Freelance Income Sources and the 80/20 Rule

I’ll keep this short and sweet. As a freelancer, jobs come from various sources. I wanted to get a visual handle on where mine personally comes from, so I created this graph. Numbers are percentages of total income since I started freelancing 15 months ago:

MathWarehouse-pieSo, about 60% of my income is from my personal network: “Friends & Family” (my direct network, people I already knew reaching out for software help) plus Referrals (my indirect network, friends of friends & family).

I was surprised to see LinkedIn at almost 40%, but the numbers don’t lie. This is from two individuals (not recruiters) reaching out on LinkedIn for help, that turned into successful gigs.

What was surprising is what didn’t make it on the chart: recruiters and job sites. I’ve spent plenty of time talking with recruiters, as well as contacts from sites like, but not a single one turned in to an opportunity.  Using Timothy Ferriss’s beloved Pareto Principal, I’d say that about 80% of my time trying to keep my pipeline full is spent talking with recruiters, searching job sites, and applying/following up with the contacts there.

Yet, this time doesn’t even result in 20% of my income, it results in 0%. Zero percent. In other words, 100% of my freelance income comes from sources reaching out to me, which is both wonderful and chaotic. The wonderful part is that I can use this data to invalidate spending time on looking for new opportunities. The chaotic part is that I have no control over my pipeline, so I have to have faith that jobs will keep appearing. For 15 months, they have, but if anything changes, I’ll be sure to let you know!

For anyone else freelancing, I’d definitely recommend this exercise. Personally, I learned that I should generally ignore recruiters and job boards, while making sure to keep my personal network impressed with my work and maintaining a nice LinkedIn profile.