When Things Get Slow

Fall has always been the busiest time of year for me and Greenline Creative. I attribute this bump in activity due to the fact that summer vacations are over and businesses begin to focus on the goal of finishing out the year strong. It can also be attributed to clients and businesses wanting to get as many tax deductions completed as they can before the end of the year. It’s a busy time, but a great time for cash-flow. However, what do we do about the other remaining months in the year?

My Experience:

During the early days of freelancing, Julie and I used to get really scared when things slowed down for us. Cash flow would literally just become a drip, but the bills would keep coming. If you’ve experienced this, you know what I mean. It’s a very stressful time for any business. However, over the years I’ve learned to deal with this slow time and have chalked it up to a few small things that you can control. One of the struggles that we faced that I think contributed to this slow time was the inability to get sign-off on projects. This was often because during our slow time we were focused too much on winning large projects, and getting the sign-off needed on those projects was a challenge because the stakeholders were in and out on vacation. The other issue we always dealt with was a dry pipeline because we were so focused on completing projects during the fall and early spring that we weren't entirely focused on new biz development. The slow time was ultimately a cycle we dealt with for many years until I made a few small changes in the way I viewed the slow times.

For some reason I felt like new clients were the only way I was going to fix the slow time. Once I realized that the problem I was trying to solve wasn't the lack of new clients, but more so the lack of cash-flow, I immediately put a plan into action that focused on generating and maximizing cash-flow. This didn’t completely eliminate the slow times, but what it did was help me accept, plan and push through them with confidence that our business isn’t drying up.

What I’ve Learned about the Slow Times.

  • You’re not alone: I use to make the slow times personal. I would blame myself for not having enough clients or for not doing a good job with my business. Then I realized that even the largest and best businesses deal with slow times. Once I accepted that it’s common to have slow times, I quickly turned my attention to developing ways to embrace and minimize the impact of the slow time vs. trying to prevent it all together.
  • If you go silent the cash-flow will stop: Why does advertising exist? Because, it keeps you in front of potential buyers even when they may not be ready to buy. What I realized about the slow times early on was that because I was heads down working on projects, my existing client’s didn’t know whether I was taking on new projects and even worse, they forgot about us. After I realized that I made it a point to stay in constant communication with my clients by doing email reach outs. It’s a simple yet effective way to generate a handful of small projects from time to time when you find the phones not ringing.
  • Adjust the way you bill your clients: Managing your cash-flow should always be your central focus when it comes to running your freelance business. Depending on where you are in your business, you may see a huge benefit in receiving all of your money for a project at once or by getting it all at the end (which I highly discourage). If you have the means, try to increase your cash-flow by spreading out your billing for projects in installments. Depending on the project, you can bill monthly for the length of the project or just split the payments into fours to start with. Spreading out this cash-flow through time creates overlap and minimizes the harshness of your slow times.
  • Develop passive cash-flow solutions: The best way to battle the cash-flow concern is to reduce its blow by creating a passive cash-flow solution for yourself or business. You can do this by selling illustrations, templates, etc. on a marketplace, developing a side-project, teaching or even freelancing in-house at an agency. Whatever you choose to do for a passive income, note that the solution won’t immediately surpass your consulting income, but it should help you reduce the effects of the slow time. One thing to think about when developing your passive cash-flow solution is to develop a solution that doesn't distract completely from your primary goals and business. You’re not developing a distraction, you’re creating some side revenue.
  • Embrace the slow times: Perhaps the biggest benefit of the slow times of running a business is the benefit it provides you to refine and develop strategies around the things that you can improve on with your business. When you’re constantly working, you never have an opportunity to evaluate from the outside. This is a great time to work on your businesses vs. in it. It’s also the perfect time to unwind and recharge. However, in order to embrace this slow time and get the most out of it you need to accept that it exists and plan for it. Start documenting patterns in your business so you can plan to leverage those slow times for self evaluation.

My takeaway and some actionable next steps:

Having a slow time with your business doesn't mean you’re failing. It’s not personal. Most businesses have slow times. Don’t panic. Panic will cause you to make drastic decisions that could have long lasting effects on your business. Always remember that the problem you are trying to solve isn’t finding new clients, but increasing and managing cash-flow. A cash-flow problem can generally be solved pretty quickly by reaching out to your current client list or generating some passive income strategies. This isn’t a fix all solution and these passive income strategies won’t solve the slow times entirely, but they will minimize the impact which will provide you with ability to evaluate your business and recharge. Sometimes this has an even bigger benefit to your bottom line than you and your team staying heads down working on tons of new projects.

What’s Next?

Before next week, I’d like you to do one thing. Create a Mailchimp account (or alternative) and start building yourself a “General Newsletter” list for your business. Use this list to capture emails from existing and new clients through your website. This list is a great way to keep your clients in the know of when you have new announcements and most importantly if you’re taking on any new projects. Anytime I send an email out to my Greenline Creative email list, I pick up three to four new projects and a few handful of requests for coffee and Skype calls within the day. It’s a useful tool to have in your back pocket when things get slow.

I hope you found this lesson valuable. What have you done to battle the slow times in your business?

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