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EPISODE 29: Fixing Feast or Famine Cycles

by Apr 13, 2021Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • What a feast-or-famine cycle is
  • Why feast-or-famine cycles challenge your business
  • Ways to structure your business to escape feast-or-famine
  • Reinforcing that escape in your content

Here’s a common problem for business owners: you need money, so you focus on sales. Then you land a bunch of sales, and panic about delivering on what you’ve promised. So you focus on delivery, but then you’re not selling. So you panic about sales, and focus on that…

See the problem?

It’s called the feast-or-famine cycle, and it’s an exhausting way to try to run a business.

But you can break the cycle. You can learn to keep your work at a manageable level, so you can focus on both sales and delivery at the same time. All you need is the roadmap to get you there.

 

In this episode, you’ll learn: 

  • How to identify feast-or-famine cycles
  • The challenges feast-or-famine poses to your business
  • Ways to structure your business to avoid {or escape} feast-or-famine mode
  • How to reinforce your approach through your content

Tag us on Instagram @northstarmessaging and tell us how you’re breaking free of feast-or-famine!

 

Additional content referenced in this episode includes:

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz

Brand Your Voice podcast episode 4: How to Capture Your Unique Voice

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Jessi:
All right, welcome back to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. And today we're going to dive into how you can fix the feast or famine cycle in your business. And this is a topic that really impacts all businesses. It's one that tends to come up a lot if you are in a business where you're providing done for you services like writing, because you do have to put a lot of time and energy and fingers to the keyboard, getting that work done for your clients. And so it's something that we experienced a lot ourselves, and it's something that we have seen our own clients and our peers experience a lot. And so we wanted to dive into how you can get out of that cycle for yourself and your own business and how pieces of what we do like branding your voice can help support that.

Marie:
Absolutely. Cause I think content is actually really key to escaping this mode. Obviously there's, um, some operational decisions you're going to have to make and some business decisions, but ultimately, the content is going to be really supportive. So first of all, if you haven't heard of this cycle or you're not sure if you're experiencing it, I'm just going to describe what it is. So, it starts like this. You realize you need money in your business. And so you focus on sales and, you know, as our friends and coach and mentors taught us and is totally true, this is from Lisa Carpenter, by the way, what you love and what you focus on is what grows. So all of a sudden you're like, I need money and you're like, I'm going to do sales and boom, you make some sales and great there's money coming in the door and things are great. Except you actually have to like, you know, do something for those clients that you just sold to. Like, I remember that feeling. I've had that feeling so many times of like elation, when I see an email that's like so-and-so has purchased, you know, paid and I'm like, yeah. Then I'm like, Oh no, no, I could actually do that work. Now in the terms of clockwork, you know, you're delivering for your clients. And you know, you're hustling or you're working hard and you're getting that done so that you can earn that money that you've been paid. And that's great. It's a feast of work, but you're so busy with the work that the sales start to drop off and you're paying less attention there because again, what you love and what you're focusing on grows and at the moment it's delivery. So then, then what happens Jessi?

Jessi:
Then you just started all over again. You find yourself in a position where you have to focus on the sales. And so you do, and you have this brief period of total and complete panic that, you know, we're very familiar with because we've experienced it many times over the decade plus that we've been in business. And so you focus on sales and the sales start to grow again. And you just enter this endless loop of panicking about sales, going out and making a bunch of sales and then panicking about delivery because you made all of these sales. And of course you said yes to all of them because you were in panic mode and you needed all of that money and you needed the work. And so you have more delivery than you can potentially handle. So you're dealing with that. And then it just repeats ad nauseum until the end of time.

Marie:
Yeah, because I mean, who has energy to sell when you're like, you know, writing 17 sales pages in an afternoon.

Jessi:
Right exactly. It's not, it's not a well balanced business as far as making sure that the pipeline is always full of potential clients to the point where if you wanted to, you could even heaven forbid say no, or say, Hey, we have a waitlist or we can start you in two months, which, you know, for us back in the days when we were really living in this feast or famine cycle saying something like that, it felt like impossible. It felt like something we would never be able to do because not only were we in this feast or famine cycle, but when we were in a feast when we were delivering tons and tons of content and overwhelmed by all of the content that we were delivering, we still, when we got the odd person coming in, even when we weren't focusing on sales, who was like, Hey, can you do this piece of content for us?
We still would say yes, because we were so afraid of the upcoming famine. So it wasn't just what we were doing that was creating this feast or famine. It was also our mindset. We're also in this mindset of, Oh no, the next famine is coming. We need to be like a dragon hoarding, our gold. We need to hoard it all over this, these clients that are coming in, all of these requests that are coming in, so that we're prepared for the next time. And I think at, at, at its core, there's, there's a bit of, you know, something good in that, in that, yes, we want to be prepared for the future. That's something that's absolutely beneficial and worthwhile for our business. However, when it's coming from this place of constant terror, that all of a sudden your delivery is going to dry up and you're going to realize, Oh, wait, I have to start from scratch again. Every single time. That's when it becomes more destructive than productive.

