Boom, Bust, Bollocks!

If you’re a small business owner (or even a big business owner for that matter), you’ll have heard of the phrase ‘feast or famine’ associated with working for yourself; and if you haven’t, chances still are you’ll be familiar with its effects. It refers to the rollercoaster of highs and lows experienced by everyone running their own business and often takes new entrepreneurs by surprise, bringing with it a shedload of worry and stress, this is what I call the Boom, Bust Bollocks!

It’s a cycle you’ll all too quickly and easily become familiar with – the ‘boom’, where you’re so busy you barely have time to scratch your arse, followed by the ‘bust’, where you don’t know where your next job – or penny – is coming from.

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Boom Bust Bollocks!

It is, in a word – bollocks. But don’t chuck the towel in just yet, because I have some solutions…

Starting out on your own can be incredibly stressful – at least when you were working for someone else you knew your next wage was coming from, even if the work itself left a lot to be desired. The uncertainty surrounding money can be terrifying in the beginning, after all, you know exactly what your monthly outgoings are, but now your income isn’t predictable – or guaranteed!

Now, when you’re really busy with work that uncertainty doesn’t seem quite so frightening, but if things start to slow down you can probably say goodbye to sleeping well at night. If you don’t know how to stop these boom or bust cycles, you’re doomed to keep repeating the same working and spending habits that ensure this feast and famine pattern continues.

It’s not as simple as just ‘saving some money for a rainy day’ and problem solved (although it certainly won’t hurt), everyone who starts their own business has plans for growth, and if you’re constantly up and down that’s not going to happen. Boom then bust creates a plateau where your progress is stalled and you end up with nothing to show for all the hard work you’ve put in. But how does this cycle start in the first place? It starts with the boom. Ah, ‘first world problems’, I hear you cry; and in effect it is – it is a side effect of your success.

It might begin with a sudden increase in demand for your services or products – diverting your attention away from the all-important growth-driving activities; in other words you become so busy taking care of existing customers that you stop seeking out new ones – or certainly stop prioritising strategies for attracting them! Inevitably this ‘boom’ of customers will eventually peter out, and it’s only after you’ve taken a step back, hands on hips, and congratulated yourself on your success, that you’ll realise that you’ve been so busy you’ve neglected the sales and marketing side of your business.

It’s no wonder then that you’ll plummet into a quiet period….where the next period of the cycle; the famine, or ‘bust’, is about to begin. Initially of course you’ll have the financial cushion of the previous boom to soften things…but once that money is gone, and new customers aren’t coming it won’t be long before cash starts running short; bills then arrive, and your anxiety skyrockets. Of course there’s a lot of people who thrive under this sort of pressure – who do their best work when the chips are down; who will become highly motivated to develop new sales strategies and drag new business through the door.

Conversely there are many others who will start to despair and panic first – but either way, growth activities will have to be kick-started in order to get the business back on top again. Marketing, advertising and promotion will begin in earnest, contracts and deliveries will be fulfilled until the boom or feast begins again. And so it continues, up and down in perpetuity.

When your business is in boom mode it’s a wonderful ‘winning’ feeling and you’ll feel on top of the world; you’ll probably get comfortable there – it feels like it’ll never end and you’ll take your entrepreneurial foot off the gas! This is normally because, let’s face it, most of the things you have to do to drive growth for your business can be incredibly boring – networking, cold-calling, following up prospective leads and creating material for marketing. A boom gives you the perfect excuse to put these mentally draining activities on the back burner for a bit, after all, you’re far too busy working with customers and making money to continue pushing your business forward.

In the beginning things like advertising, building a portfolio and a reputation are tasks that take up a lot of your time and energy – you need to invest that effort in order to bring in those first precious customers or clients! Once you have them of course you start focusing all of that time on serving their needs and before you know it that’s all you’re doing – and who can blame you – you’re not going to turn down the money are you!? Admin and marketing then falls by the wayside in the meantime, but that’s ok right? You already have customers, so you can just sort out all that other stuff later. This is a dangerous mindset to get into – if you wait until the work starts to dry up before you concentrate on those things you might as well be starting from scratch; everything you’ve built up from the boom will be gone.

When you’re running your own business you might never be able to make your workload and income as predictable as it would be if you were working a 9 to 5, but there are things you can do to even out the boom-bust cycle. It’s all too easy to procrastinate and resolve to apply the things to remedy the situation ‘later’….but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll tame the famine-feast beast!

You Should Never Be Too Busy For Marketing

Marketing is key to finding paying customers when you’re starting a new business and you probably devoted many many hours to it. It’s harder to keep that marketing momentum going once you have a decent customer or client base and it’s normally one of the first things to fall through the cracks – you might put marketing strategies off for weeks or months at a time.

That would be stupid.

It might sound crazy, but one of the most important times to be marketing is when you’re busy. This is because when it comes to marketing you rely on steady momentum – for example, a strategy such as a blog, email, or advertising campaign might not bear instant fruit; it could be months before it brings in paying clients. You need to be consistent with your marketing in order to slowly increase your awareness in the minds of potential customers. To continue marketing while you already have a lot of paying customers might seem demanding or greedy – but you’ll be glad you did when work starts to tail off and you head into the famine period.

