for yourself, should the opportunity arise. When it does, look for those longer-commitment gigs in terms of hours per week or months on the job. Those are your potential anchor gigs.

4. Get a part-time job.

Sometimes, the best way to make a go of it as a freelancer is not to freelance full-time. Finding a part-time job that offers a regular paycheck might give you the security you need to take bigger risks with your business. Again, employers are often delighted to consider hiring on a part-time basis, whether or not they originally conceived of the position this way, because it's cheaper.

5. Apply blind, and know what you're looking for.

Even if 60 percent of jobs, full-time or otherwise, come through networking, 40 percent don't—so it's still worth it to apply blind to online listings. When you're hunting for that anchor gig that will make your financial and creative life just a little bit easier, you're looking for a few keywords in particular, e.g. "X hours per week," or "X-month contract."