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I'm a freelance software developer and I've been working full-time for a client for a while now. They are happy with me but can't offer a consistent amount of work.

The consequence is that I'm just sitting at the firm and doing nothing, waiting for work and searching to do something useful. I have already informed the owner that things are slow and he can give me work should he have some.

My agreement with the states that they are responsible to come up with work for me, yet this situation just keeps coming up and I really don't feel comfortable with this. For me, it's stressful to constantly look for something to make myself useful.

My work is important to the firm's core business but I'm at a point where I'm about to take a leave and not come back until they give me a well-defined assignment.

I know that a lot of freelancers just have several clients with smaller jobs, but if I just stop working for this client for a while, in reality, I'll have to take another full-time freelance job.

I would like to keep the client, but only show up when it's needed. I think this would solve most of our problems, except for the fact that I'm not compensated for hours that I'm not working for them (but do keep myself available for some %).

Is there a solution to this problem? How do others go about this? Is it realistic to ask them to pay me a monthly small fixed price (10% of full time) for the option that they can contact me + hours that I perform? Is this realistic?

Thank you,

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  • Is it only you that finds the situation untenable? Is the client happy to pay for you being available on-site, as it seems you tend to find tasks that are useful to them
    – morsor
    Jun 15 at 5:26
  • thanks for your comment @morsor. Yes, I find the situation untenable. Sure, I have found tasks that are usefull, but this is not something I see working on the long term. Jun 15 at 6:26
  • Another skill that can help you is to be able to talk to the marketing department and ask them what types of problems they are facing - and to be able to see opportunities where your technical skills can help them with those problems. I have found that sales and marketing often have a lot of problems they don't know how to solve, but I can.
    – David R
    Jun 18 at 14:15
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As I see it, there are three possible solutions to your problem, noting that the client is (evidently) perfectly happy to keep you on a permanent retainer waiting for the next assignment to drop.

  1. Use the time sensibly to improve your skill-base in a way that also improves your ability to service the client. If they're using you as a Java Developer, work on gaining new skills in Java development. If you're web developing, spend time learning the latest W3C standards, etc, etc. Tell the client what you plan to do with any downtime (and why). Based on your question, I'd expect them to be pretty happy that you're improving your skillset to help them as well as remaining in their vicinity.

  2. Ask your colleagues/boss to see if you can identify ongoing tasks that you could be doing. This could include creating documentation (always fun), improving a legacy codebase or making working models of potential improvements, etc. This would obviously have to be in conjunction with the client, but again is something that genuinely improves their company and something the client is likely to be pleased about.

  3. Ask them to become a daily paid consultant. Explain that you don't like downtime (even if you're being paid for it) and you'd be more comfortable with an arrangement that means that you're not compensated when you aren't working. They will likely panic a little over this and either offer you more tasks to do (which sounds like what you want) or suggest one of the options above.

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