It can be tempting once you hit this bust period to go on a marketing binge – which can be counter productive; firstly, bombarding potential customers with marketing after a drought could have the opposite effect to what you want – there’ll be so much to take in they’ll likely miss something or be overwhelmed and switch off, and secondly, by the time you see any results from the marketing you could well be on the way up again. A continuous drip-feed approach to marketing is much more likely to yield profitable results.

If you’re someone who’s always finding excuses not to do any marketing, try to set one day a week aside to concentrate on just that. That way you can write your web content, blog posts, emails and social media posts in batches and then set them up using automated timer tools to drip it out gradually.

Think About Task Management

Task management is key when it comes to running a business, and be a useful tool in counteracting the bust boom cycle. At the end of each work day spend some time planning what you need to do the next day – even if you’re currently experiencing a boom. Schedule a list of tasks and take care of the most important one first thing in the morning, and don’t stop until you’ve completed your list.

You can even take this a step further and make a looser schedule for the whole week on a Sunday evening. You can adapt it throughout the week as you work out what task is going to be more of a pressing priority as you go. These types of plans help you to stay focused whether you’re going through a boom or a bust, and being in control of how you spend your time will help keep the stress of what might happen at bay.

Save During A Boom

I’ve touched on this briefly, and of course it makes common sense. Having no work during a famine is stressful enough – why add to that by not having enough money to see you through into next month? When times are good it’s tempting to enjoy that abundance and treat yourself to whatever you fancy – and I’m not saying you shouldn’t – but it’s better to wait until you have the next few months worth of expenses squirreled away first! A savings account with plenty of money to cover your living expenses for 6 months or so will give you peace of mind and stop you worrying so much if you hit a rough patch.

Learn To Say ‘No’

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Often it’s so exciting to get paid work that you don’t even think about turning anyone down – even if you have a lot of looming deadlines or you’re not going to make as much money off it as you’d like. If your schedule is packed with a lot of low-paying but urgent projects you’ll be tearing your hair out in no time. You also need to watch out for ending up with multiple deadlines that all fall at the same time – another recipe for disaster! Most people are willing to work with you so if there’s a project you want to take on and you’re fully booked for a few weeks ask them if you can take it on when your schedule is clearer – the worst they can say is no – but if it’s you they want they’ll likely be willing to wait.

Aim For Recurring Revenue

The security of knowing how much you’re getting paid each month is the best thing about being employed. If you’re running your own business the best way to go some way towards replicating this is to aim for long-term relationships with clients and to get recurring revenue through repeat business. One-off transactions or projects are frustrating because sure, you’re making good money now, but you may never see them again and you have to replace them in order to cover your next lot of bills.

Finding ways to offer ongoing services is one way to remedy this; if there are customers and clients that you work with consistently you could speak to them about the possibility of a retainer agreement – you’d only need a couple of these to make a significant difference during the famine period. Also, they’re quite handy to have when it comes to planning your work schedule because you’ll know to factor in the time it takes for those projects first, which means you’ll be less likely to take on more work than you can handle.

Network, Network, Network

The importance of networking to a young business, entrepreneur or freelancer should never be underestimated, and networking events are an essential part of helping your business grow. But don’t wait until heading from boom to bust to attend! Get yourself out there and increase your interaction and visibility – even during your busiest times I recommend putting aside an hour once a week to devote to networking (and more when you’re able!). Networking events are a brilliant way to meet other business owners; which can lead to collaborations, as well as sourcing new clients and forging other business relationships.

Prioritise Your Media Platform

If you don’t already have a Linkedin page, Twitter account, YouTube or Facebook business page you could be missing out on huge amounts of revenue.

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Setting up these pages costs nothing, and it only takes a few minutes to post something promotional – and it could make all the difference. If, during the boom periods, you really feel that you don’t have the time to keep on top of several different social media accounts, and there’s no one who can do it for you, concentrate on the one that benefits you the most.

For example, if you are an artisan baker creating exquisite and beautiful cakes, or if you have a younger client base, it would make sense to concentrate on Instagram, where gorgeous photos of your work can be all the advertising you need, and users are largely of the young, trendy variety. If your client base is older, or you offer a service where potential clients won’t be swayed either way by pretty pictures, focus on an older social media platform such as Facebook or Twitter.  Remember, social media is FREE advertising!

Reach Out To Former Clients

If your business is one where you have the details of former clients or customers on file, don’t be shy when it comes to staying in contact with them. I’m not saying to start hassling them for repeat business or bombarding them with offers, but it’s a good idea to get in touch and gently ask whether there’s anything else you can do for them, or let them know that you would appreciate a review or a referral. It brings you and your business back into their consciousness, and could remind them that they need your services once more! Again, don’t wait until the wolf is at the door before you do this – schedule it in with your workload and make a point of reaching out to at least one former customer or client once a week.

Do It Now!

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