How to turn needy clients into recurring income

If you’re the type of creative who enjoys jumping from project to project, you’ve probably feel an equal combination of excitement and terror.

Excitement because you’re constantly stimulated and flexing your creative muscles by changing it up so frequently.

Terror because, in the back of your mind, you’re always worried that job will soon end and you’ll need to go find another one.

Creatives who operate their career path this way are missing out on a big opportunity on repeatable income.

Especially, given that one of the most common complaints among the freelance community is projects getting out of control.

Freelancers will ask, “what should I do when a client keeps asking for revisions?”

When this happens to us, we get conflicting emotions. We feel the need to keep our clients happy so that they’ll return to us in the future… but we can’t ignore the feeling that we should be getting paid for all the extra work!

As freelancers, we hope to never find ourselves in a situation like that.

If you’re ready to turn a needy client into recurring income for your freelance business, consider these 3 options:

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1. Address it in your proposal strategy

It’s very common that clients will ask for revisions, extensions, alternate options, etc., even after a project is been completed.

To ensure you are being compensated appropriately, you might want to consider working a section into your contract agreement about a retainer income.

This can be a monthly sum that you and your client agree upon that makes you available to your client on an as-needed basis, and up to a certain amount of hours per month. It also ensures you some repeatable income which can become a nice cushion as you progress along your freelance path.

2. Charge for spec work

I think we can all agree that if an architect was asked to design a house for somebody, he’d expect to be paid for his work.

He wouldn’t agree to a “we’ll pay you if we like it” model. So why are designers treated an differently? The reality is, we are constantly throwing elbows for business, and sometimes that means overextending yourself to secure a client.

Instead, protect yourself by asking for a small down payment. I think that there is trepidation toward this for fear of deterring clients, but I think it can actually work to your advantage because it’ll help ensure two things:

First, you’ll receive money up front and not end up wasting time if you don’t land the gig.

Second, it’ll help the client feel a sense of commitment to you, and thus more likely to choose you for the job.

3. End the project with a follow-up pitch

Ah, the elusive “end” of a design project. It’s important to set precedents early on for when a project should be considered “complete”. More on that here. But the follow-up pitch happens right when you reach that end.

It’s inevitable that even after our projects are completed, our clients will return to us for favors. So, the more we anticipate that happening, the better prepared we can be.

I typically like to end projects by offering a discounted rate for ongoing maintenance work on the project at hand. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, I offer 3 different options at a monthly rate.

  • Scenario 1: a 3 month contract, for up to “x” hours at a monthly fee.
  • Scenario 2: a 6 month contract, for up to “x” hours at a monthly fee.
  • Scenario 3: a 12 months, for up to “x” hours at a monthly fee.

That fee will range from more expensive to less expensive, respectively.

This ensures they’re not taking advantage of you, and puts some passive income in your pocket. If you’ve done a good job on the project and established that trust, 9 times out of 10 a client will go for it.

Doing one or all of these things will heighten your perceived value and diminish the amount of stress you bear as an independent worker.

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About Drew Palmer

Drew is a multi-faceted designer based out of Philadelphia. He has been working most recently as an interactive designer for various global software development companies. He is also the founder of 5-star freelancers, a platform dedicated to empowering creative freelancers around the world.


  1. I simply include in my proposal the line:
    This quote includes one round of text changes afterwhich all changes will be billed as Author’s Alterations at $XX per hour. If there is a major shift in direction with photo/graphic changes, I address that at the time of the request with a statement regarding Author’s Alterations and negotiate an added fee. It’s always about communication with the client!

  2. This brings up the issue of “Hourly vs Project Based” fees. For my regular client I charge hourly for all small jobs and revisions, and bill at the end of the month. They have no problem paying and I never need to quote.

  3. You will always have needy clients as a freelancer. The trick is to follow these steps and put your own expectations right out there for said client from the start. Great article!


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