How To Avoid the Feast-or-Famine Cycle

For many freelance professionals, the ebb and flow of projects is one of the most frustrating and nail-biting aspects of this line of work.

One day you have more work than you can handle. You’re grilling steaks and sipping top-notch California Cabernet.

The next day you’re questioning your worth as a freelance pro, wondering if anyone will ever award you another project. Back to grilled-cheese sandwiches and ice water.

But is this feast-or-famine cycle inevitable?

A number of books and blogs seem to treat this issue as an inevitable reality — something we must all just learn to live with. I couldn’t disagree more. Fact is, most of this volatility can be avoided. And no, you don’t have to be a seasoned pro to smooth out your revenue stream.

You just need to practice these 4 simple habits.

#1: Market Yourself Continually

Continual, smart and deliberate self-promotion activities are absolutely critical if you want a smoother revenue stream. Marketing yourself and your services (even when you have enough work) ensures that you always have potential clients knocking on your door.

The trouble is, we sometimes get too busy to market our businesses like we should. Or maybe we just hate to “sell.” So we wait until the well dries up before revving up the marketing machine again.

Big mistake. Uneven marketing efforts only serve to perpetuate the ebb and flow of business. That’s because most marketing activities take time to produce results. So if you wait until your project pipeline dries up, you’ll have to wait a few weeks more to start seeing results.

By that time, you may very well have other projects on your plate. That will force you to turn down new clients and profitable projects. And clients who have to go elsewhere may not have anything for you a few weeks later…when your well dries up again.

#2: Strive to Land 1 or 2 Big Clients

While promoting your business, make it a point to go after a handful of carefully selected large companies. The business from just 1 or 2 large clients can virtually offset all of your business volatility. That’s because larger companies tend to have more projects. And many big companies view freelancers as an essential resource. This is especially true during tough economic periods, when hiring freezes are more common.

Another benefit of having a couple of large, steady clients: The more work you do with a client, the more efficiently you will perform — and the more valuable you will become to that company.

Don’t think you have to land an IBM, Bank of America or Pfizer to make this work. The clients you land can be much smaller and less visible than those. But they need to be big enough that they’ll keep you busy for at least a few months.

#3: Keep an Accurate Project Schedule

Profitable freelancers keep accurate and detailed project schedules. Besides the obvious benefits, a good schedule can also help you fill in future dry spells.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that many of my projects were due by the first week of April. I didn’t have much scheduled after that. But I remembered that one of my clients had a couple of “back burner” projects in their pipeline — non-time-sensitive projects they wanted me to work on at some point.

So I called the client to let them know of my upcoming availability. They immediately asked me to move forward on those projects. And that took care of my potential April dry spell.

#4: Build Your Savings

I know it’s common sense, but nothing will ease your fears and doubts like money in the bank. It will allow you to sleep better at night. It will help you stay focused if and when you hit a dry period. And it will keep you from pursuing work that’s not right for you (but that you might otherwise accept if you were desperate).

How much should you stash away? Obviously, it depends on your financial situation and aversion to risk. However, 3 to 8 months of living expenses (not income, but total living expenses) may not be a bad idea. And in this unstable economic environment, I would err on the side of caution.

You don’t have to save that overnight. But why not make it a goal to get there in the next year or two?

I realize that war stories of business troughs and valleys make for great conversation. We all love a bit of drama from the battlefield. But no freelancer I know wants to continually work in a feast-or-famine environment.

So don’t buy the popular advice. You can probably avoid the constant roller-coaster ride if you consistently practice these 4 simple habits. What do you think?



About the author: Ed Gandia is a successful freelance copywriter and the publisher of the biweekly newsletter “The Profitable Freelancer.” To get a free copy of his report “7 Steps to Landing More (and Better-Paying!) Freelance Projects”, visit