In 15 years of freelancing, I’ve found there are few more stomach-dropping moments than finding out a trusted “anchor” client is jumping ship.
When an anchor client—clients that provide steady work and make up a good chunk of your freelance income—decides to slash budgets or shift direction, they sometimes leave even their most trustworthy freelancers high and dry.
In these cases, it’s easy to let panic set in. Finding another client to replace that lost income becomes paramount. And while hustling to find work is a familiar mode for most freelancers, navigating these waters can be challenging.
Here’s how I’ve handled the ups and downs of anchor client relationships, and some advice for others in a similar boat.
Advantages of anchor clients: Steady as she goes
Having several anchor clients provides elusive peace of mind for freelancers who are often worried about instability. Here are some advantages to having at least one anchor client:
Steady work and reliable revenue. With an established relationship, you have a sense of when to expect article assignments. Presumably, you also have a working relationship with an editor and know the drill in terms of turnaround times and revisions. There are also clear expectations for things like invoicing and payment terms.
Freedom to focus on side projects. Having anchor clients can actually free up your time. When you don’t have to constantly hustle for new work, you can focus on side projects like exploring a new niche, writing that novel, or taking (or teaching!) a class.
Plan for the future with clarity. Having predictable income can help you build savings or invest in retirement—something that’s a struggle for many freelancers.
Attract the attention of other clients. Often, potential clients like to see a writer who has an ongoing relationship with a brand or editor. This indicates the writer turns in assignments on time, writes good copy, and fact-checks their work.
The cons of anchor clients: When the boat rocks
There are also a few downsides to having an anchor client you rely on heavily—especially when you only have one or two. Below are a few possible issues freelancers face when they put too much stock in a single source of work:
They can drop you unexpectedly. If you’re not prepared financially, an event like losing an anchor client can be incredibly stressful. If you’re going to rely on anchor clients, diversification is key.
It’s easy to become complacent. While it’s nice not having to actively search for new work all the time, it’s also easy to get a little too relaxed with your lead-generation efforts. Soft-marketing your services—even when you’ve got anchor clients buoying your business—can ensure you have a life raft should any existing relationships go south.
You can get stuck in a low pay grade. If you set a low rate early in the relationship, it can be difficult to ask for more money later down the line. If you do try to raise your rates with a long-term client, be sure to do so slowly, with plenty of warning, and provide reasoning for the hike—and ideally, do it right after you’ve completed a successful assignment the client is thrilled about.
How to find anchor clients
If you’re currently dependent on just one or two anchor clients, it’s time to consider expanding your pool. It may require a little effort, but the benefits far outweigh the temporary time commitment.
Joining content creator communities is one way to find exposure to new work. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already familiar with Contently—which is a great resource for pitching brands and showcasing completed projects. If you’re already part of Contently’s contributor network, be sure to update your portfolio regularly to reflect your current bylines. (Psst: Learn more about the best practices for working with Contently, or how to get started with the platform as a freelancer here.)
There are also countless online groups for whatever niche or beat you want to focus on. Organizations like the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors often offer virtual pitch opportunities with editors. Signing up for newsletters that feature job opportunities, like Sonia Weiser’s newsletter and Study Hall Opportunities, can also provide valuable leads.
You can also go the “brute force” method of emailing editors directly with letters of interest. Your messages should include a short introduction, your writing specialty, two or three writing samples (and no more!), and the reasons you think you’d be a good fit for the outlet. If you’re looking to connect with an editor for the first time, try finding them on Twitter.
Lastly, never underestimate the power of networking, both on- and offline. Be sure you’re keeping your LinkedIn profile current. Use keywords in your bio, and indicate that you’re available for work. Attend both in-person and virtual networking events catered toward creatives. And finally, be sure to let your friends and family know you’re on the lookout for new clients. After all, if you don’t promote yourself, who will?
Word to the wise: Building an anchor client relationship takes time
So, how does a once-and-a-while client become an anchor? In my experience, it takes time and effort. While an anchor client relationship can begin with a single assignment, freelancers need to bring their A-game in order to ensure repeat work.
A good part of this comes down to communication. When I accept an assignment from a new client I’d like to make an anchor, I discuss the assignment via email or over the phone, request a style guide, and ask about relevant deadlines. If I’m unclear about any instructions, I immediately email my contact. I plan to submit copy before the deadline or first thing in the morning of the due date. I always make sure my copy is clean, sourced (if necessary), and that it complies with the word count.
Clients are always looking for freelancers who pay attention to their rules and produce quality work. Proving that you’re capable of doing those things from the very first assignment will put you on the right path. (And being pleasant when revisions occur is always a plus.) Ensuring you fit into categories like “reliable” and “generally easy to work with” is the best way to keep clients coming back time and time again—and to keep your freelance business afloat.
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Author: Rudri Patel