“It’s Either Feast or Famine”
Any business owner knows there are ups and downs in business, whether seasonally, economic-driven or just random in nature. Regardless if you are a recent startup or a seasoned entrepreneur, these ebbs and flows may still strike fear and panic in your business planning. Being in business nearly 20 years, I often say when asked about my business, “it’s either feast or famine.” There are certain periods throughout the year that I can predict and plan for, and sometimes others I have no explanation for. Either way, there are steps you can take to prepare for the famine and endure the feasts.
Times of entrepreneurial famine has obvious effects of managing a business with less income and sales profits coming in. How do you aim to stay positive and optimistic when you struggle to pay static overhead costs, marketing costs and employee wages? What can you do to endure the lean times without losing hope? And what steps can you take to bring the famine to an end sooner than later?
Although, it may look more like a positive than a negative, entrepreneurial feasts can cause their own array of issues: the stress of impending deadlines as you juggle multiple projects, enlisting temporary help of contractors to handle the workload, delegating and distributing redundant tasks so your core team can focus on the delivery of your product and service, and effective time management strategies so you can still have a life while balancing work.
Either scenario has it’s own list of challenges, but both equally can cause an entrepreneur undue stress and anxiety, reducing the joy and satisfaction of running your own business. We’ll discuss ways to endure each contrast, as a happy entrepreneur is one who takes one day at a time, with keeping one eye on the future.
“Remember that the future comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln
Handing the Famines in Business
Famines will happen in most businesses. Accepting that will help you endure the rhythms of economic droughts. For certain businesses, the holiday season results in booms especially for retail products, food producers and the hospitality industry, while it may spell drought for many service-based businesses. While there are some factors we can predict, there are some effects we cannot, nor control such as the economy, policy and regulations changes, political unrests, and even severe weather.
Case Study: Some of my brick-and-mortar retail clients have struggled during snowy, cold winters and late springs as customers are less inclined to venture out, while online ecommerce business may see a surge during inclement weather because online activity including ecommerce surges.
First, don’t panic. Most downturns don’t usually last long so the worst thing you can do is make knee-jerk decisions that could impede future success. If the famine could have been prevented or predicted, make changes in your business process now so that the next time you’ll be better prepared. Each door that closes is an opportunity to find a back door. So take this time to learn, to grow, and to build endurance as a business.
Second, use this time to accomplish tasks you don’t usually have time for. When the slow seasons become more predictable, you can use some of that newly found free time to accomplish essential but often pushed-aside projects: financial reporting, tax preparation, budget analysis and forecasting, revising your business plan, quality assurance of products and services, employee and subcontractor reviews, file organization, cleaning out your office of outdated paperwork, review and collate customer files for more efficient communication, office operation review and time management policy review. It’s amazing what you can learn about how your business is running and how operations can become more efficient overall as you take time to review your processes. This alone can prevent future downslides as well as waste of time, money and personnel.
Third, use this time to market your business. Marketing a brand is a full-time job but oftentimes business owners do not have the budget to hire a marketing manager but choose to wear this hat along with all the others of running a business. When you’re slow, you can sit down and really analyze your marketing plan by asking key questions. How many hours a week do you spend on marketing? What is your current marketing budget and are you seeing a clear return on your investment? Do you know how to measure ROI? How often are you adding content to your website and if so, how often is it being read, shared and drawing traffic to your website? What is your return on your social media efforts, beyond the vanity metrics? Is your email marketing being opened, read and clicked through?
If you feel you’re not getting results from your efforts, this would be a great time to take an online class, workshop or read a book about digital marketing so you can become more effective. You can also hire Startup Production for an internet marketing training session designed specifically for your industry or market. Since you have more time, use it wisely to write content for your website, blog and email marketing. Write several articles that can be shared in the months ahead, so you’re ahead of the game when work begins to pick up. Consistent content publishing has the greatest impact on your SEO, and your content can easily be recycled for your other digital channels.
Fourth, use this time to network your business. There are usually ample networking events throughout the year, but the challenge for most business owners is sacrificing billable hours to attend them. If you’re slow, definitely get your business cards packed and your elevator pitch polished, so you can promote your brand’s good name and products in front of your local audience. You make the greatest brand impression when you meet someone face to face, shake their hands, exchange business cards and engage in polite conversation. Networking events are also a great way to create new partnerships, learn more about your local businesses, improve key skills for running your business and make new friends. Volunteering your time for local charities can also improve your networking opportunities, improve your brand’s reputation, build community spirit and increase personal satisfaction.
Fifth, take some needed rest and relaxation. Business owners on average work more than the typical full-time employee as well as make better use of their time. We don’t have time for water-cooler conversations in our workday, as we are not paid hourly but are paid based on results so every minute and hour counts. Our passion for our business’ success is what drives us, our customer’s satisfaction is our bonus and overcoming obstacles is our paycheck.
“One survey from New York Enterprise Report found that small business owners work twice as much as regular employees. It also found that 33% of small business owners reported working more than 50 hours per week, and 25% said they work more than 60 hours a week.” – Score.org
So in turn, when sales famines occur, especially ones we can predict, this would be a great time to focus on our health, our family and our personal lives. Take a vacation with the family, spend time with a favorite hobby, explore new skills and talents, host a party, and reconnect with friends. So often we are juggling so many different tasks throughout the day, the week, the month, take this quiet period to just enjoy the fruits of your labor with no guilt, no anxiety and no worries of what is coming next. When things do turn around, then you are more prepared and even excited to get back to the grind. In times of rest, we are more creative, open to change, and better prepared for the challenges ahead.
