The answer to the question how many clients do you need in the title above is not an easy one to answer. The first answer I would give is: as many as it takes.
But, you are probably looking for a more precise answer.
Personally, I can live quite comfortably with 3 steady clients and a plethora of non-steady ones. Right now, that is exactly my situation.I have 3 clients that I regularly work with and for, but I also have other clients that are not steady and throw work at me from time to time.
It can be difficult when all these clients come at once, and I have found myself drinking as much coffee as I can possibly swallow just to keep up…But that is good!
To offer my advice, I would set your goal in getting 3 solid clientage. Bend over backwards to show them you are the best so they will keep you as their preferred freelancer. I suggest giving slight discounts on large orders, and double-check your work so there are no errors.
While I am giving you a number of clients, this does not mean to stop bidding on freelance jobs once you have your 3 clients. I always try to bid on at least 1 job every day. I learned a lesson years ago from the family of farmers I have. Never put all your eggs in one basket. You may think you have some steady and solid clients, but in a flash, they may be gone.
Freelancing is a business. Every business is always looking for new customers along with taking care of the customers they have now. As freelancers, we have a business and should be doing the same thing.
So are you worried that you may have days when you will have too much work and will not be able to meet deadlines? This is where time management and proper scheduling comes in. Use a planner and be willing to tell clients if you will not be able to meet the deadline before accepting the job. Some clientage will understand and will work with your schedule. I also suggest networking with other freelancers, and if you are overloaded, maybe they can take some of the jobs off your back.
It all comes down to planning and working extra hours if need be.
I hope this post helps you; now get back to work and make that client happy!