Avoiding the Feast or Famine Trap


Article by C.J. HaydenIt often seems that it’s the destiny of the independent professional to exist in a constant state of feast or famine. Either you are working day and night to keep up with client demands, or you’re wondering how much is left in your savings account and whether the phone will ever ring again.

Feast or famineWhen you’re having a feast of business, there’s plenty of money coming in, you’re getting recognition for your talents, and your energy level is usually high. But you may also feel constantly pressed for time, have to disappoint some clients you can’t adequately serve, and lose out on future business because you can’t respond to new opportunities.

When a business famine strikes, you have the time to develop new business and provide good service to the clients you still have. But you may also be low on cash and not feeling so good about yourself, which gets in the way of effective marketing.

There’s a simple answer to this dilemma. You need to market for new clients consistently and persistently, no matter what state your business is currently in. But like many simple answers, this is not necessarily easy.

Here are some suggestions for how to always make time for marketing:

1. Sometimes the customer comes second.

If you spend all your time doing client work, you will go out of business. You need to set aside time not only for marketing, but to answer correspondence, keep up in your field, and oh yes, send out the invoices. Every time you rush to help a client with what they call an emergency, you set a precedent that you will be available on short notice. Learn to say no compassionately, but firmly, when client requests interfere with you running your business to your own benefit.

2. Establish a time budget for marketing.

It’s helpful to have two different time budgets — one for when you are busy, and one for when things are slow. If you’re busy, a minimal budget will keep your marketing rolling. In two hours per week, you can go to coffee, make phone calls, send out emails, or make contacts about speaking. When business is slow, you should increase your time budget up to 30-50% of your work week — more, if you aren’t doing any client work at all.

3. Make marketing a priority in your calendar.

Work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Think of the last time you wrote a proposal or page of web copy. If the deadline was a week away, you may have written and re-written until it was perfect. If the deadline was the same day, you probably miraculously completed it on time. If you block out marketing time in your calendar, and schedule other important activities around it, you will find that those other activities somehow get done. Treat your marketing time just like an appointment. If something truly urgent comes up, reschedule it; don’t just erase it.

4. Get your marketing done first.

Sit down at your desk in the morning, and before listening to voice mail, reading email, hopping on social media, or looking at your client projects, tackle whatever marketing activities are on your agenda for the day. Spend 15 minutes, an hour, or two hours — whatever makes sense for your current marketing time budget — and then start your regular day. This has the added benefit of allowing you to engage in marketing when you are fresh.

If despite your best efforts, you do hit a famine period, there are some things you can do:

1. Take advantage of the lull to make a plan.

This could be a new marketing plan, or it could be a business plan where you do some financial modeling or revisit your strategic direction. I usually do this myself during the month of December, when I can expect a seasonal slowdown as my regular clients take vacation time and new clients don’t want to begin until January.

2. Send out a reminder.

This could be in the form of a postcard, email broadcast, or social media posts, with an announcement, special offer, or helpful information for your target market. If you are thinking, “Send a reminder to who?,” you need to take some to time to update and…

3. Use your contact management system.

Every independent professional needs some type of contact management system to track your clients and prospects, whether it’s sheets of paper in a 3-ring binder, or software you access on your computer or phone. When business is slow, every potential client in your CMS who hasn’t heard from you in the last 30 days is worth a phone call or email. You are much more likely to get a client quickly from following up than you are from contacting someone new.

If you use a CMS, you’ll be able to…

4. Research where your business comes from.

If you track the source of every lead, you can then determine which sources actually delivered people who became clients, and then how much money each of those clients spent with you. It’s an extremely worthwhile use of some down time to find out which sources of business put the most money in your pocket, and then see what you can do to replicate them.

If you do a good job at consistent and persistent marketing, inevitably you will attract more business than you can handle, at least at certain times. Don’t be so afraid of this possibility that you allow it to hold back your marketing! If clients call and you are not available, many of them will wait for you. Having a waiting list makes you more desirable, and it also allows you to raise your rates because of the perceived demand for your services.

So don’t stay trapped in the feast or famine cycle. A steady diet of just enough clients will feed a happier, healthier, wealthier you.

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Reader Comments

I especially like #3 (use your contact management system). When business is slow, contact all your contacts.

Some people believe that any proactive marketing is a sign of desperation. If you phone someone, that makes you look undesirable so you won’t get work, they say.

I look at it from the opposite direction. If you don’t feel desperate, you won’t come across as desperate. Contacting past clients and others with whom you have relationships is a wonderful way to stimulate business.

-d

Diana Schneidman, author, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less

Diana, this is so true. I often tell people that following up with a past contact makes them appear professional and thorough, not at all desperate.

Regarding #1: I’ve learned to avoid clients who are trapped in the feast-or-famine cycle themselves, and who believe that is the norm. In the past, those have been the clients who kept me scrambling with work assigned or cancelled on short notice and late payments. In my experience, those clients are not malicious; they accept and expect the same behavior from their own clients.

Barbara, that is excellent advice! You’re right, those folks who are struggling with this issue themselves are very likely to try and pass it along to you.