Writers Beware: Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket!

by Alicia Sparks on January 6, 2010

Look at all my pretty eggs! This basket will hold them forever! Muahahaha!!!

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I first started freelancing was: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Really, it’s pretty common sense advice for any freelancer or self-employed person. If you put all your eggs in one basket – in other words, if you devote all your time and attention to one particular client and job and come to financially depend solely on that job – you’re left with nothing when something happens to that basket.

Notice how I’ve used “when” instead of “if”; it’s been my experience that, eventually, something always happens to the basket.

Yes, this was one of those lessons I had to learn for myself, unfortunately.

Within my first few months as a freelance writer, I landed a cushy writing gig with a stable company (of the reliable, and not equine, variety). Work was plentiful (nearly 24 hours a day if I chose – and, as a newbie, sometimes I chose), the company paid well, and life was grand. I continued writing for this company for about two years, very rarely taking on additional writing gigs. Why should I? That weekly check certainly didn’t require additional jobs.

Then one day, the well dried up. Or, someone stole my basket. The company had no more work for its freelance writers because the project was complete. I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment – after all, I’d been working on the project for a long time – but that wasn’t enough to squash the feelings of fear and being lost.

Obviously, the story has a happy ending – I’m still here and freelancing, aren’t I? – but it didn’t come without some serious scrambling and the vow that I would never, ever, put all my eggs in one basket again.

Oh, the pain we can avoid if we would just listen to the advice of those who are experienced.

If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, or if you’ve been freelancing for a while and just looked around to see that yes, all your eggs are indeed in one basket, here are a few ways you can ward off disaster before it strikes:

Regularly Apply for Writing Jobs

Applying for writing jobs when you already have a writing job might not make sense now, but the benefits will definitely be crystal clear when your big basket disappears. Set some time aside in your daily (or weekly) schedule to do nothing but search and apply for new jobs. You won’t get hired for every single job you apply for, so as long as you’re careful to only apply for those you can juggle with your current workload, you should be fine.

Of course, there are other good reasons to frequent the writing job boards. Deb Nj of Freelance Writing Jobs published an excellent post yesterday explaining why. Check it out.

Spread Yourself Out

This goes right along with regularly applying for new writing jobs. Having a big basket full of many eggs is a little safer if you also have a few small baskets full of a couple of eggs. Not only do having these jobs on the side help you in case your big basket disappears, but they also help build your portfolio, skill set, and contacts.

Just be careful to avoid spreading yourself too far out. It’s possible to have too many jobs that take up too much of your time and the finished products of which don’t accurately reflect your skills (i.e., you end up producing crap and having no life outside of writing).

Keep a Money Cushion

Many freelancers are familiar with the phrase “feast or famine,” and this should go without saying, no matter how many baskets you have, how long you’ve been freelancing, or really even what your job is: You need a savings account. Not just a savings account, but a savings account specifically for paying your bills and feeding yourself in the event you lose your big basket.

So, how about you? Have you ever made the mistake of putting all your eggs in one basket? What’d you do to survive it? What do you do now to avoid it?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric January 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm

YES!!! Multiple times! It’s so easy to forget this too. To become too comfortable and blinded to reality seems to come naturally. What I ended up doing was one of the points of advice you gave; regularly searching for new jobs – religiously even. I now have it scheduled in my calender as a repeating event! But, all of what you’ve written here is good solid advice.

Alicia January 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

Something I’ve noticed about sticking to the “regularly applying for jobs” schedule is that the more I do it, the more it starts to feel like a job all its own – BUT, that’s not a complaint, haha. That’s actually a good thing. Even for those jobs I don’t hear back about, I feel productive/accomplished when it’s over because I know I’ve taken a step to help keep that disaster from happening again, haha. Plus, it’s good practice 🙂

Writing Jobs January 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I strongly agree with this post! I even do this in myself towards my clients, just as precautionary measures.

