Like many freelancers, Leah Ingram, who’s been a self-employed writer for more than two decades and runs the blog Suddenly Frugal, aims for some semblance of professional consistency.
She views her work as a balance between so-called “anchor clients”—those that provide reliable, steady work—and unpredictable one-off projects. “When I look at my year, I say, ‘This amount is taken care of, and I just have to make up the difference [to hit my income goal for the year],” she said.
Regardless of your freelance ambition, anchor clients make maintaining cash flow much simpler. As a result, you can spend more time writing and less time hustling for that next project. Additionally, building a track record with major clients can often lead to other projects since they’re aware of your talents and, most importantly, know you personally.
“[As] anchor editors move to different magazines, they remember you,” said Janene Mascarella, a Long Island writer and editor who’s been freelancing for eleven years and writes regularly for USA Today publications and Parade. “Many times doors have opened for me because [editors] moved to different publications.”
Jennifer Gregory, a freelancer from North Carolina, said having two anchor clients each paying at least $15,000 last year helped her break six figures in 2015.“[Anchor clients] are the secret to making a high income,” she said. “When you have an anchor client, your hourly rate goes up because you’re not marketing [as much]. The work comes to you.”
However, Gregory also cautioned other freelancers not to be too dependent on one source of income. “Make sure you’re not putting too many eggs in one basket,” she said. “I’ve seen a number of friends in a tough position when an editor leaves or the budget changes. I aim for no more than twenty-five percent of my income to come from one client.”
With all that in mind, how should you go about landing an anchor client? Here’s a look at a few proven strategies.
Under promise, over deliver
With good timing and luck, one-off projects can turn into recurring work if you really wow a client, as Mascarella has found.
“When something needs to be switched out last minute or they want something specific in there that wasn’t included in the assignment details, my response is always ‘I’m on it, I’ve got it,'” she said. “A lot of times if you’re easy to work with, that trumps everything else.”
In addition to her various freelance writing assignments, Mascarella is a beauty director for Bella magazine, a gig that started with a single assignment five years ago before blossoming into something much bigger over time.
“Give them a little bit more than what they’re asking for,” she said. “That will always get another assignment.”
Once you’ve established a rapport, you can propose a more steady arrangement. Even if there’s no budget for a consistent project, you’ll be on the client’s radar for the future.
Don’t be afraid to search
Keep your eyes out for steady freelance gigs online that can add more stability to your career. Since 2011, I’ve been writing weekly money stories online for U.S. News, a job I didn’t know about until a colleague sent me a link on Journalism Jobs.
A few other places you should regularly monitor are LinkedIn, MediaBistro, and Ed2010’s Whisper Jobs.
Lots of people assume these job boards only offer low-quality jobs, and they’re not entirely mistaken (Craiglist jumps to mind as a particularly low-quality option). But there are often gems to be found among the rough. You never know when one of your favorite publications or a big corporate client may need a part-time or temporary writer or editor—and you may be just the person for the job.
Network, network, network
Michelle Seitzer, a freelancer based outside of Philadelphia, has been freelancing for eldercare website OurParents since November 2008. She landed the gig through a friend on Facebook while she was still working full-time and building her freelance business.
Now, in addition to freelancing full time, her role with OurParents has evolved from mostly blogging to social media management, including hosting a biweekly Twitter chat and publishing recaps of each chat. Her work for that website has led to other opportunities covering eldercare for big-name clients like AARP as well as coaching and consulting for eldercare professionals.
The takeaway is that even though online contacts can be fruitful, don’t discount the power of in-person networking. Last year, at Client Connections, an event where attendees meet with potential editors, agencies, and others, Gregory met someone from a large agency who gave her $15,000 of work from April through the end of 2015. She plans on doing more work for them this year.
“We shared the same passion for content marketing and we had some of the same clients,” she said. “I don’t think I would have landed the gig over email because the personality connection would not have happened.” They even hired her to fly to a meeting with a client, and Gregory believes meeting her in person built the trust and credibility that made that possible.
Just like in full-time work, knowing people can mean all the difference. But if you don’t have a connection, proving yourself through consistent work—and pushing for steady gigs—is really the only way to land consistent clients. It’s that simple.