5 Ways to Overcome the Freelance Feast or Famine Cycle

It happens to all of us on a regular cycle: business is booming and there’s barely enough time to sleep or spend time with your significant other. And then suddenly the phone stops ringing, and your inbox turns into a desert. Where’d all the clients go?

We go from a veritable feast of work to a belt-tightening famine. And we all have a theory of when our famine begins. It’s around the holidays and a month or two during the summer. Arrange the stars any way you like, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s absolutely possible to ensure that you have balanced work all year round. Here are five ways to overcome the freelance feast or famine cycle.

  1. Market Yourself…Always

  2. Just because business is great and you have so much work you have to turn clients away, doesn’t mean you should put your marketing efforts on hold. In fact, you’d do well to do the opposite. When business is booming it becomes imperative that you set time aside for your marketing efforts, and that you seriously protect that time. Based on conversations I’ve had with other freelancers, marketing is the first thing that stops when we get busy. I get it. I’ve done, and do, that same thing. But it’s a bad idea.

    If you can devote even an hour per week to your marketing (okay, 30 minutes?), you’ll be in far better shape than if you did nothing at all. Some marketing-y things you can do include: sending an e-newsletter, direct mail postcard campaign, attend networking events, make cold-calls, meet a prospect for coffee, social media outreach/thought leadership development, or a quick email to some of your best clients/prospects saying, “Hi, I hope you and your family are having a great summer!”

  3. Diversify Your Revenue Sources

  4. Okay, so your clients go into hibernation a few times per year. Then don’t rely on them for the bulk of your income during those months. What other sources of revenue can you develop in the short- and long-term that can help round out your monthly earnings during your typically leaner months? Do you have any passive income opportunities? Ideas include creating e-books; online, pre-developed training courses (check out Teachable); joining affiliate programs; lead workshops; pursue speaking/interview opportunities; and focus on getting projects through creative staffing agencies.

    Just because your clients aren’t working doesn’t mean you can’t. As a freelance professional, you create your own job, your own work. Develop a source of revenue in addition to your direct clients. Based on the suggestions I gave above, this means you’re going to have to up-level a little bit and create some original products/programs. Good for you!

  5. Network Like Your Job Depends On It (Because It Probably Does)

  6. Networking is a self-marketing strategy, and goes along with #1, but it’s important enough to deserve it’s own call-out. We’ve talked about the importance of networking a few times on this blog (here, here, and here), because we believe in it.

    Attending networking events with the intention of making new connections is a great way to continue to meet fresh faces, and expand your network of possible clients and partners. It also gets your name out there. I’m a firm believer that the energy you put out is returned to you in some way. Either from the person/place you expected it to come from, or from a completely different direction that you could never have foreseen. You have to give to get. You have to put yourself out there, introduce yourself to your community and be genuinely interested in them. It’ll all come back to you when you least expect it. You’ll see.

  7. Create a Customer/Prospect Nurturing Strategy

  8. It’s possible that your clients/prospects stop calling you because they’ve forgotten about you. How’s your follow-up? How often do you see or communicate with your clients and prospects? If your clients don’t live near you, you won’t be able to happen upon them in a coffee shop or at an event. You’ll have to work a little harder to stay in front of them.

    I’ve been re-reading The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman, and one of the examples of this he gives is of a freelance copywriter who reaches out to his network 8-12 times per year. Imagine! He intentionally contacts his clients and prospects 8-12 times per year! He does it in a variety of ways–direct mail, email, in-person, etc–and he’s busy all the time.

    I’ve been working on a nurturing strategy of my own that includes:

    • 6-10 yearly e-postcards
    • Maybe two yearly direct mail postcard campaigns
    • 3-4 networking events per month
    • As many coffee/lunch meetings as I can handle (ideally not more than three per week)

    I’ll report back on how it goes this year, and share my findings and details about every step.

    Can you commit to contacting your entire client and prospect base at least six times per year? Or at the very least, the most lucrative and promising of the bunch? That’s once every two months. You can totally do that.

  9. Continually Educate Yourself

  10. You’re not doing yourself or your clients any favors by stagnating. What you know has value. Consultants are in the business of sharing what they know, and can command enormous fees for it because they know their shit. Make time every week to keep yourself up to date on the topics that interest you, and that are of value to your clients/prospects. Topics like SEO, social media marketing/advertising, content marketing best practices, new industry technologies, or influential people and events. You have to stay current and relevant if you want to command higher fees, trust, and skills.

    Do you subscribe to any magazines? Do you regularly follow a blog or podcast? Have you taken any educational courses or trainings, or attended a conference that enhances your knowledge? Well, you should! Educate yourself regularly in whatever makes the most sense for you. Mike Russell listens to copywriter Ed Gandia’s podcast every morning, I read Inc. Magazine online and in print every week, Dylan Benito follows fantasy authors and tech innovators on Twitter. Whatever you’re into professionally (and personally), keep your education current and pass that knowledge on to your clients. It’ll pay you back in dividends. AND when business is slow, what else are you doing anyway?

