Do You Need an Anchor Client For Your Freelance Business?

There are two words I never want to receive as an answer. It depends.


And I’m not going to tell you that the answer to your question is ‘it depends’… but:

  • If you want to run a lifestyle freelance business, that maybe doesn’t make that much money, but is super easy to manage, then yes, get a few anchor clients and forget the business side (at your own peril)
  • If you want to build a performance freelance business and make as much money as you humanly can, then no, an anchor client will hold you back in your growth trajectory.

Now let’s see why.

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How I define an anchor client

The idea of an anchor client is somehow vague, so here is my definition:

An anchor client is a client that sends you work on a constant basis. May be weekly, may be monthly, may even be daily, depending on your freelance business. They are always there. Usually, an anchor client provides 10 to 50% of your freelance income.

Every month, you know you are not starting from zero. You have a certain amount of hours that your anchor client usually fills, and then the rest. Sounds brilliant, except it can have its drawbacks.

My first anchor client – and why I loved them

As you may have read somewhere on my blog, I started to translate as a side hustle while I was still a student.

I used Upwork to land translation jobs, which meant I had to spend a lot of time crafting proposals. They worked, but they also created a ton of unbillable hours. And then a client I landed became an anchor client.

They used to send me one hour’s worth of work every morning at 9 AM, and they expected me to be finished by 11 AM. Monday to Friday, that was 21 hours of work per month, and they paid $800 for the priviledge. I loved them. Before landing them as a client, I was making $500 per month. They helped my freelancing to go from a date money side hustle to a ‘kinda real job if I keep going’.

I worked with them for almost two years, then I passed their contact to a freelance friend of mine who worked with them for two or three more years. She was also a beginner, and she was happy with what they sent her, so she never went out to market her services elsewhere.

When they ceased operations, with a 3 day notice, she had to look for a full time job.

Which leads us to why anchor clients need to be handled with care…

My second anchor client – and why I hated them

A few of years later, I landed my second anchor client ever.

By then I had a more established freelance business, but this particular agency client took it by storm with a Big Five tech account and a ton of work, every day, as long as I said ‘yes’. 3 months in, they were sending me $2500 per month, roughly 50% of my freelance income. Except this time I was a bit nervous. Their work came with:

  • A lot of red tape because of the VIP client
  • A 15% discount to my standard rate
  • No minimum fee (if they sent 5 words, I translated 5 words, at less than $0,50)

You see, anchor clients can be tough to handle. Since they have a lot of work to do, they know they are an important piece of your freelance income pie. They expect you to be available for them. They often require some kind of discounted rate (while you keep raising your rates for other clients). And they can hold you back, because you don’t have time to go market your services.

After 2 years spent working together on a daily basis, I moved from Italy to the UK. They knew, I had told them, and they said it was not a problem.

Except it actually was. As I set foot abroad, 50% of my income vanished. They said they wanted in-country linguists. They knew we weren’t going to be able to keep working together, but they kept me busy till the very last day because it wasn’t easy to replace me.

I said ‘never again’.

Managing 3 anchor clients – and why I burned out

As I rebuilt my business, I got clients who’d potentially keep me busy for a lot of time, but this time I knew better.

Three years later, I was managing 3 anchor clients. Each amounted to 20 to 25% of my freelance business, and the remaining 25% was covered by occasional clients.

This was probably the ideal structure for my freelance business back then – I knew I was not depending on a single client, and I still had time to market my services and keep growing my business.

Except it started a process that would end in a pretty bad burnout a few years later.

You see, managing 3 anchor clients can be a pretty crazy experience. As they expect you to be available most of the time, if their work volume peaks at the same time, you will find yourself working 10-hour days.

Been there, done that. Time management can’t save you when you have too much work.

The alternative – freelancing without a single anchor client

Over the last 3 years, for the first time ever, I became a freelancer without a single anchor client.

Sure, I have repeat business from clients who have been with me for years, but we don’t work together on a weekly basis. They may have a huge project one month, and no projects at all the following ones.

And surprisingly enough, my business has remained stable ever since. I don’t know how, but every month or two I get a pretty big project that makes up for the lack of anchor clients.

A client who sent me $15k worth of work in Q1 2023 has been pretty much dormant ever since. But since then others have picked up. Old project managers reach out to me all the time as they move somewhere else. From time to time, they come bearing months’ worth of work.

At first, I struggled a little with the uncertainty of starting from $0 every month, but over time I’ve gotten used to it. It’s a different way of freelancing, and I have discovered that at this particular time I quite like it.

So what – The ideal portfolio of clients

If I could build an ideal portfolio of clients from scratch, would I include an anchor client?

I wouldn’t want one anchor client, but I’d take two small-ish ones. Let’s say 30% of my workload, combined, 15% each.

An ideal world may not exist, but I think a similar structure can be an ideal goal for aspiring freelancers.

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