How Do I Cope With Variable Income As a Freelancer?

Being a freelancer gives you a lot of agency.

You aren’t tied to a time clock, you have the freedom to choose who you want to work with, and there’s a level of unmatched satisfaction when you do a good job.

How Do I Cope With Variable Income As a Freelancer?

Freelance dry spells have this uncanny ability to trick you into believing there will never be work again and that you’ve gone to the well one too many times.

Because all these different elements can be hard to explain to anyone outside of the freelance world.

One of those tough-to-talk-about elements can be dealing with variable income.

If you don’t have a big circle of people in your field to relate to the way you make your living there won’t be many that can understand.

For the most part, people get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or at the end of the month.

Relating to someone who receives payments at any hour of the day with an unfixed schedule isn’t all that relatable for most.

Because of this, it can leave many freelancers feeling isolated and as if they’re the only ones going through those feelings of uncertainty when it comes to variable finances.

The truth is, there are thousands of freelancers out there going through the exact same thing – variable income – and you’re not alone.

Below are some things you can do to stay on track when variable income throws you off your game.

1. Look at Your Track Record

One way to offset your current feeling towards having a slow month or losing a client is actually by going into the past.

If you freelance full-time, you should have a detailed record of all your earnings and clients.

This can act as a variable income budget.

You need this for tax purposes.

As crazy as it may sound, this time taxes can be a good thing because you can use that list of earnings to remind yourself that it may be slow, but it’s not like it’s always been that way for you.

You’ve earned money before and how many times through the year did you not earn a cent?

In times where you feel like all the work in the world is drying up, remind yourself that it hasn’t before, and when it’s dipped below where you would like the workload to be, you survived. You’ll survive again.

2. Remind Yourself That the Work Is Out There

Looking to the past for inspiration can help greatly with variable income.

But once you’ve done that you also want to remind yourself that there’s plenty of work out there.

The thing about a dry spell or dealing with not knowing when you’ll exactly get paid for a project that you were relying on for a bill is that you’re tricked into believing that you just worked your final gig forever.

Freelance dry spells have this uncanny ability to trick you into believing that there will never be work again and that you’ve gone to the well one too many times. But that’s an illusion.

You can achieve the guaranteed minimum income as a freelancer.

Yes, at times finding a new client or getting work out of a current one may be slower than usual.

Job sites may have fewer job postings, your email may be growing cobwebs, and you might have had to dip into your freelancer savings funds.

Understanding that this is part of the process will keep you sane when these things occur.

Look at it like fishing.

You can spend a decent amount of time with your line in the water and not pull up any fish.

But that doesn’t mean that the body of water is lacking them.

Sometimes it just takes patience and a gentle reminder that the work will come.

This can also be a perfect time for you to start changing up your strategy.

Maybe you’re not turning up new clients because your need work on a cover letter or a job board isn’t as active as it once was.

3. Remember That You Chose Freelancing (Which Means Variable Income)

Another way that the mind can play a trick on you falls under the ability to decipher between your work freedom and freelancing.

Unless it was an extenuating circumstance that forced your hand into the industry, you were probably the one that chose to freelance, not the other way around.

No one is forced to be a freelancer, so when you hit an unbearable dry spell, remind yourself that if push came to shove and your back was against the wall financially, there are other jobs out there.

You don’t have to feel like you’re chained to be a freelancer.

Remind yourself that yes, maybe you’re getting less work at the moment, but you have the freedom to walk away.

In times where you have less work and you’re thinking about how you got started there in the first place, it’s important to always remember the why as well.

Reminding yourself why you wanted to be a freelancer can help to get you through the times where your motivation is low or replaced with fear.

4. Take Action and Apply

Being insecure about where your next client or payment will come from – because of variable income – is a natural part of the process because if you didn’t fear then you wouldn’t care.

As stressful as it can be, this fear is an essential part of human behavior. It can be boiled down to fight or flight.

Instead of going into flight mode, switch gears and shift into fight mode to take action.

Oftentimes, the best remedy for feeling helpless when you’re a freelancer is to do everything in your power to get yourself work.

When you’re taking action and doing all you can, you can rest knowing that there isn’t more you can do to change the situation.

And half the time when you do this, you’ll stumble upon a new client or route that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

The key here is to remember that it’s always best to take action when times are slower than to just wait for an old client to reach out or for the work to find you.

5. Work on Your Own Projects

There’s also another way to look at downtimes in your freelance career with variable income and it’s the perspective that you get to work on your own projects.

Freelance can be a demanding profession that pulls you in many different directions.

Because of that, freelancers don’t always have the time to take care of their passion projects or work that’s under their name that they’re trying to get out to the world.

When the work is slow, you finally get a chance to give that project of yours some time.

And who knows what that will lead to down the line.

It may be an old, tired, cliche to talk about seeing the glass as half full, but it’s true. When you’ve got some time in your schedule due to a dry spell, work on the stuff you love.

Take a Deep Breath

Above everything else, take a deep breath.

Even though freelancing is your livelihood, that doesn’t mean that it needs to destroy you.

Dry spells and variable income happen to the best freelancers and it’s part of the game.

Your mental health should always come first!

Joseph Reilly is the author of the novel Vanishing Love published by Adelaide Books in November 2020. Aside from being owner of Reillywriting LLC, he is a current writer at Digisphere Marketing, 214 Interactive, and MarketScale. Joseph’s writing has been published by hundreds of small and large businesses like Verizon, CIC Reports, and Chegg. He’s also been published by  Ephemeral Elegies, Monologue Blogger, Dreaming In Fiction, among others. He has also penned four self-published contemporary romance novels and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from The New School in New York. You can read all of his work and more at

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