Feast or Famine - the inconsistent work & sales schedule of a freelance business.
The classic freelancer dilemma - feast or famine.
Not heard of it?
It's the concept of spending time/effort to get new clients and work for your business. This means sending out proposals, meeting potential prospects, networking, opening new conversations etc.
Eventually (in an ideal world - not always the case) this work pays off. You get some projects in, then it's time to get to work.
Plan out the next few weeks/months and crack on with the web design.
Time goes by, projects run smoothly - or not, and you're potentially left in a bit of a situation.
All that work you've spent previously in order to get more work was not carried out. As your project finishes up - you're left with a clear calendar.
At this point - you're either ready for a Tim Ferris style mini retirement in a tropical destination or you've come to the realisation that you have no work lined up & hence no cash coming into the business. Not good.
You were focused on the fulfilment side of the business and not the sales side. After all, that's maybe why you started out - to carry out design or development work for clients.
It's likely you didn't start this freelance/agency business due to your passion for unreplied emails, tough pricing discussions and rejection when it comes to the sale.
The reason I'm writing this article is because I took a look at my Google analytics. And I could see for myself the effort of working to get work and working to deliver work through the number of users to my agency website.
Now, this could've been a range of factors over the last 6 months, but it's quite clear that there was a period of higher traffic to my agency site, and recently a much lower period.
Why? I've been busy with projects and the sales side of the business has not been a priority. For me, it's interesting to see and something that's important to consider going forward.
It would be great if there was some information that I could write here that would solve the feast or famine problem right away. I can however provide some info here that may help you (and me) going forward in the freelance/agency business.
Planning out days, weeks and months can allow for an assignment of different activities within the business.
If you're sitting down, planning out your week and you can see that you're buried with projects, you're able to see and set aside some time for sales based activities.
Without planning, it's more likely you'll work on the highest priority tasks at hand - completing the work for clients. Sales is probably not high priority at this time - hence the problem in the first place.
What could this look like?
- Sending 2 RFPs (request for proposals - think Upwork) per day
- Opening 5 conversations with prospects per week
- 1 networking/business/industry event per week
These could be more, or less. Point is they're goals to work towards. Planning and goal setting can be key.
Build a habit
Building on the point above, building a habit of spending time each day or week can help with the issue of no branding/sales related work at all in times of busy client fulfilment related work schedules.
Spread the work
This means potentially not piling up all your work in one week, working late evenings and shipping a project on that Friday.
By spreading out the work some more, it allows more room in the calendar for planning and sales related activities.
A warning on spreading work:
Typically, freelance and creative professionals will not like the sales process. By spreading out work to make sure you're always working, this can be essentially putting off the discomfort of selling. If this becomes too much of a problem, projects take too long, you have less time to spend on sales and when the work eventually does finish, you could be out of work.
More on the above, if you're working on a new project for a client who needs this done within a week - it may be easy to just pile this on top of existing work.
This shouldn't be the case. It's good to have client expectations and by 'booking' in the client for when you're completed with current work means that this work doesn't suffer & you're not sprinting to get everything completed then running out of work.
If the clients needs it completed urgently - consider a rush fee.
Looks like it's all coming down to planning. By planning ahead, you're able to see that work 'runs out' in 5 weeks time.
At this point, you're working towards that date and you know that it's fairly important to get some more work in for that time period. Here you can work backwards.
By working on sales which is generally not something summed up at the end of a blog post - it means that you're able to focus less on the discomfort of opening new conversations, and you can get more projects with less effort, and at a higher revenue.
Hopefully this post gave some ideas and things to think about when it comes to this cycle of working for work and working on delivering. It's best to really combine the two at the same time and not work in a way that you're either spending weeks working 'on' the business and other weeks working 'in' the business.
Would be good to hear any thoughts on the solutions posted here. There are many other things to consider when working towards this problem - so I'd be keen to hear more.
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