These are the five ways I overcome the freelance feast or famine cycle, and some or all of these strategies could work for you too. What are some ways you keep your freelance pipeline full? Share your wisdom in the comments.

The 4 Stages of Knowing

When I was a freshman in college, my track coach taught me something to me that I’ve carried with me throughout my life: the four stages of knowing. He was applying them specifically to running and our ability to become better athletes, but the implications are much broader. Knowing what stage of knowing you’re in for any particular topic (basically, knowing what you don’t know) is an extremely powerful tool in life and business. I’ll lay out each one, and briefly expand upon them.

1) Unconscious Incompetence

You don’t know what it is and you don’t know how to do it. A completely new concept has been introduced to you and you know nothing about it. Your incompetence here doesn’t mean you’re stupid, bad, or wrong, it simply means you’re a complete amateur at whatever it is. That’s how all beginners begin!

When you first heard of “social media” you were in this stage. When my coach first instructed me in proper running form, that one new thing you learn every day. This is where we are on the subject before we learn otherwise. Embrace these beginnings. For better or worse, once we know something, we can’t un-know it.

2) Conscious Incompetence

You know what it is, but you don’t know how to do it. Continuing to use social media as an example, your conscious of it now, but you don’t know how to use it. This is the exploratory stage when you start to poke at the thing, click all the links and see what they allow you to do, read blog posts about it, and test it out yourself. It’s the learning process in action.

For my team, it meant that we looked and felt ridiculous as we began to train our bodies to move in ways they never had before. There was bruising (physical and psychological), but we stuck with it and we all improved. Once you “get it,” but aren’t necessarily skilled at doing it, you achieve…

3) Conscious Competence

You know what it is and you know how to do it! Huzzah! You are now a practitioner of that thing! Again, you’re not necessarily good at it yet, but you’re committed to learning, and your skills and abilities are improving. After a few weeks of our new training program, our bodies weren’t as sore anymore, we weren’t asking as many beginner questions, and we were actually helping each other fine-tune our new skills.

For social media or anything else you’re learning, this is where you’re regularly working at the thing, studying it, committed to mastery (or at least competence). It could be an educational course, a new dance move, the perfect cup of coffee, a new language, a yoga pose, anything you choose to dive deeper into.

4) Unconscious Competence

You know the topic so well you don’t even have to consciously think about it anymore. You could argue this level of knowing means you’re an expert, but that’s not necessarily the case.

As track athletes, my teammates and I certainly improved, and got to a point where we could be on auto-pilot while we were training, but that doesn’t mean we were experts. Semi-pro perhaps, mini experts even, but only from our perspective as athletes. Learning about the sport as an athlete is different than learning about it from the perspective of a coach, or a judge/referee, or an athletic director. Do you see where this is going? Having one complete perspective on something could make you an expert on a subject…from that singular perspective. I just assume that mastery involves knowing a subject from the inside out, and knowing how to apply it to any given situation (effectively using social media to sell products versus promote thought leadership, for example).

Living and being is a lifelong process. While we’re all absolutely capable of improving (learning more, increasing this, becoming skilled at that), mastery takes incredible amounts of time and dedication. Hopefully we’ll all be able to say we’ve mastered something in our lives, but if not, know that your unconscious competence is remarkable in itself.

Why Your Stage of Knowing Matters

So you go from:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: “I have no idea what that is or how to do it.”
  2. Conscious Incompetence: “Oh, so that’s what that is. I still don’t know how to do it.”
  3. Conscious Competence: “I totally know what this is and how to do it.”
  4. Unconscious Competence: “I can talk about this with authority and do it in my sleep.”

Knowing what stage of knowing you’re in is important because it’ll help you manage your expectations of yourself (be patient with yourself as you learn this new thing), set goals, plan your way forward, and see how far you’ve come (congrats!).

So which of the four stages of knowing are you in for your current interest? Stick with it. Your competence will improve over time.

30 Principles to Help You Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie

You’ve probably heard of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If you’re building a business, in business, or at a standstill with how to make new things happen for yourself, the principles in this book will help you win friends and influence people.

I’d heard of Carnegie’s book for years before actually getting around to buying it. Then it took me another year or so before I actually read it. I can say with certainty that since I’ve read it, I’m much more confident and aware as I walk through the world and interact with clients, colleagues, and loved ones. Engage with these principles deeply and honestly, and you’ll start to see immediate changes in your own life.

30 Principles to Help You Win Friends and Influence People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
  4. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  5. Smile.
  6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  9. Make the other person feel important–and do it sincerely.
  10. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  11. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  12. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  13. Begin in a friendly way.
  14. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  15. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  16. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  17. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  19. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  20. Dramatize your ideas.
  21. Throw down a challenge.
  22. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  23. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  24. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  25. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  26. Let the other person save face.
  27. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  28. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  29. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  30. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

The Dale Carnegie Way

This list is a sorry substitute for owning and reading the actual book. According to Carnegie’s recommendation, I re-visit this book and it’s principles on a regular basis–probably every month or two. Just to refresh, reset, and remind me how to be my best self. I’ve also been toying with the idea of enrolling in one of his in-depth leadership training courses. At a minimum, I recommend you check the book out from the library, and then when you realize how precious the advice it (or in my case how much I wanted to underline passages and dog-ear the pages), you’ll probably buy it. I recommend that too.

