How to avoid the feast or famine cycle

One month you’re scrambling to get work done, the next you’re furiously refreshing your inbox to see if any new leads came in. In the first half of the year, you’re living large, while in the last half, you’re wondering how long you can make a box of spaghetti noodles last. Ah, the infamous feast or famine cycle. If you’re a veteran freelancer, you’ve experienced it. If you’re a new freelancer, you’ve heard the horror stories. Not to worry — you don’t have to fall into the trap. Here are some smart ways to keep the cash flowing year-round.

Keep marketing when you’re busy

When you’re buried in client work (every freelancer’s dream, right?) you may be tempted to put your marketing efforts on hold until things settle down. But carving out the time to market between client work is critical to staying out of the feast or famine cycle. Those leads you connect with today may be paying your rent six months from now. Even if you can’t take on more client work at the moment, putting feelers out will help you create a steady influx of clients.

Create a client wait list

A good practice for freelancers is to connect with potential clients for their needs three or more months away. Most businesses have a general idea of what they’ll need in the long-term, so you can tell them, “I don’t have availability right now, but I can start work on this project at the end of next month.”  If they can agree to that, ask for a deposit to secure their spot. Not only does this give you the security of future income but it also makes you look more professional. After all, if you’re this booked up, you must be great at what you do.

Go after retainers, not individual projects

When you’re scraping by on small project after small project, the feast or famine cycle can feel imminent. Instead, talk to your clients about putting you on retainer. This means they pay a monthly fee for a predetermined number of months for you to deliver a set amount of work each month ( just be sure to clearly outline the scope of work in a contract). You can bill for their retainer at the beginning of each month. The added benefit, aside from guaranteed income, is that you can budget your living expenses a lot more easily now that you know when you’re getting paid.

Ask for referrals

You know that one client who just adored everything you did for them? Ask them to refer you to other people who might need your services. In fact, go ahead and send all of your clients a handful of business cards and ask them to pass your information along. This can be a highly effective way of creating a steady stream of leads to fill up your client roster. The more people that know about your services, the more potential business you have. And this is a form of marketing that requires little to no effort from you. Consider it passive marketing.

Build your savings account

You can do everything possible to avoid falling into famine mode and, still, the industry can be unpredictable. It’s wise as a freelancer or small business owner to have a savings account to carry you through times like these. Instead of going all out when you’re making good money, tuck some away. It will come in handy when business is slow and you’ve got bills to pay. A good rule of thumb is to save 3 to 6 months worth of living expenses. This may be challenging but it’s a good goal and one that can make slow months a lot easier.

Have faith

When you go from famine to feast, you feel like you’re on top of the world. But when the reverse happens? It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. Don’t stress too much. Just put your head down, market yourself like crazy, and have faith in your own ability to turn it around and create the freelance income you deserve.

Even the savviest freelancer goes through feast or famine cycles sometimes. It happens. Being proactive and prepared will go a long way in helping to break the cycle or, at the very least, soften the blow. Regardless, you’ll learn important business lessons during each time so don’t give up. That box of spaghetti noodles won’t last forever and neither will your famine.

Share your knowledge with your fellow members — how have you overcome times of famine?