Avoiding the feast or famine trap

It 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.

When 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:

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 how to say no compassionately, but firmly, when client requests interfere with you running your business to your own benefit.

Establish a time budget for marketing.

It’s helpful to have two different 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 lunch, make phone calls, send out letters, 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.

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. If the deadline was next week, you probably wrote and re-wrote until it was perfect. If the deadline was today, 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.

Get your marketing done first.

Sit down at your desk in the morning, and before listening to voice mail, reading email, or looking at your project list, 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:

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.

Send out a reminder.

This could be in the form of a postcard, email broadcast, or letter, 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…

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 in a 3-ring binder, or software 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, email, or letter. 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…

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 a client calls and you are not available, they will often 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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