Owning a business can be a really great thing - making your own hours, dedicating your time to something you love. It tends to sound pretty dreamy. But for all the benefits, there are always a couple of negative sides as well. One of the main hesitations associated with starting a business is that your livelihood is entirely in your hands. Suddenly your income is your responsibility. For that reason when business becomes slow, it can easily become the biggest stressor in your life.
Staying vigilant to your everyday tasks is one the most important things you can do, but I have found it is also extremely important not to give your finances too much power over you, your life, and your business. If your business is operating solely on a money mindset, it's going to be more exhausting than fruitful and more stressful than rewarding.
For me, this lesson was driven home last December (2016). December has always been my slowest month, as it is for a lot of businesses. I have found that no one is particularly eager to jump into a relatively time-consuming task for their business in December when we will inevitably run into a couple of necessary breaks in the process, prolonging the whole thing. Last December, the first one I was self employed for, I found myself more stressed out than I have probably ever been about my finances. While I knew it was coming up, I was not prepared for the toll it would take.
Looking back on that season, I've thought about things that I could've done differently that would have improved the situation and have prevented me from encountering the same kind of scenario again. So far these are good sound bites, but as previously stated, slow seasons happen. So how do you avoid stress and address those times?
A slow season doesn't mean you're failing. It happens to everyone and it is completely normal, so having a few strategies to minimize the negative impact and to get you back in business is helpful to have in your back pocket. These tips will help you to be prepared and make the most of each season you experience in your business.
Have a rainy day fund
Starting your own business means you need to become more familiar with your financial situation and fast. Regular evaluation of your finances will give you peace of mind and set you up to have a little wiggle room. A good starting place is knowing your minimum monthly expenses and how many jobs/clients you need to reach that minimum. Set aside some money so that you have funds to dip into when business is slow. This should be separate from your other accounts and you should aim to add to it more often than you take from it.
Use slow times to strategize
It's so often that when our workload is full, it’s much harder to devote time to evaluate what's working for you and what isn't. This is a good time to look back on your past month six months or past year and determine where you found the most success.
Who were your favorite clients?
Make a list of your 5 favorite clients or projects you’ve worked on. Then write down why you loved working with them. Was it a specific industry? Was it the type of client? Was it the process you had in place working together? Be as specific in these answers as you can, then identify patterns. These are the people you should be trying reach more of so you can continue to work on projects you love!
Where did you find those clients?
Now that you have a solid client profile, write down how you ended up working with each of these clients. Did they find you online? Was it social media? Which platforms? Was it word of mouth? Do you know who they were referred by? Was it an in-person introduction? At a networking event? Which one?
Again, being specific here can help you to focus your efforts so that you aren’t wasting time on strategies that haven’t been working for you. Instead, you'll be investing your energy on recreating the circumstances that led to your ideal outcome.
What are the strategies that you had in place to reach them?
Make an actionable plan based on your findings from above. If you were being recognized on Facebook, create a plan of when/what to post and stick to it! Plan your posts in advance. If you haven’t tried promoting a post, this could be a good time to work this into your plan and see if you can find even more success with your strategy.
If it was networking, think about the kind of event you went to and make a plan for how many events you will go to each week or each month. Find the ones that work for you and put them on your calendar. Block it out the same way you do with everything else and treat it as part of your job. If it was word of mouth, think about how you can reach out to those people. Maybe you have a promotion. Maybe it’s focusing on your newsletter to stay in touch with these people, but don’t ignore the people who have helped you find success.
When did you feel most profitable?
All of the above is great, but if your favorite client was your best friend who paid you $50, you will have to strategize on how to build from here to make it sustainable for you. Showcase this work to attract similar clients who will be able to pay you a sustainable figure.
Invest time in your business
Something we all run short on is time. When you find yourself with some left over in your day, don’t wait for a client to give you a project, give yourself one!
As a designer, of course, the first thing that comes to mind for me are any visuals I'm using that are subpar compared to the way I want them to be. Last December when I ran into my slow spot, I focused on a redesign of my website.
The first version I had was really a placeholder from the get-go, somewhere to direct my clients until I could create something I felt reflected the Good Day brand. It was a huge project, but if I hadn't started it then, I think I still wouldn't have, and I am so so pleased with the outcome. Now I can feel confident in directing potential clients to the site, and I can continue to improve rather than starting from scratch.
We all have those items that only exist in the back of your mind. They aren't ever at the top of the list, but something that we know needs to happen. Keep an ongoing, prioritized list and when you find yourself with a few less projects and a little more time, move those to the top of the list and get going! Make the most of it!
Seek some form of ongoing education
I've said it before, but I will say again that I am a firm believer that if you want to be a master of your craft you must always be a student of your craft.
Find some sort of educational activity that relates to your business and use this time to dedicate your efforts to this.
It could be on the more intensive side like signing up for an online course and dedicating yourself to that content. It could be something you work into your schedule in a continuous way, like seeking out a podcast you love that inspires you and helps you generate ideas for your business. It could be a combination of the two.
The more informed you can be, the better business owner you're going to be.
No matter what, stay encouraged! It won’t last forever, and the more proactive you are in taking your business into your own hands, the better off you will be!