5 Ways to Overcome the Freelance Feast or Famine Cycle

It happens to all of us on a regular cycle: business is booming and there’s barely enough time to sleep or spend time with your significant other. And then suddenly the phone stops ringing, and your inbox turns into a desert. Where’d all the clients go?

We go from a veritable feast of work to a belt-tightening famine. And we all have a theory of when our famine begins. It’s around the holidays and a month or two during the summer. Arrange the stars any way you like, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s absolutely possible to ensure that you have balanced work all year round. Here are five ways to overcome the freelance feast or famine cycle.

  1. Market Yourself…Always

  2. Just because business is great and you have so much work you have to turn clients away, doesn’t mean you should put your marketing efforts on hold. In fact, you’d do well to do the opposite. When business is booming it becomes imperative that you set time aside for your marketing efforts, and that you seriously protect that time. Based on conversations I’ve had with other freelancers, marketing is the first thing that stops when we get busy. I get it. I’ve done, and do, that same thing. But it’s a bad idea.

    If you can devote even an hour per week to your marketing (okay, 30 minutes?), you’ll be in far better shape than if you did nothing at all. Some marketing-y things you can do include: sending an e-newsletter, direct mail postcard campaign, attend networking events, make cold-calls, meet a prospect for coffee, social media outreach/thought leadership development, or a quick email to some of your best clients/prospects saying, “Hi, I hope you and your family are having a great summer!”

  3. Diversify Your Revenue Sources

  4. Okay, so your clients go into hibernation a few times per year. Then don’t rely on them for the bulk of your income during those months. What other sources of revenue can you develop in the short- and long-term that can help round out your monthly earnings during your typically leaner months? Do you have any passive income opportunities? Ideas include creating e-books; online, pre-developed training courses (check out Teachable); joining affiliate programs; lead workshops; pursue speaking/interview opportunities; and focus on getting projects through creative staffing agencies.

    Just because your clients aren’t working doesn’t mean you can’t. As a freelance professional, you create your own job, your own work. Develop a source of revenue in addition to your direct clients. Based on the suggestions I gave above, this means you’re going to have to up-level a little bit and create some original products/programs. Good for you!

  5. Network Like Your Job Depends On It (Because It Probably Does)

  6. Networking is a self-marketing strategy, and goes along with #1, but it’s important enough to deserve it’s own call-out. We’ve talked about the importance of networking a few times on this blog (here, here, and here), because we believe in it.

    Attending networking events with the intention of making new connections is a great way to continue to meet fresh faces, and expand your network of possible clients and partners. It also gets your name out there. I’m a firm believer that the energy you put out is returned to you in some way. Either from the person/place you expected it to come from, or from a completely different direction that you could never have foreseen. You have to give to get. You have to put yourself out there, introduce yourself to your community and be genuinely interested in them. It’ll all come back to you when you least expect it. You’ll see.

  7. Create a Customer/Prospect Nurturing Strategy

  8. It’s possible that your clients/prospects stop calling you because they’ve forgotten about you. How’s your follow-up? How often do you see or communicate with your clients and prospects? If your clients don’t live near you, you won’t be able to happen upon them in a coffee shop or at an event. You’ll have to work a little harder to stay in front of them.

    I’ve been re-reading The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman, and one of the examples of this he gives is of a freelance copywriter who reaches out to his network 8-12 times per year. Imagine! He intentionally contacts his clients and prospects 8-12 times per year! He does it in a variety of ways–direct mail, email, in-person, etc–and he’s busy all the time.

    I’ve been working on a nurturing strategy of my own that includes:

    • 6-10 yearly e-postcards
    • Maybe two yearly direct mail postcard campaigns
    • 3-4 networking events per month
    • As many coffee/lunch meetings as I can handle (ideally not more than three per week)

    I’ll report back on how it goes this year, and share my findings and details about every step.

    Can you commit to contacting your entire client and prospect base at least six times per year? Or at the very least, the most lucrative and promising of the bunch? That’s once every two months. You can totally do that.

  9. Continually Educate Yourself

  10. You’re not doing yourself or your clients any favors by stagnating. What you know has value. Consultants are in the business of sharing what they know, and can command enormous fees for it because they know their shit. Make time every week to keep yourself up to date on the topics that interest you, and that are of value to your clients/prospects. Topics like SEO, social media marketing/advertising, content marketing best practices, new industry technologies, or influential people and events. You have to stay current and relevant if you want to command higher fees, trust, and skills.

    Do you subscribe to any magazines? Do you regularly follow a blog or podcast? Have you taken any educational courses or trainings, or attended a conference that enhances your knowledge? Well, you should! Educate yourself regularly in whatever makes the most sense for you. Mike Russell listens to copywriter Ed Gandia’s podcast every morning, I read Inc. Magazine online and in print every week, Dylan Benito follows fantasy authors and tech innovators on Twitter. Whatever you’re into professionally (and personally), keep your education current and pass that knowledge on to your clients. It’ll pay you back in dividends. AND when business is slow, what else are you doing anyway?

These are the five ways I overcome the freelance feast or famine cycle, and some or all of these strategies could work for you too. What are some ways you keep your freelance pipeline full? Share your wisdom in the comments.

2 comments on “5 Ways to Overcome the Freelance Feast or Famine Cycle

  1. Mike on

    Delight your clients, then ask for their referral to connections with a specific title in a specific industry.
    Subscribe to Ed Gandia’s podcast “High-Income Business Writing.”

    Great topic, Amber!


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