When I first started out as a freelancer, I never really considered the ideal number of clients for my workload. In fact, for most new freelancers, it’s a case of saying “yes please” to any and all clients. But if you don’t want to be under-earning or over-working, considering your ideal basket of clients is a great idea, and it’s a question that several fellow freelancers have posed to me recently.
Take on lots of clients and you might have a constant income stream but a constant headache too, and a poor work-life balance. Take on too few clients and you might have a constant income stream but of very low value, not enough to pay the bills. So, as a freelancer, how many clients should you have to maintain a your income stream? Like most things freelance-related, there’s no simple answer to this question, but let’s weigh it up.
Type of freelance work
Primarily, it depends on the particular freelance area and type of work you do, as this will dictate your type of clients and how long each project takes and lasts. For example:
- If you’re a virtual assistant, you might have a few clients who want you for the long term and offer a similar amount of work (and therefore payment) each week.
- You might be a web developer who has medium-term projects, but just one client at a time paying big bucks.
- You could be a graphic designer who has short-term projects with 10 or 15 different clients at any one time.
- As a book editor, I tend to have around three clients at once, and each project lasts between one and six months.
More clients = more problems?
Naturally, it might seem like a good idea to mitigate the risk of losing clients by having more clients, rather than less. However, the more clients you have, the more time you’re likely to spend on unbilled things, such as pitching, communication, and invoicing—compared to just a few clients. That said, more clients means more feedback, which can be a great thing if you’re trying to establish your reputation as a freelancer.
Less clients = less earnings?
You might also naturally assume that less freelance clients mean less income, but it doesn’t necessarily work like that. A few long-term, well-paying clients can be better than a handful of short-term low-paying ones. It can be easier to have just a few clients, especially long-term ones, because you can build up a relationship with them and become familiar with the work. However, not all freelance work lends itself to this type of working relationship.
Find the balance
Unsurprisingly, finding the right amount of clients is a careful balancing act and one that only you personally can figure out (am I starting to sound like a stuck record yet?). For me, that’s a few big clients on mid-term projects, plus a handful of small, regular, ongoing clients. Sometimes, finding the balance is less about how many clients you have—and more about how much each client is paying and how much of your time they take up.
Switching it up
If you don’t feel that your current basket of clients is working out for you, then try switching. However, it’s often better to take a gradual approach. For example, if you have mostly big clients now and want to switch to smaller ones, try switching one big client first to several smaller ones before taking the plunge. This approach enables you to figure out which balance of projects works for you—without leaving gaps in your income.
What amount of clients works for you currently? Stay tuned for more freelance insights and tips every week on A Freelance Life…