Sixth, use this quiet time to create new ideas, new products or services, and new ways to serve your clients. We create our bests ideas during the quiet, and we find solutions to our biggest obstacles in the calm. Is there some new service or product you’d like to offer but haven’t had time to plan and implement? Have you’ve been wanting to offer a reward program, special discounts or referral system to your existing customers but haven’t had time to promote? Do you have no ideas to evolve and grow your business but are usually just too busy to create a strategy for? All of the above are ways to build your business and even increase sales in the long-run, and they may even prevent future famines or shorten the slow times at least.
While it’s quiet, instead of moping around waiting for new leads, use this time to grow, evolve, plan and build. In the future, you may actually look forward to these slower periods as a time to analyze, reset, refresh and reboot.
Digesting the Feasts in Business
While it may not seem as big an issue as dealing with down times, often the feasts of our busy season can cause even more stress. In the efforts to keep our businesses running smoothly and effectively as clockwork during the high season, we take on more hats than necessary thus working longer hours, sleeping less, worrying more and ruining our mental and physical health in the process. We may even begin to think that the payoff of the extra work may not be worth the sacrifice. Instead of letting ourselves get to the point of losing our joy and taxing our mental health, we need to find ways to enjoy the success and excitement of the feasts.
Implement organizational and efficiency processes. Hopefully you already have good organization and time management habits in place. Recently I queried a business networking group about their most effective daily time management habit. Unanimously, each and every one of us, including myself, ended each day by writing up a plan and agenda for the next day prioritized by essential tasks to tasks that needed to get done when you had time. Many of used Stephen Covey’s four quadrants grid from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by collating duties into (1) Urgent – Important, (2) Not Urgent – Important; (3) Urgent – Not Important; and (4) Not Urgent – Not Important. Especially during our busy season, do we need to examine and analyze what tasks are most essential to complete and which can be delayed temporarily, or even removed altogether.
Reduce or eliminate distractions. Time management is about turning off the time-wasters (phone, social media, internet surfing) so you can work as distraction-free and as focused as possible. Once a distraction occurs, it can take over 20 minutes to get back ‘in the zone’. So turn off the phone, email notifications, and hang that ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door post for a set time period during the day. Schedule times throughout the day to return phone calls, emails and meet with clients, but also schedule time for distraction-free time as you would any other appointment. If you don’t, you’ll be interrupted, and your productivity will likewise decrease.
“It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption, according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine. Multiple studies confirm this.” Idonethis.com
Learn to say no. Unfortunately, during the busy times, declining invitations are par for the course. You may miss out on social activities, networking events, speaking engagements, and advertising opportunities but you or your team cannot spread yourself out so thin that you lose control of your to-do list. If you can delegate some of the essential activities, then you may be selective as to which events bring the greatest return. With that said, one exception to this selectivity is time for family and your children, which are a high priority regardless of workload. Make sure you set definite times to work, to rest and to focus on family. There may be exceptions to working late or on weekends, but make sure overall those are exceptions rather than the rule. If you’re unsure of your current work/life balance, ask your family as they’re sure to give you an honest answer.
Save your pennies for the rainy days. With increased projects comes increases profits, so make sure you use that wisely to save for the slow season, pay off any lingering debt, or invest in your business to prevent or shorten those rainy days ahead. Talk to your financial adviser or accountant on how best to use those additional funds to grow and secure your future business growth.
Delegate with caution and mindfulness. During your prosperous season, you and your team may just not be able to handle the incoming projects and new clients. If these are jobs that you can’t just risk losing by delaying, then you may need to hire new employees or contractors. Subcontractors or temporary workers are a great way to supplement the highs without increasing overhead and aggravation during the lows. But be mindful of who you include on your team.
Just because you’re stressed and desperate, do not increase your workload by bringing on individuals that have not been properly vetted. It may take more time to train them if their skillsets were exaggerated, more time to fix their mistakes if they’re careless, and more time to sort out any issues if they use illegal or unethical practices to get the work done. Have a concrete contract in place that your legal professional has reviewed, get references, communicate company and standards with them, and have a plan in place to terminate their contract if need be. If a contractor excels and has shown consistent quality and efficiency, then you may want to offer employment or a more permanent arrangement.
Take a moment to relax and enjoy the success. Your hard work in marketing, earning positive reviews and referrals, increasing brand awareness and soliciting partnerships through networking have paid off. Instead of stressing about how to accomplish the day’s, week’s and month’s duties, take a moment to bask in the glory of your accomplishment. It’s with great satisfaction to see the risk of entrepreneurship pay off, seeing your dream come alive and your passion ignited by success. Remember this is a good thing, even though it may cause additional work and stress. To maintain the joy of the feast, do all you can to regularly take time throughout the day to meditate, exercise, eat right, get a good night’s sleep, be among nature, spend time with positive people and enjoy activities that you love.
Stay Calm & Adjust your Sails
Both the feasts and famines in business provide opportunities to either fine-tune your processes, grow annual profits, and balance out workflows, preventing dramatic ebbs and flows in the future. In either scenario, it’s vital to stay calm, be versatile and enjoy the changing winds of business.
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” Jimmy Dean