How to Overcome the Crazy Freelance Financial Roller Coaster

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Here's how to stop the crazy freelance finances and never let a client fire you again!

As freelancers most of our daily tasks are based on interacting and working with clients.

For this reason, it feels like we’re in a constant state of hustling — networking to find new leads, creating killer proposals, and following up to finally paid.

Then once you do land a new gig, a few months later they fire you because of budget changes, content redirection, ect., and it can feel like all that hustle was for nothing.

Can you relate?

(Or is that just how I feel?) This endless cycle can be frustrating and discouraging.

The freelance financial roller coaster

During this past summer, I noticed I was struggling more and more with cash flow issues. And after finding myself in about $3,300 of business credit card debt, I decided it was time for a change!

My first step was to go on a 60-day Cash Budget Challenge to assess the entire situation. What I discovered is that I didn’t have a spending problem, but a consistent income problem.

I made pretty good money — when my clients actually paid me — but then those clients would be slow on assignments, cut their content budget, or shut down the blog, and I’d be back into hustling mode, frustrated with low cash flow again.

After getting sick of the financial roller coaster that is being a freelancer, I experimented for several months to come up with the solutions to all our problems!

It’s time to jump off financial roller coaster game, and never let a client fire you again.

1. Consistently prune your client list

When I was going through business depression at the beginning of 2014, I learned how vital it is to constantly prune your list of projects, clients, and services. It’s waaaaaay too easy to get sidetracked by the amount of money you can make, advice other people offer you because they’re “just trying to help”, or successful case studies that have worked for other entrepreneurs.

You have to keep learning and growing as a biz owner, which means taking a hard look at your client list on a regular basis. This routine check-in is what you need to stay on track with your financial goals, and make sure you’re still doing what you love.

I personally sit down and prune my list on a monthly basis. Although, I still do a big purge every quarter where no one, and no project, is guaranteed to make the cut.

Create a client comparison list:

  • Use a large notebook or sketchpad and draw multiple columns down the page — one for client/project name, price, hours involved, enjoyment level, and notes. This is really fun to do this with colored pens or markers.
  • Write out the project details, for every client you have, in each column. Don’t worry about what order they’re listed in, you’ll rearrange them in the next step.
  • Arrange them from best to worst depending on which category is a priority for you. If it’s pay you’re worried about, then list your projects based on pay rate. If it’s time or energy level, then categorize your list based on which projects you dread the least? Arrange your least favorite, or lowest paying clients, towards the bottom, with the other more prominent clients at the top.
  • Draw a red line (like in Divergent) and cut any clients or projects that fall below your expectations. Anything you feel isn’t worth the time, headache, energy, or money anymore needs to be removed. Remember, this exercise is about growing as a business owner, and in order to do that you have to prune until it hurts.

Once you’ve finished doing this, take a step back and look over everything. Are there any surprising things that bubble to the top? Did one client become your absolute favorite?

The first time I did this, it was shocking how effective the process was when I saw everything in black and white. Here are 5 questions every client/project on the list is subject to.

  • Do I still enjoy the work, or do I dread it?
  • Do I like working with the client?
  • Am I paid on time, with little headache?
  • Does the project excite me?
  • Am I paid a price that’s fair? Do I feel well compensated?

If any of the answers to these questions is NO, then I consider cutting them from my workload (and suggest you do the same). This means letting the clients know you’re either raising my prices, won’t continue doing the work until you get paid, or can no longer work with them.

Once a client is no longer on your list, you’ll have time slots open to add in more projects or work that you do enjoy, or that pays wells. This is a process that keeps a business growing, and can help you stay on top of all your work.

I highly encourage you to carve out time THIS WEEK to create a client comparison list. If you don’t want to do it on a notebook or sketchpad, I’ve created a free client comparison spreadsheet template you can use and customize for your own biz.

I would still recommend doing this exerciser on paper for the first time though!

2. Make your work the number one client

Working with clients can be a very lucrative way to build a business. Alexis Grant has built a social media marketing business that employs 8 team members. Kali Hawlk recently created a content marketing business that allows her to make more than double the amount of money she did at her 9-to-5!

In fact, starting a freelance writing + editing business is what I’ve been doing the past 3.5 years, while I build the Careful Cents community on the side. It allowed me to quit my full-time job, move to Denver for the summer, and have the freedom to work from anywhere at anytime.

The one drawback though, is that your bank account is subject to someone else’s payment schedule. You’re still working for someone else to pay the bills, and that can lead to being trapped in the employee mindset again.

As I was going through the process of amplifying my business and earning money on my terms, I decided I wanted to find a client who would never fire me again. This lead to prioritizing ME and my biz!

Careful Cents should be my number one client, and receive top billing hours. As your own client, you don’t have to depend on someone else to get paid on time, and you don’t have to worry about being fired. The work you do is sustainable, consistent, and has the potential to make a lot of money.

Don’t believe me? This is something successful entrepreneur, Chris Ducker teaches — build the business of you — so if it works for him, I know it can work for you and I.

Take the Challenge:

Putting your own brand in the number one client slot allows you to have more control, and freedom, over how much you work, and when you get paid.