If you’ve already read it, what changes did you notice when you applied the principles? Do you have more friends? Are you more influential?

How To Create a Marketing Campaign

Last week, we talked about freelance money insights from Shell Tain, a Portland-based money coach. The Conclave hosted Shell at our first event for 2015.  We already discussed the genesis of why we wanted Shell Tain to talk to freelance content creators and editors.  But what you may not know is that I started designing the marketing campaign in October 2014, and we had several challenges to overcome. how to create a marketing campaign

The Challenges

1.  The event was not centered on copywriting/editing/content advice, which has been one of CC: PDX’s major value propositions for members and prospects.

2. Shell Tain wanted to specifically talk to Portland copywriters and Conclave members.

3. Talking about money makes people nervous.

4. It was on a Thursday evening during dinnertime.

Our primary target pool was 45 people.  I also designed a complementary Twitter and blog strategy that would, if nothing else, help the Conclave’s visibility in the Portland community.  My main aim was to be visible without spamming people.

I scheduled e-mails to go out two weeks prior to the event, one week prior, and then three days prior.

The Metrics

Here’s our e-mail metrics (averaged for the entire 45-person target pool):

  • First e-mail’s open rate: 83%
  • First e-mail’s click rate: 27%
  • Second e-mail’s open rate: 73%
  • Second e-mail’s click rate: 16%
  • Third e-mail’s open rate: 59%
  • Third e-mail’s click rate: 10%

As for Twitter, I started with tweets two weeks in advance, and then slowly ratcheted them up to once-a-day tweets.

Here’s some analytics from Twitter:

  • First tweet: 355 impressions; 10 engagements
  • Second tweet: 409 impressions; 8 engagements
  • Sixth tweet: 305 impressions; 2 engagements

The Takeaway

How did all of this marketing translate to dollars?  We enjoyed a 20% sales conversion rate. Those who attended said they received a lot of value from the event (I certainly did), which will lead to more people joining the organization. We also received social media support from the venue itself (Forge Portland), and a kind shout-out from Mathys+Potestio.

Our next event, Momentum Drivers for Writers and Artists featuring Lynette Xanders, is currently scheduled for May. We’ve developed a content strategy for this event, and the Conclave in general, that will guide us through the rest of the year.

Interested in learning more about what we do?  Leave a comment below!  We love to share ideas.

Freelance Money Insights From Money Coach Shell Tain

After attending the Conclave’s event with money coach Shell Tain last Thursday at Forge Portland, I’ve compiled some freelance money insights that I wanted to share.

The First Rule About Money

As kids, we learn from our parents that the first rule about money is: you do not talk about money. Consequently, we all have a guarded, childish relationship with money that prevents many (most?) of us from saving, investing wisely, and generally having a healthy relationship with money. Shell said plainly that we all have a 5-year-old running our money. She also said our clients have a 5-year-old running their money too. Understanding that, we freelancers can approach money/contractual conversations with them in a more informed and less stressed manner. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Once you realize you’re dealing with an emotional person (versus a rational one), you’ll be able to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing (potentially giving you a hard time about payment), and you’ll be able to communicate better, more calmly, and more productively with them.

The Land of Enough Versus to the Land of Plenty

A good percentage of people are stuck in Enough Land. Meaning we have what we need to get by and little else. Shell argues that we always have had enough (unless of course you’ve been homeless and literally literally not had enough). Enough Land is the place where we feel comfortable, complacent. Which is too bad because we could be living in the Land of Plenty! A land of milk and honey where we live in abundance and are free from fear. According to Shell, “fear is a distraction. It keeps us from being successful.” Instead of focusing on getting enough, she says, focus on having plenty. You’ll pass the Land of Enough on your way to the Land of Plenty. What’s plenty, you ask? Depends on you. Dream big, she urges.

Channel Cesar Millan with Clients

By understanding clients from a financial perspective, and by channeling Cesar Millan, we can become Client Whisperers. First of all, we know that clients are working with a 5-year-old mentality when it comes to money. Second, we need to manage our clients expectations instead of meeting them. For example, instead of putting “Payment due net 30” on your invoices, add a due date. And if the client is even a day late, call them up and ask with calm assertive energy (this is the Cesar Millan part), “When can I expect payment?” When asked why, Shell said, “If you’re late sending invoices, or you don’t follow-up to enforce them, your clients will assume you don’t care…and then they won’t care either. They’ll send your payment late or not at all.” By managing the clients’ expectations of what it’s like to work with you, you’re setting boundaries and creating a plan to get to the Land of Plenty.

It was a great event, and Shell has already followed-up with me for a free phone consultation. Whether you have a few money questions, or need some serious financial therapy, I highly recommend you call her for a free consultation. After that conversation, you’ll know what you need to do to overcome your discomfort around talking about money, focus on a mentality of plenty versus enough, and be a Client Whisperer when it comes to getting paid.