Five types of regular freelance work and how to get them

From anchor clients to self-generated revenue, stabilise your income with ongoing work

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you were going to make enough money in your freelance business this month to cover all your bills? How about if you knew you were set for the next six months, or even the whole year? 

Finding regular work as a freelancer gives you peace of mind and breaks the feast-and-famine cycle of freelancing. Regular work allows you to actually get on with your job and not have to worry about chasing small projects. Sounds great, right? So how do you actually get regular freelance work? 

Here are five different types of regular freelance work and strategies for getting them. 

1. Anchor clients

An anchor client makes up the bulk of your annual income. You work with them on a regular basis for a set fee.

An ideal anchor client situation is one that earns you enough to cover all your outgoings, essentially giving you all the best parts of a “real” job, minus the office politics and daily commute. Unsurprisingly, these are golden goose gigs that take some time and strategy to land. 

Not every client can be an anchor client because they need to be a good match for you and your working style. You have to work with these people on a regular basis so it’s no good landing an anchor client from hell. You want someone who will give you interesting work, pay you well and on time and generally be a joy to work with. 

An example of an anchor client is a company that pays you a fixed fee each month to write a set number of blog posts. Another example is ongoing marketing or design support for a company. 

How to get an anchor client 

The reality is that most freelancers get their anchor clients by turning an existing client into an anchor. 

This means that the most important step in landing an anchor client is to think strategically about your overall client base. You want to shift your mindset from only seeing short-term opportunities and one-off pieces of work, to developing client relationships that you can turn into long-term projects.

Start by seeing each new client that you take on as a potential anchor client and sow the seeds from the beginning. Next time you take on a new client, tell them that you’re looking for longer-term clients and ask them if they’re open to working in that way. 

Most likely they will say that they want to see how the initial project goes, which is to be expected. While you’re working on that project, pay attention to any pain points you can identify. When you revisit the conversation of ongoing work, you’ll have a good sense of what kind of freelancer they need and you can position yourself accordingly. 

Then, re-introduce the conversation at the end of a project by simply asking: “This project was really fun to work on and I really enjoyed collaborating with you, is there scope to talk about working together on a long-term project?”

2. Retainers 

A retainer is an upfront fee a client pays to you to reserve an allocated amount of time with you, usually each month.

Retainers are brilliant because they not only bring in regular cash, they’re also paid upfront. Essentially, the client is booking your time in advance in case they might need it. In practice, this might look like a client booking in an hour a week for you to keep their editorial schedule up-to-date, or they might book you for technical support.  

Selling a retainer might feel like Advanced Freelancing 4.0 but don’t let that put you off trying. More clients than you might think are open to this kind of arrangement. I just hired a freelance bookkeeper on a retainer basis; I’m only a business-of-one and even I have a need for repeating services. 

How to get a retainer 

The secret to selling a retainer is not to sell your time (even though that is what you’re effectively doing), but rather your value

You do this by turning something your client asks for on a regular basis into a product and offering it to them as a solution. If you’re struggling to think what this might be, start with the scope-creep – the bits of work you aren’t paid to do but your client keeps asking you for.

For example, if you write blogposts for a client and they often ask you for additional content ideas, offer them a service where once a week they can call you for an hour to brainstorm editorial ideas. 

Here’s an email template you can use to introduce this conversation:

Dear Regular Client,

I loved working on the Project together. I wanted to let you know that some time has freed up in my schedule and wanted to discuss the possibility of working together on a more regular basis.

One of the regular services I offer clients which I think you’d find super useful is editorial planning. I can be available for a weekly call where I come with content suggestions for you and we brainstorm ideas together.   

I’d be happy to jump on a call and chat about working together on this as I’d love to be able to take that load off your shoulders.

Thank you! 

3. Long-term projects

Long-term projects are… long-term projects. I’ve distinguished them from anchor clients because an anchor client typically makes up the cornerstone of your income. While you might work with an anchor client on a yearly (or even indefinite) basis, a long-term project is usually between 3 and 6 months long. 

That’s not to say long-term projects aren’t as valuable as anchor clients. Knowing that you have work lined up for the next three months is not to be sniffed at in this current climate. In fact, given everything that’s happening right now, it’s risky to put too many eggs into one basket right now. If you only have one major client on your roster, as brilliant as that anchor client might be, if you lose them then you lose all your work. Having a combination of longer-term projects, while more work to manage, spreads out the risk. 