  • For the next 14 days, I dare you to make your own biz your NUMBER ONE client. Give your business prime time at the beginning of each day. What’s one project you’ve been dying to work on? What’s a blog post topic you’ve been meaning to write for over a month? Take these ideas and carve out time each day to work on them (even if it’s 15-30 minutes). No more trying, now it’s time for doing!

I’m already doing this experiment right now, and have spent the past two week working on Careful Cents projects for the first hour of my work day. My goal is increase my income from Careful Cents by 5% at the end of the year. It’s a small, very attainable goal that’s not overwhelming for my schedule, and I feel confident I can do it.

How will I be upping my earnings from my own brand? I’ll be sharing more details and numbers on the blog soon.

3. Create a diversified portfolio of work

There’s a difference between entrepreneur ADHD (yes, it’s a real thing!) and making smart choices when it comes to creating a diversified list of work as a solopreneur. Over the past several years, since I launched my biz in June 2011, I’ve been a social media manager, marketing strategist, newsletter content marketer, business and tax consultant, freelance writer, assistant editor, and managing editor.

Although that’s quite a diversified list of job titles, all of them were unified because I chose to work with startups, bloggers, and companies related to the finance and business space. I have since dropped about half of those titles, and now call myself a financial blogger + editor, in order to become more focused with my work.

However, since choosing to turn my blog into a business, I’ve been working hard to expand my offerings. In October I did my first ever live online workshop. I recently just wrapped up a 12-week finance course collaboration with One Woman Shop, and I’m in the middle of writing a new ebook.

I’m also working with brands (like the Neat Company, who work with as a brand ambassador), bringing in more affiliate income, and adding more editing/blog management clients to my list.

Here’s a detailed snapshot of what my self-employment income looked like for October.

Diversified income streams - Careful Cents

As I add my own products and sales to the list of offerings, I plan to make my freelance work (in writing and editing) a smaller percentage of the pie. The point is though, to look at where your income is coming from and find out how you can diversify it more.

  • Are there brands you can work with to promote helpful products?
  • Can you do in-depth tutorials and reviews that produce a portion of affiliate income?
  • Can you offer coaching or mentoring programs?
  • What can you do to branch out your list of offerings and create more income streams?

When putting money into traditional investments, you have to diversify your portfolio in order to mitigate risk, and make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure by depending on one stream of income. The same rule applies to being a solo biz owner.

This will also make working something you look forward to doing, because you’ll never get bored of what’s on your plate.

Bandaids don’t work for businesses

The biggest lesson I learned while trying to level up my business, is that I have to stop trying to put bandaids on my business to fix it in the short-term.

Cutting back on client work is scary, no doubt, but when done the right way, you can double your income in half the time. Seriously, I personally used these tips mentioned above, removed a client from list who was paying me $25 an hour for 30 hours a month, and replaced it with another client who’s paying me $44 an hour for 16 hours worth of work. (And it’s work I enjoy a lot more too!)

“Leap, and the net will appear.” — John Burroughs

Don’t let your hard work be at the mercy of clients who might fire you tomorrow. Put your work on the list of clients you service and make your projects a priority. Then put these other strategies to work and create a long-term strategy that will take your business to the next level.

What’s your biggest frustration with running a client-based business? How are you planning to take back control, and make your work the number one priority? 


  1. Graham says:

    Epic post!!

    I particularly love the 5 questions as a way to remove some of the more unpleasant jobs/projects which may not be helping you maximise revenue.

    I’ve written that list down and definitely going to use that myself in the future! Thanks!

  2. Kayla says:

    Love this post Carrie! I’m still pretty new to freelancing and so far I’ve pretty much said yes to every project that has come my way. Luckily, a couple of them haven’t worked out. It’s only really happened 2 times, but both times I was almost more relieved than bummed because I knew it wasn’t something I was excited about doing. What I love about freelancing right now is that I’m getting paid to work for/with people I look up to, I love what I’m doing, and I’m learning new and valuable skills that will help me grow my business even further. I haven’t sat down and made a written list, but maybe I should…

    • Carrie says:

      This has totally happened to me before too, Kayla. It’s never fun to work on a project that you don’t enjoy, and dropping a client has been more of a relief than thinking about how to replace to the income.

      As long as you’re learning new freelancing skills, and enjoy the people you get to work with, then they’re still the right fit. I definitely encourage you to make a list. It won’t hurt!

  3. Elna says:

    Great post! I’m not in the same boat as you…yet. I’m new to freelance writing and am in the process of pitching and interviewing.
    What I’m finding confusing is, most small business that hire freelance writers already have a flat rate for the work they need. I was under the impression that I let them know my rates an we negotiate from there? I don’t know, but it sort of feels like an employee mentality.
    And, I can’t really say no quite yet as I’m building up my portfolio so I can’t pick and choose at the moment.

  4. Anne says:

    This was a very interesting read. I am impressed that you are brave enough to fire clients without necessarily having something new lined up. I’m glad to hear that it’s all working out well for you though.
    Internet project ADD is such a problem! Bringing things all the way to conclusion and focusing on them is so tricky.

    • Carrie says:

      Thanks, Anne. I definitely keep in contact with my network and always let them know when I’m looking for a new gig or client. Many times they send referrals or opportunities my way without even asking. That makes letting go of clients a lot easier, even when I don’t have a backup plan.

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