You'll probably begin having doubts at some point during your first year of freelancing, no matter how well-organized you are. You might have 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?
It's important to maintain multiple clients so you're not left scrambling when one disappears, but having too many small clients can leave you cash-poor and exhausted. You need an anchor client to make it as a freelancer in the long-term.
How to Get an Anchor Client?
An anchor client is the cornerstone of your freelance business portfolio. It's an ongoing gig or a long-term contract that more or less promises a certain amount of money each month and a relatively consistent time commitment.
Ideally, your anchor client will pay you enough that you can pay almost all your bills with just this one gig—and they always pay you on time.
An anchor client basically provides you with most of the benefits of a "real job," like semi-regular infusions of cash and some structure. But they don't require that you show up every day and sit through interminable meetings.
Develop One of Your Smaller Clients
Reliability is the single best quality you can cultivate as a freelancer. You'll get more work when your clients have it to offer if you always do what you say you're going to do it when you say you're going to do it.
Provide a Cheaper Alternative
You might hear about job openings at companies as you develop relationships with your smaller clients. Keep an eye out and an ear open for gigs that sound like something you could do on a contract basis...then throw your hat into the ring.
Most employers are delighted to hire a contractor instead of a full-time employee. It's cheaper because they don't have to pay benefits or payroll taxes. Plus, they won't have to deal with a layoff or termination should they no longer require your services.
Go Back to Your Network
You most likely have a built-in network for contract work if you transitioned to freelancing after spending several years as an employee. Keep your old bosses and colleagues in the loop and make sure they know you're always looking for work. Connect with them on LinkedIn and other social networks. 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 you might be the solution to their problems if these people have more work than they can handle. There's nothing wrong with being prepared to make a case for yourself should the opportunity arise.
Get a Part-Time Job
Sometimes the best way to make a go of it as a freelancer is not to freelance, at least not 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. Employers are often delighted to consider hiring on a part-time basis even if they didn't originally intend it because it's cheaper.
Even if 60% of jobs—full time or otherwise—come through networking, that still leaves 40%, so it can be worth it to apply blindly to online listings. You're looking for a few keywords in particular, such as "X hours per week" or "X-month contract" when you're hunting for that anchor gig.
The Bottom Line
- Make sure your clients know you're available. Be on the lookout for opportunities to expand your workload with your favorite companies.
- This is an ongoing process—don't rest on your laurels when you have a to-die-for anchor client nailed down. The company could go out of business or otherwise change course so it no longer needs your services. You don't want to have to scramble to replace them, so try to keep a few potentials waiting in the wings.