A long-term project might look like a series of content. For example, a series of blog posts, videos or podcasts. Longer form content, like white papers and reports, are also great long-term projects to work on. 

How to get a long-term project

The approach for landing anchor clients and long-term projects is very similar. It’s an ongoing process that you develop over the course of working together on a few initial projects.

In both cases, it’s important to identify clients who are going to be a good fit for ongoing work. As a freelancer, the sweet spot is finding a client who has enough need for regular work but doesn’t want to hire someone full-time. Usually, this means finding a small to medium-sized company who you can act as a flexible support service for. For example, a small tech company might want a freelance designer to produce regular marketing materials for them. Or a startup might need a freelance writer to write their weekly blog posts. 

When looking for long-term projects, start by approaching clients you’ve worked with before in the past. Here’s an email template you can use to approach them:

Dear Previous Client,

I loved working on that Project A While Back. I wanted to let you know that I currently have some availability in my schedule and I’d love to discuss the possibility of future work.

I’m available for longer-term projects at the moment, including regular blogpost writing and proofreading services.

I’d be happy to jump on a call and chat about working together again.

Thank you! 

4. Self-generated income 

While it does take time to build this source of revenue, in the long-run self-generated income can be regular and reliable. Newsletters, membership sites, advertising revenue from podcasts or YouTube videos, coaching and selling physical products (like prints) are all examples of self-generated income.

Most self-generated income streams are scalable, which means you can increase the number of sales while keeping your costs constant. For example, if you’re a freelance writer who usually sells articles or blogposts to a publication, you can only sell one article at a time. If you write a newsletter, you write one post at a time but can sell multiple subscriptions to it.  

Self-generated income works best when you have enough time to develop it as a revenue stream. If you already have an anchor client or another type of regular work then you’ll be in a strong position to build this additional revenue stream. 

How to make self-generated income

The blessing and the curse of self-generated income is that if you want to do it, you just have to start. Unlike the other types of regular work listed here, self-generated income isn’t reliant on an external client. You don’t have to convince a client before you do the work. That’s not to say there’s no selling involved, it’s just direct to the customers. 

As I mentioned, it’s important to allow enough time to develop this revenue source as it definitely will not start making you money immediately. However, if you put in the time to build it, it will pay off in the long-run. 

If you’re interested in launching a subscription-based newsletter, check out the recording of a members-only webinar I did on this. Also, stay tuned for a future webinar on how to start a coaching business as I’ve had lots of requests for that. 

5. Part-time contracts

A way of working that many freelancers often overlook is mixing temporary employment with their freelance work. There are different ways to incorporate part-time work into your freelance schedule. You can either do it alongside your freelance projects for a couple of days a week, or you can do it cyclically on a full-time contract basis.  

If you’re a freelancer who likes to move around, working in cycles would allow you to take longer breaks into them. For example, you might do a six-month contract at a well-paying company in London and then take a couple of months off to stay in a remote cabin while you work on a passion project. With this type of work, the aim is to bring in a chunk of revenue so you can cover your time when you have less work on. 

Money isn’t the only reason to consider part-time or shift work. If you like being part of a team or enjoy the buzz of an office environment, this would be a great option for you.

How to get a part-time contract

While most freelancing work, especially the regular kind, isn’t advertised anywhere, part-time work very much is. Jobs boards can be goldmines for these sorts of opportunities. 

Use the big jobs sites, like Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn and filter by temporary contracts, part-time work and job shares. Also look on industry-specific sites, as well as freelance work listings such as: 

💡KEY TAKEAWAYS

Shift to a business mindset: Get off the carousel of one-off gigs and irregular work by seeing each new client as an opportunity to develop an ongoing working relationship

Understand your clients: Pay attention to what your clients really need so you can offer that to them as a service 

Get creative in what you offer: There are no rules to how you work, think outside of the box and your clients will love you for it 

More content in the Regular Work series: 

💰 Why you need regular work as a freelancer 
3️⃣ Three steps for turning existing clients into regular work
📹 Video Q&A with journalist, podcaster and coach Wudan Yan about regular work