Break the Freelancing Feast-or-Famine Cycle

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Feelancing is either a feast or a famine. Right?

Wrong. Although this is a common belief, it’s not that hard to break out of the feast-or-famine cycle.

You don’t need to have been in business for years to achieve a more reliable freelancing income stream. You just need to focus on three key components: cashflow, project sourcing, and retainer structures.

If the mention of those words made your brain switch off, then I have bad news for you: you may not be able to avoid the feast-and-famine freelancing hamster wheel. Establishing a reliable and ongoing income does take some conscious effort.

The good news? You don’t need to be a born business mogul to make it happen. All you need to do is be conscious of these goals, and ensure that your approach to building your business actually supports them.


At heart, the feast-or-famine cycle is a cashflow issue: if you had a more regular cashflow, or an ongoing cashflow, you’d always have enough money to live.

So the first step towards getting out of the rut is to get a handle on your spending, and your cashflow. Don’t worry: you don’t need to be an accountant to get this train on the rails (although if you struggle with this stuff, an hour spent with a good accountant would probably be invaluable).

In practice, getting a handle on your cashflow means:

  • knowing what you need to make each week and month to cover your expenses
  • doing everything you can to establish a solid savings buffer so that the end of a project doesn’t bankrupt you immediately
  • keeping an eye on spending and income, to make sure that things are running smoothly: you’re getting sufficient money in the door to cover your costs.

Schedule an hour in the next week to work out what your expenditures are, and what your income for this month looks like. Plan a savings strategy; also, schedule a regular time to review expenditures and pending and outstanding invoices. A half-hour a week might be all you need.

Project sourcing

Next, look at your approach to project sourcing. The feast-or-famine cycle usually arises when you land a project, then need to dedicate all your time to getting it finished by the deadline.

This is a scheduling issue. If you can build time into your weekly schedule for sourcing work, and agree to client deliverables on the basis that you don’t have 40 hours a week to dedicate to their projects, you’ll be better able to smooth out the workflow peaks and troughs.

You might drop this time into your schedule in a couple of blocks each week, or you might allow an hour or so out of each day to source new jobs. Setting this time aside is also a good reminder that you need to make sourcing work a priority. If you get to Thursday and find you’ve only used half of the weekly time allocation for finding new jobs, you’ll know you need to focus on that over the next couple of days.


It’s not exactly a newsflash that having clients on retainer is a good way to smooth out the feast-and-famine cycle. A retainer means you can count on a certain amount of work—and income—each week or month. It gives you some stability.

There are two ways you can go about finding retainer arrangements.

The first is to work out a retainer-based offering. To do this, you look at your skills and expertise, and find a way to commoditize them into a package that requires ongoing work to deliver growing value.

The second is to find a client, or clients, who need ongoing services, and put together a retainer package to suit them.

I’ve found the second approach more successful. It’s one thing to look at what you can offer, and conjure a package that reflects the best value you can deliver over time. It’s another to find a need first, and build a specific package from there. When I did this, I found that the package I put together was not one I’d have come up with on my own, for a researched “client type”. It was specifically targeted to the needs of one client, and sold on that basis.

You don’t need numerous clients to make retainers work—you can smooth out the feasts and famines with just one retainer client if you do it right.

How did you do it?

These are the three ways I’ve broken the feast-and-famine cycle of freelancing. But how did you do it? Share your advice with us in the comments.

Image by stock.xchng user JR3.

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

cashflowclientsfreelancesmall business
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