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Damien Cosset
Damien Cosset

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Freelancing: 4 levels of clients?


Some changes in my professional life made me rethink the way I was freelancing and looking at/for clients. I started reading a book called the Freelancer's Bible, written by Sara Horowitz. There are a lot of useful informations in there, even if the book is not about our field in particular.

Anyway, in this book, the author talks about 4 levels of clients. These are 4 levels that you should have in your portfolio. Balance these levels and you won't have too much trouble getting work (and money) in the future.

The freelance portfolio

The author compares this portfolio to a financial portfolio. To protect yourself from the market's volatility, it's a good idea to diversify your holdings. If one of your asset ( or client ) disappears, you have other options at your disposal to earn money. Your portfolio must also be balanced so you meet some goals:

  • Have enough good clients. What's a good client? Someone who pays well and/or can advance your career. Make sure you don't have too few and not more than you can handle.
  • Bring enough steady income to prepare for rainy days.
  • Meet your total income goals.

Depending on where you stand, you might have to rebalance your portfolio.

The levels

So, the author describes 4 levels of clients, which I will try to describe the best I can.

  • Level 1: The Blue Chips
  • Level 2: Growth Investments
  • Level 3: One-Shots and Long Shots
  • Level 4: New Ventures and Growth

The Blue Chips

The Blue Chips are the core of your freelance portfolio. They provide you a regular source of income. The buy-and-hold investments. They are usually your most important clients. You have a deep relationship with them. You might even get referrals!

But, there are some challenges with the Blue Chips clients. If the project is awful, or the people are, you might not have the luxury to leave until you find a way to replace the lost income. Because Blue Chips can also disappear, it's a good idea to have more than one client like these in your portfolio. Be also careful about the boundaries with Blue Chips, you are a freelancer, not an employee. Make sure they understand that.

Growth Investments

Called the Blue Chip Incubator in the book. These are clients you'll get from referrals, other freelancers or your own prospecting. Level 2 is about networking. By having a solid Level 2, you'll stabilise your career.

You are in control of Level 2. You are looking for opportunities and try to turn some prospects into Blue Chips clients. You decide which type of projects and clients Level 2 will bring you.

The challenging part about Level 2 is finding a good price for yourself. Too low and you'll get stuck in low-paying gigs that takes too much time. Too high and some interesting prospects can't afford you. Find a balance.

One-Shots and Long Shots

These gigs are about filling time or income gaps. You need money right now. You don't have much time to network or you know you'll be a few weeks without work, this is where you go. You are looking at job boards or websites like Upwork.

There are a ton of opportunities in these places. No networking is needed because the prospects are waiting to hear from you. These platforms also ensure payments, so you won't have to chase your check.

However, you will be hundreds of freelancers applying for the same gig. The pricing is extremely variable. Some platforms might even have a way to track the number of hours you are spending on a project or check your progress... Talk about the freelancer's freedom...

Anyway, keep Level 3 for what it is. Quick money, short-term gigs and fast experience. You need money, you do what you gotta do. But you shouldn't have all your portfolio here.

New Ventures and Growth

This is the most speculative part of your freelance portfolio. It could also be the most exciting. Here, you are creating services or products that will bring income in the long-term. You could work with other freelancers on a project. You could write a book. You could think about teaching...

Level 4 needs to be planned. It stays on your radar. It shouldn't eat away too much time for the other parts of the portfolio that are bringing income now.


You now know the 4 different levels of clients you can have in your portfolio. As a freelancer, how does your portfolio looks like? Do you think it should/could be more balanced? Do you believe there are other types of level?

Top comments (2)

peter profile image
Peter Kim Frank

Thanks for sharing Damien, this is super interesting. Level 4 seems like revenue-generating "side-project" territory.

In freelancing, of course, there's opportunity cost in everything you do. If you're not putting energy into a Level 1/2/3 income-generating project, you're definitionally forgoing revenue. However, it seems that side projects tend to draw from a different well of creative energy, and could maybe be considered through a different prism relative to more direct-income opportunities. More as an evergreen escape and opportunity to learn (and to hopefully make money).

damcosset profile image
Damien Cosset

Balancing the Level 4 is probably one of the trickiest level to balance. In a lot of cases, you are your own client. So you have to discipline yourself to work for the exciting Level 4 projects, and discipline yourself to NOT work on those exciting Level 4 projects. As you said, the time spent for these projects means you are not working for money right now...

So... exciting and rewarding and also dangerous :D