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Right now I have several more clients than I'd really like to have. They are mostly good clients overall, and I enjoy the work I do for them. However, work is never 100% steady with any of them; any given client might give me steady work for several weeks, and then not have anything for me to do for a few weeks after that. All of my contracts are hourly, no retainer, so if I don't have anything to do for anyone on a given day, I don't make any income that day.

Most of the time, things balance out. Even if I don't hear from a few of my clients in a given week, I'll have enough work to do for the remaining clients that I can get in a normal 40 hours for the week. Of course, things don't always work out so neatly. If everyone sends me work at once, I can barely keep up. Conversely, sometimes all of them seem to go on vacation on the same week and I'm left sitting on my hands.

I don't feel comfortable taking on any more clients because I'd be completely overloaded if everyone sent me work at once. I also don't want to start dismissing clients with whom I've had good long-term relationships just because there is some downtime. Nobody is ever willing to pay retainer fees, so that idea is out as well.

Are there any good strategies to mitigate downtime or loss of income without adding more and more clients?

  • Why do you HAVE to service all clients at the same time when they came? Can't you spread out work over a few weeks (indicate to clients you have a planning) and balance the load that way? Clients expect to be helped straight away only when you keep doing it, it's very normal to have to wait a week or similar. – user3244085 Sep 29 '17 at 5:31
  • @user3244085 Faster service means happier clients, and I'm usually able to complete work at approximately the same rate it's coming in. I do balance my work; I typically work on projects for several different clients each day so that nobody's work gets "put off" for weeks. – user45623 Sep 30 '17 at 2:35
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I heard only 2 types of stories: those that have 1 client but long-term (and are afraid what would happen if they lose him) and those that have too many clients but short-term.

I have been in both situations. First like you, and then started increasing rate to get just a few good clients. As a result, when I was on 1 client only, a client suddenly decided not to pursue project maintenance any more. It took me 6 months to reinstate all connections and to return to the position you are complaining about.

Now, as of them, I have established these rules:

  1. Keep all good clients no matter of their work load or rate

  2. Find good guys that I can trust and can outsource work when I cannot handle all. Clients are happy with work done, these guys earn, and I also earn finder fee. Win-win for everyone.

  3. Keep finding clients.

In time, you will have a good team of reliable guys that you can outsource work while you have too much work. It can also happen that you work 6-month full-time project for 1 client while outsource all other tasks.

But take care not to sacrifice on quality while outsourcing or your will lose clients. Never accept worse quality than you would deliver yourself.

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Here's my thoughts on this:

  1. You might want to impose a online scheduler for your client. They may all arrive at once because they don't know when and how busy you are. Knowing that in advance, they might ask for your services at the appropriate time.
  2. Now that you have too much customers, you might want to increase your prices.
  3. Maybe a clean-up is an option at this point.
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You can try to influence the timing of your client a little bit, to make your work-distribution more even.

Tools you have for this:

Timed offers: When a client requests a quote from you, always set a expiration date for that quote.

Prices: You can adjust your rate to make them buy, or postpone certain orders.

Communication: Either communicate with your clients openly to get them to work more closely with your on planning or use tricks like announcing "Last time-slots for December!" when in truth you have nothing in December ... you´ll have to see what works best.

In general, some time for idling / acquisitions should be expected and factored into your daily rate. Some part of why freelancers get paid more than fixed employees is for taking the risk of downtime on themselves.

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