Kathy February 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

It’d be great to have a savings account. Everything I’ve read about establishing a freelance career says to have a nest egg of 6 months of living expenses. Makes total sense. But I’ve been living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck for years–a savings account is as far out of my reach as a penthouse suite. Even in good months, when all clients pay and jobs are lucrative and plentiful, I spend the extra money catching up from the lean months.

However, even when I have steady work, I do continue to apply. It often take prospective employers MONTHS to respond, and my then you may need them! I’ve gotten good gigs months after I applied for them!

Film April 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Small steps, over time, leads to big results. If you just take a few minutes everyday and apply for 3 jobs that ends up being 60 job apps a month and 720 for the year. If you end up with a 10% success rate you will probably have more work than you will probably know what to do with!

Is this task easy to do? Yes. Is it easy not to do? Yes. How good would you feel and where do you think you will be in a year if you take an hour or a half a day to do this?

Craig April 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I’m glad I came across this post. I am new to the field of freelance writing, and I’m looking for all the pointers I can find. I have yet to find one “basket”, but I’ve got plenty of “eggs” ready to drop.

Jason April 21, 2011 at 6:56 am

This is such an important point and it’s something that applies to all forms of freelancing, not just writing. There’s nothing more rewarding than landing a big client or contract, but one should always try to think 2 steps ahead to cater for unforeseen circumstances by asking questions like – What can I do to make my income more consistent? What will I do if company x suddenly cancels my contract? Your idea os setting up a savings account for unexpected events is also a really good idea.

Jason Allen – Writer and Webmaster,
(How to Jailbreak iPhone)

Edward Collins April 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

That’s a good piece of advice. I am new to freelancing job and working for only one person. He is providing me all sort of works and i am full. But now i think i should consider some other alternatives other than this client.

Portland May 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’ve definitely fallen victim to the “eggs all in one basket” scenario myself. I once promoted a single companies stuff and they went out of business and took 2/3rds of my income with them.

Homer May 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm

This is outstanding advice no matter what field you are in. The final paragraph about the money cushion is key. If you can’t see how important that is after what just happen to a lot of people in this country then same on you.

Jamie Roux May 12, 2011 at 5:53 am

I’m retired and in the fortunate situation that my monthly pension provides for our daily expenses. To supplement this for those special occasions and unforeseen expenses started developing webpages (Squidoo) and even a few websites of my own. Eventually turned to writing articles. This I found to be exactly what I was looking for, for I can actually determine how much extra I need for the month ahead and then do some freelancing.

American Rag May 15, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I am a freelancer writer myself and I know the importance of not really depending on just one particular client and job. I always anticipate the worst case scenario, that is if the projects gets cancelled or something to that effect. I make it a point really that I have other jobs that can serve as my fall back, just in case.

My blog: American

Rag Clothing

Larae June 21, 2011 at 11:52 am

I have been freelancing for the last few years and can really relate to your fears, experience, and the advice that you give. Freelance jobs tend to be very fickle indeed. There have been a few occasions where the well dried up for me, and without much warning either. This can have a real impact on the unprepared, because, as you say, it is a feast or famine type of thing.

As for me, I have come to expect the unexpected. The thing that I tend to do is that I put most of my eggs in the best backet while keeping a few in one or two others. I don’t spread out evenly. I still put a lot of focus on the jobs that I like best or that give the best pay, but I try to also keep one or two others on the back burner as something to fall back on. And keeping a money cushion is a must do indeed!

Carmen Bennett October 27, 2011 at 5:07 am

“I have been freelancing for the last few years and can really relate to your fears, experience, and the advice that you give. Freelance jobs tend to be very fickle indeed. There have been a few occasions where the well dried up for me, and without much warning either. This can have a real impact on the unprepared, because, as you say, it is a feast or famine type of thing.”

I agree, freelance job doesn’t have the job security that you. I use to do freelance job before and the pay was indeed great until I lose my client one by one sighting reason that they don’t need my services anymore.

Paul March 20, 2013 at 6:37 am

Good advice, and perhaps “treat each short job as partial interview for the next”. If you have an element of that in your mind as you work, you encourage yourself to avoid the single basket mentality and may also up standards a bit if the work is tedious or life is affecting your enthusiasm.

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