the freelancer's feast or famine cycle

Crafted in Glasgow, Sunday, Nov 05, 2023, 18:39

How to escape the freelancing ‘feast or famine’ cycle, once and for all.

What is the freelancing ‘feast or famine’ cycle?

The ‘feast or famine’ cycle is a familiar workload pattern that many (if not most) freelancers find themselves in at some point in their business.

You do some self-marketing until you get ‘busy’ with work, you then do the work, before things peter out after you hand over the deliverables when the well runs dry again.

What causes the ‘feast or famine’ cycle?

Here’s how it normally pans out…

You market your services on your social platform of choice, you ‘put the word out there’ that you’re available for work and ask people to hit you up if there’s anything they need.

Your rather informal and somewhat ad hoc marketing efforts eventually pay off as you get an inbound enquiry about a piece of work that someone needs doing.

When you secure the work, it could take you a few days, weeks, or even months to complete – but the good news is that you now have some billable work to get your teeth into.

But then what happens?

Your ‘marketing’ stopped as soon as you landed your last job. The enquiries stopped arriving. People no longer have you on their radar when it comes to doing the thing you’re known for doing (e.g. writing great copy, optimising websites with SEO, or perhaps crafting beautiful logos for companies or products.

That hustle that you had going, the social posts, the ‘asking around’, and the networking that landed you the work now stops and your focus completely moves to the job in hand.

It’s no wonder that your work has dried up, nobody is hearing anything from you. You’re not ‘out there’ reminding people of what you can do for them and why they should buy from you.

Remember, in business, it’s OUR responsibility to make people aware of what we do, not theirs to find out.

The typical recurring phases of the freelancer:

  1. Marketing yourself (your business)
  2. Quoting for work
  3. Winning jobs
  4. Onboarding new clients
  5. Delivery (the ‘doing’)
  6. Handover the deliverable(s)
  7. Offboarding the client
  8. Restart the cycle… i.e. back to marketing yourself again

Regulating the highs and lows with email marketing

The feast or famine cycle, when graphed, looks very inconsistent and contains many highs and lows, just as you’d imagine. The image below shows a typical feast or famine cycle across a calendar year;

You can see from this graph that the income is very erratic, with peaks and troughs throughout the year. This reflects the inconsistent securing and delivery of work.

The ‘feast or famine’ cycle can be a very tiresome and demotivating one to be in, one that can seem almost impossible to break free from because all your efforts are either on finding work or delivering it.

Contrast that graph with one that is more consistent, a cycle of work that remains pretty even throughout the year, meaning that as one job ends, the next one can begin.

When you achieve a pattern akin to this graph, you’ll have a more predictable income arriving into your business bank account, on a much more consistent basis.

And who wouldn’t want this, right?

How to plan for, and achieve the ideal income flow

It all comes down to the planning and consistent execution of your marketing.

Specifically, your content and email marketing.



Content and email marketing?


And here’s how you can break free of the ‘feast or famine’ cycle once and for all!

It’s a two-phase approach.

Phase 1: Your ‘content marketing’; in other words, what you share with the world about what you know about, believe in, and what you can do for your ideal clients.

The objective of your content marketing is to get (the right) people’s attention and to convince them that there is value in joining your email subscriber list.

In short, it’s about ‘attention’ content.

Phase 2: Your ‘email marketing’; in other words, what you share with them via your email sequences and broadcasts over a while.

The objective of your email marketing is to nurture your relationships with your subscribers, adding more value with each email, and continuing this until they’re ready to buy from you (i.e. they convert from being interested ‘leads’ into paying clients).

Remember, just because you’re ready to sell your services today, that may not (and mostly doesn’t) coincide with people’s need or desire to buy from you – so just keep adding value meanwhile.

The key to a great content and email marketing system is that it runs 24/7, every day, no matter what else is going on in your life (including delivering work for clients).

With this ‘always on’ system, you’ll find that your episodic periods of work/no work will begin to smooth out, reaching a point where you can tell a prospect that you can certainly provide what they need and here is the next available start date you have for them.

Once you reach that point, your pipeline of enquiries and work begins to flow at a nice pace, one that matches your natural delivery cadence.

The unintended consequences of consistency – scarcity and desire.

There’s an old saying that states; “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.

The inference here is that someone who is already busy is a result of their competency and ability to deliver – otherwise, why would others be asking them to do work for them, right?

Well, in business, it’s kind of the same – the implication being if you want a beautiful and effective website built, pay the company that is already booked up for the next 3 months and has a ton of great reviews, rather than the company with zero reviews but all the time in the world to do it.

Scarcity breeds desire.

I admit it’s not always true – there are some great companies and people who aren’t busy, but in life (and business) the reality is that people choose busy people when they want something done.

It’s a bit like when walking along a street, looking for a nice restaurant to eat in; we’re naturally more attracted to the busier ones. We think the empty ones can’t be that good.

Having an effective content and email marketing system will bring you exactly this; you just need to design, build, and maintain it – just as you would with anything else of value in your business.

Once you have it running, it becomes a bit like a valve that you can open and close a little bit to tweak the rate at which work arrives and maintain your preferred order book lead time (e.g. booked up for the next 3 months).

So, if you want to break free from the ‘feast or famine’ cycle once and for all, take the time to design, plan, and implement your content and email marketing system – your future self will be forever grateful.


Want to find out how I collect email subscribers from LinkedIn?

Check out this article that explains, step-by-step, exactly what I do to find people with my ideal subscriber profile and move them from LinkedIn into my email subscriber list by sharing value.

How I collect email subscribers from LinkedIn
John Bellingham Email marketing strategist for freelancers

John Bellingham
Email marketing strategist for freelancers.

If we haven’t already, let’s connect on LinkedIn.

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By learning and implementing proven strategies and techniques, you’ll create a steady flow of new leads and move away from a ‘feast or famine’ cycle to a more regular stream of ideal clients.