Client famine: how designers can keep food on the table year-round

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The design industry is an interesting thing: sometimes you have more work than you can stand, and other times you are scraping by, hoping that you’ll find your next batch of clients soon. While some designers or design firms are really good at keeping a steady pool of clients, many of us are hit with times of client famine where, regardless of the work you put into your business, people just aren’t hiring you.
It’s been my experience, for example, that I have less clients during major holiday seasons such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, or New Year. So what do I do to make sure I can keep food on the table and pay my bills even if my client pool is a little low? The article will give you a few insights on the matter. Hopefully it will benefit you and I hope you can also add your suggestions, tips and advice to the article by leaving a comment.

First, don’t panic

The first thing I do when my client pool is getting a little low is resist the urge to panic. Although it can be scary to watch your client pool dwindle, just remember that things will turn around. If you work hard, try to find new clients, and remain calm, things will take a turn for the better and soon, you will be designing like crazy. Just don’t panic. Panicking can make you sound more desperate during a phone call with a potential client, can force you to pick up clients that will ultimately cause you more trouble than needed. Just keep your cool, work hard to find new, quality clients, and maintain a positive attitude.

Find year-round clients or projects

Another way to make sure you can pay the bills and put food on the table year-round is by finding clients or projects that require year-round maintenance. You could, for example, design a facebook fan page for a client and offer to update it every time they run a new promotion at their company, have a holiday sale, or need new information included on the page. While you may not be able to charge a huge sum of money for such services, having a few of these “year-round” projects can help you maintain a decent salary during a client famine.

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Be wise with your money

I remember when I was in high school and I had a summer job. I worked really hard all summer so that I didn’t have to work during school and I could just focus on my studies and social life. I essentially made all the money I needed to make in 3-4 months so that the rest of the year I could survive on the money I made. I spoke recently with a friend of mine who still does that even with a wife and a child. He works hard all summer so that he doesn’t have to the rest of the summer. He never seems worried about putting food on the table or paying the bills.

While we all may not be able to only work three months out of the year, we can all be wise with our money. Try not to spend money you don’t have and save a little for times of client famine. It might be hard when times are good and work is really flowing in, but you’ll be grateful when the time of client famine comes and you have some cash to fall back on.

Learn to expect client famines

As I mentioned previously, I have noticed in my small design business, that there are certain times of the year that naturally bring less clients. Be sure to take note of these times of the year and make plans to have fallback options during these times of expected client famine, or work extremely hard to find new clients that can fill the upcoming void. If you learn to expect the famine, you can better prepare for it.

Find alternative money-making opportunities

There are also a number of other activities you can take part in that will bring you steady income without the need of a steady client base. There are countless sites to which you can submit leftover vector artwork, photographs, or designs. Perhaps you can develop a premium wordpress theme and submit it to a theme-selling site. Likewise, you can write articles on the topic of design and submit them to top-notch design blogs-most of which pay you to write for them. Speaking of blogging, managing a successful design blog can also help you maintain a steady stream of income during client famines.

There are countless ways of making a little extra money besides just designing for clients. After all, you’re a creative person, right? Be creative. Think outside the box and find ways to bring in a little extra cash every month. Never make the excuse that because your client pool is a little low, you can’t afford to pay the bills.

Stay positive – things will turn around

No matter how long a famine or a drought, eventually it will rain. Crops will grow and people will have food to eat and money to pay the bills. Remember to have a positive outlook on life. After all, you’re doing what you love and getting paid for it. So keep your chin up, stay positive, and remember that there is always an end to any client famine that may come your way.

Your turn to talk. How do you deal with this issue?

I think you’ve heard enough from me on this subject. What advice, tips, or suggestions can you offer us that can help us all cope with client famines? How have you managed to make sure your design business is successful and has the positive cashflow you need each year to support yourself, your family, and your business? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Go ahead, share with us!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. Great post! I must have had some really good luck lately with clients because ever since I started my freelance design business, I haven’t had a hard time finding lots of really good clients. But if that day ever comes, this is a great post to fall back on!!

  2. Totally freaked with my first cycle of famine. Once I contemplated that clients may be facing the same it made things less dramatic. I focused on businesses (like you mention) that require regular material.

    It was a scary period especially if you’re not a kid living at home (bring back those days) and your income is one half of the roof over you and your partners head.

    Hard work, strategic thinking and determination pays off.

  3. Great inspiration. I think this all things are natural and you shared a nice tips to get away with them.


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