The Battle of Stability vs. Growth


One of the great challenges for any freelancer or small design shop is in finding a consistent level of work. We often run into that old feast-or-famine cycle that seems to result in us pulling out our hair either way.

As such, there’s a definite appeal in finding clients who provide us with a steady flow of projects. Knowing what to expect in terms of workload and revenue is a sort of Holy Grail for many a web designer. And when you start to get a taste of it, you might just be tempted to continue down that path.

Imagine the possibility of not having to go out there and beg for new clients. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But there’s also the case to be made that this type of approach could result in less growth. The steadiness may be good for the soul, but can it do the same for your bank account?

Seizing on the Right Opportunities

If we’re fortunate enough, a number of interesting opportunities will show up at our front door over time. The occasional one might even be life-changing in terms of offering a consistent workload and a steady paycheck.

However, deciding whether or not to sign on can be a difficult decision. Could such an opportunity fill up your schedule to the point where you can’t take on new clients? Is this good or bad?

These are legitimate concerns. After all, it would seem like this type of arrangement is the antithesis of what freelancing is all about. We are often told to pursue as many clients as possible in order to propel our careers to a higher level.

The problem is that we’re also only human. And if we’re working on our own or with a small team, there is a limit as to how much work we can handle. Sometimes, we can talk ourselves out of stability because of the need to keep things “open” for that next big project.

Yet, there is the possibility that we sacrifice something good for what else may be out there – something that may never arrive. Therefore, it’s worth considering a longer-term project as a feature, rather than a bug. That is, so long as it meets certain criteria.

A chalkboard with "Choice" written on it.

When Steady Makes Sense

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding to book a steady design gig. First and foremost is how it could affect the direction of your business.

Some designers really do enjoy the process of working with a lot of different clients, finishing off projects and moving on. Thus, working with a potentially smaller pool of the same people over a longer period of time can seem a bit stifling. If you see your business as more nomadic, then it’s okay to stay on that path.

For others, the constant change (not to mention the potential fluctuation in income) can become a burden. In my own example, approaching middle age with a family led me to conclude that I’m not so interested in hopping from one client to the next. So, as I came upon some opportunities to build a stable of steady work – I jumped on it.

Once you’re comfortable with the direction you’re headed in, it then becomes a matter of finding projects that fulfill your needs. If you’ve decided to aim for stability, look for gigs that:

  • Fit in with the type of work you enjoy doing;
  • Offer consistent pay and workload;
  • Have well-defined processes for getting things done;
  • Allow you to work at a comfortable pace;

Of course, not every opportunity is going to fit this mold. But the idea is to align yourself with something that you can see yourself doing (and enjoying) over the long haul.

Stones balanced over water.

Growth is Still Possible

There is a misconception out there that working with a smaller number of steady clients can be a limiting factor when it comes to income. While it’s certainly possible to paint yourself into a corner, there is also the potential to keep on growing as well.

For example, there’s no rule that says that you have to focus solely on long-term projects. Instead, you could leverage those clients to build a solid income base that is more or less guaranteed. In turn, this allows you to pursue a limited number of new projects that are of a size and scope that can boost your revenue.

So, rather than go after every new project, you have the ability to pick and choose the ones that make the most sense for you. Cutting out the low-cost/highly-stressful clients keeps your sanity in check while adding to your bottom line.

In other words: If you don’t have to battle for each dollar that comes in, you can train your focus on things that will significantly improve your business. Running around in circles to book new clients is often counter-productive in this respect. As you move from one place to another, you’re simply trying to recapture the same ground over and over.

A blooming plant.

The Best of Both Worlds

I’m very much a big believer when it comes to signing on with long-term, steady clients. In reality, it is what has allowed me to stay in business for over 20 years. The knowledge that, even in slower times, there will be at least some money coming in, allows for paying the bills.

With that also comes the luxury of looking not just for any opportunity – but the right one. Indeed, stability can be a driver of growth, rather than an inhibitor.

So, if you’re tired of the vicious cycle of constantly having to line up new clients, think about a different approach. It might just take you where you want to go.

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