I've been freelancing since 2005, which means I've been doing it just a shade longer than regular employment (whatever that means). At this point I feel somewhat qualified to talk about how to survive as a freelancer, although the process has been made less turbulent for me thanks to a handful of regular clients that keep my baseline income stable.
That leads us to point number one: look for stable contracts. Corporates are looking for contractors all the time to support technical projects that they don't think are long-lived enough to warrant permanent hires. However, from the freelancer's perspective, their short timescales are quite long (six months, which can easily lead to several years). And the best thing is a reasonable hourly rate is cheap compared to a corporate salary (plus tax and benefits), which means from our perspective as lowly freelancers we actually get a good deal.
Still, being on a contract doesn't guarantee regular work. If you're on a retainer your contract might forbid other clients, but in the UK I'd be wary of this because ideally you want to run a company rather than be considered an employee according to IR35 rules. It's particularly important for me to avoid being seen as under "disguised employment" because I invest some of the money I earn back into my own entrepreneurial projects.
Naturally this means taking on multiple clients, not only to supplement income but also to avoid the IR35 income-draining spectre. More clients leads to less time, so management becomes more crucial. That brings me to my second point: put your smallest clients first. Smaller clients need as much attention as larger clients in terms of social engagement and support, but obviously the actual production of their software is less intensive. The pull of larger projects can be distracting, making it easy to forget about the smaller ones.
Avoid this by starting each day by working for your smallest clients first. And keep them in the loop -- email regularly, make videos or even just screenshots to demonstrate the latest features. This type of asynchronous communication is faster than a conference call.
Another thing to remember is this: you're a freelancer. That means you're free to take the afternoon off, or go and read in a café for an hour. Don't limit your experiences by structuring your entire day around work, else you might as well get a regular job.
- Look for stable medium or long term contracts to maintain a sensible income
- Put your smallest clients first, don't let your quality of service slip -- but limit the time you spend on their projects
- Remember the "free" in freelance