Work With What You’ve Got

Do you know that for a lot of people “freelance” = “anxiety”? Or did you already know that?

I know it firsthand.


Because that was me too.

The feast cycles are incredible. Contracts pour in, clients line up the projects for you, and the work is regular (even if the hours are long). The stress of a full workload is amped even higher if you feel you have to take everything that comes your way. It’s a unique kind of misery.

But it gets worse when the lineup falters and what feels like a never ending spiral begins. You can’t seem to land the next gig or (and this might be worse) you can’t afford to turn down the client that you KNOW is going to be a pain in the neck (or somewhere else).

At this point, some freelancers decide that they’re either

  1. stuck in this anxiety-loaded, caffeine-riddled, soul-sapping cycle forever so they simply slog on,
  2. needing to “invest” in their future, spending money they don’t have on unfocused marketing or extravagant expansion, or
  3. thinking with wistful longing for the stability of the cubicle life they left behind.

Not necessary.

How do I know?

Because we don’t have to work that way anymore.

I’ve touched on one starting point for breaking the feast or famine cycle on simple business budgeting, but there is also room to grow your business while you build that war chest.

The secret is to start with what you already have.

What do you have?

So glad you asked.

Past Clients

Assuming you parted on good terms, it’s always an option to touch base with past clients and see whether they need any more work done.

“Hey, I see you’ve just rolled out a new website. Looks great! How has that impacted the app we worked on last year? Have you considered a refresh to bring it up to speed with the new look? It’d be a great chance to add a couple new features while we’re at it.”

As any good freelancer knows, understanding a client’s pain points is crucial to establishing new contracts, and with past clients you should have the inside scoop.

But don’t think about just offering them more of the same, consider an upsell:

Current clients

Who are you working with now that might have potential for ongoing work?

I touched on two options above: support contracts and retainer agreements.

Have you stopped to think about what will happen when you tie the bow on your latest project and turn it over? Is their team already stretched thin? Are customers likely to break it?

“Hey, I know your teams working hard on the rollout – would you be interested in having me available to work through the first iteration or two just to make sure things mesh smoothly with your current system?”

Let me remind you

“It’s a lost opportunity if you don’t consider ways to take care of clients after a project is complete.”

(More about that here.)

The Freedom to Join Forces

What?! We’re freelancers! We are solo acts.

Got it. But the reality is that it might be an option for you to partner with an agency, or contract with another company, even as a short-term agreement.

It can let you give over the pressure of lead generation and marketing to focus on the billable work and building your war chest.

The Hive Mind

I’m not suggesting you join a cult or anything, but you’re doing some networking, right?

Meeting other freelancers, connecting through open source projects, getting to know some local business people because your kids are in the same gymnastics class? Anything?

There is potential when peers come together and share ideas. “Mastermind groups”, as they’re often called, can be hugely beneficial when people with unique connections and experiences come together.

It might take some time to find just the right fit but there really can be strength in numbers in helping you see over the edge of your rut to possibilities you might not have considered on your own.

Knowledge and experience

Do you have a blog? A podcast? A series of how-to articles? A collection of case studies?

How does this help steady the money flow?

You have information to package and share! Collect them into a book (or a whitepaper), offer a class, host a code hangout, … info products come in all shapes and sizes these days and one of them (or more) might fit you!

Start With What You’ve Got

The point to all of these ideas is to start with something you already have. Those assets can be the springboard to launch you forward as you shape the business you want, and will not poke a hole in the war chest as it grows either.

Success in breaking the feast or famine cycle is twofold: building the war chest (defense) and starting to grow with what you have on hand (offense). At this stage of your career, always be ready for the options that provide minimum cost, maximum benefit.