Seriously. This is the ’42’ of freelancing.
Today I’m sharing the one secret that will lead you to success as a freelance writer. Yep, this one thing is the key to building a sustainable business – and I’m not exaggerating. If you can master this, you’ll be as busy as you want to be.
The secret? Anchor clients.
What is an Anchor Client?
As the name implies, an anchor client is one that grounds your business. Or, to use a more nautical metaphor, a client who keeps your business securely afloat.
Different freelancers define anchor client in different ways. To me, an anchor client is one that either pays me a monthly retainer or at least assigns reliably every month. Basically, an anchor client provides a predictable amount of monthly revenue.
Land yourself a few anchor clients, and – boom! Income you can count on every month, without the stress and anxiety of wondering where your next freelance paycheck is going to come from. Success!!
For the most part, yes actually. You can seek anchor clients outright or cultivate them from your current roster. Here’s what you need to know.
Understanding the Concept of Distribution of Risk
Anchor clients form the base of my ‘client pyramid.’ Because I’m neither terribly ambitious nor very good at juggling a lot of details, I aim for my pyramid to contain seven or eight client ‘blocks’ at any given time. I know many freelancers who juggle 20 clients. It’s up to you. The more active clients you have on your roster, the better your risk is distributed.
I’m going to come clean here and confess I don’t always distribute my risk very well. Let’s face it: Freelance writing, as a business, is full of vagaries that can thwart your ability to find and land clients. It’s no different for me than anyone else.
Ideally, with eight total clients, I would strive for three of them to be anchor clients that account for 50-60% of my total monthly revenue, with the remainder coming from the other five clients. It looks good on paper, but I have to say right now I only have two anchor clients, and they produce about 90% of my revenue. Does this make me nervous? Very. Extremely. I am breaking out in hives just thinking about it.
Why does this make me nervous? The obvious illustration here is the egg basket. You don’t want all of your revenue coming from too few eggs, because what happens if one egg breaks? What if your biggest anchor client decides to take their content production in-house? What if one of them declares bankruptcy? These are not far-fetched scenarios. These things happen every day.
Understanding how to distribute your risk across multiple clients (or revenue streams) is key to surviving as a freelancer. Always aim to diversify the number and type of clients on your roster. For instance, in addition to my ideal number of anchor clients I also strive to retain a number of clients who assign fewer projects, or maybe give me smaller assignments. To mix a startling number of metaphors in a single post, let me say if anchor clients represent the large rocks in your glass jar, you also can accommodate a number of pebble-sized clients, along with a quantity of sand to fill in the gaps.
Characteristics of a Great Anchor Client
My ideal anchor client is one that signs a monthly retainer agreement. My retainer agreements are always project-based, not hourly, because you can always make the most money by charging a project fee. Burn that fact into your brain, please. As I’ve said before (and will continue to repeat ad nauseum), no one is likely to pay you $500 per hour for your writing services, but you can easily make that effective hourly rate if you price by the project.
Back to the topic at hand… You can structure a project retainer any way you want. Mine usually include several discrete deliverables per month at a set rate. For example:
3 blog posts
3 post suggestions for the following month
1 monthly phone call to obtain client news, brainstorm topics, etc.
For a single monthly project fee of $2,500.
You get the idea.
In addition to clients who sign monthly project retainers, I consider a client to be an “anchor” if they reliably assign to me every month even without a retainer in place. I’m currently on retainer with a client who, for three years prior, simply sent three or four articles my way each month. I didn’t count them as an “anchor” until this had gone on for six months and I’d developed sufficient rapport with the editor to understand she would have ongoing assignments for as long as I as willing to take them.
Other characteristics of great anchor clients, besides providing regular assignments, include:
Have been in business for some period of time (I’m not keen on startups)
Do not have long lists of writer complaints against them on the web
Don’t nitpick the copy
Are pleasant to deal with
View me as a valued team member
Exhibit a low general PITA factor
In case you don’t recognize the acronym, PITA stands for Pain In The Ass. Early in my career, I served several high-PITA clients – because I had to. When I was first starting out, I could not be that choosy about my clients.
Today, thankfully, I can be much choosier. And I choose not to work with people who are assholes in any way, shape or form. I choose not to work with clients who don’t communicate with me timely. I choose not to work with people who bring constant drama to our professional relationship in the form of numerous “rush requests” or other “emergencies.”
How to Find Anchor Clients
The question is: Can you search out anchor clients, specifically, or do clients organically morph into becoming anchor clients after you’ve established a professional relationship?
I think the answer is some of both.
I think you can search out big-name healthcare brands or marketing agencies and solicit a project retainer right away, and that often works out just fine for everybody. I urge you to consider doing that.
I also think you should constantly reevaluate your client roster to identify which of them could make good anchor clients, and then pitch them on the idea. Offer to give them a discount in exchange for a monthly contract on the exact same services you’re already providing. Many of them will see the wisdom in this.
And That’s All There is To It
Finding, landing, and retaining anchor clients is the key to building a sustainable career as a freelance nurse-writer. Make it one of your core strategies for success by always keeping your eyes open for potential anchor clients and by learning how to pitch monthly project retainers. I’ll go into that in great detail in future posts because I believe it should be your top business strategy.
Questions? Hit me in the comments!