Marie:
Right. And I think the other good place it comes from is that like, you care about your work and the quality of your work. And so when it's delivery time, you're like all in. And that's great. But you know, what, if your work we're in a perfect world, right? Like kind of always at a manageable level so that you could always also be doing sales. And by the way, when, I mean sales, I don't just mean like sending out a proposal or getting on a sales call or pitching yourself. You know, also just creating relationships, not working. Yes, I'm an introvert. And I said, this scary word, you know, it can just be something as simple as like reaching out to somebody in a, you know, a community you're in and just saying like, Hey, you sound cool.Do you want to like talk for 20 minutes on zoom? Like I discovered a long time ago, you know, I could get, I can get through a dinner with anyone it's an hour, you know, anyway.
So going back to feast or famine, what really causes this is, what we've heard described as the headlights approach, right? Where, like you can only see the road right in front of you. Because that's all that the light is shining on on the road. And so, you see in front of you a big pothole that says like, no money. So you swerve around that. And then you see another pothole ahead of you that says, you know, no work and you swerve around that. And it just, you know, goes on and on. But like, if you could actually see the full lay of the land, you can actually make plan and have roadmap.

Jessi:
That's a very dangerous road.

Marie:
Yah, drive on this road. This sounds like the Alcan, I drove up to Alaska.

Jessi:
We have some stories about really, really bad roads.

Marie:
Uh huh. We're not telling that story.

Jessi:
We're not telling that story right now. That is a deviation from the point of this episode, which is you really don't want to be on a road that's full of potholes and full of that anxiety and terror of what am I going to see around the corner that I wasn't expecting. And so it is important to have that roadmap. And the good news is just like any road trip you get to plot your course. And there are a lot of different ways that you could take your hypothetical road trip. I'm sticking with this analogy as long as I can, because I really want to go on a road trip right now.

Marie:
Yeah. It's, COVID cabin fever over here.

Jessi:
But it is possible to step out of the cycle. And yes, that's even true if you're a writer or a content creator, it's possible to create a situation where your drive is smooth, where you yes are in a state of delivery and a state of sales all the time, but not to a point where either of those is completely burying you to the point where you can't focus on growing your business or taking time out of your business where you feel like you're hustling all the time, because that isn't fun. And that isn't something that for many people brings them joy. And so you want to be able to create the space for creativity and inspiration while also knowing that you're bringing in clients and that you're able to deliver what you promise to those clients. So let's talk a little bit about how you can actually make that happen.

Marie:
So probably not surprising. The first thing we're going to recommend is our Brand Voice Process. You know, and you can follow whatever process you want, but ultimately this for us has been key in helping us get more, streamlined in terms of the actual delivery itself, create happier clients, which really is going to lead to a lot of the stuff that we're going to talk about, like increasing retention. And it allows us to sort of have that creative expenditure of the front end. So that then on the back end of the project, you know, you can actually use that as a resource going forward. Things like, you know, what is the language of the brand? What are some of the stories of the brand, all of that is like at your fingertips. And so now you don't have to be like, pause that thing, or like, can I make up a story and then run it by the client and see if it's maybe something they might say, like, you know, you have all this stuff to pull from so that your creative expenditures way less as you deliver, which then gives you more energy for things like sales and working on the business itself.

Jessi:
Yeah. And if you need a refresh on exactly, what's included in that Brand Voice Process, we have a few episodes that we'll link to in the show notes. I go over each part individually. Today we're just talking about it as a whole, as a way to really understand if you're a writer, your client's voice, so that you can create that incredible customer experience where you really get them and reflect them. And if you're not a writer and you are a business owner who is looking for ways to get out of this feast and famine cycle, knowing your own brand voice is actually really helpful, because one of the things you can do to create more time for yourself is start to outsource that content and those stories. And so having all of that documented somewhere is just going to make that, that much easier. So that's definitely one of the key ways that you can start to get out of the feast and famine. It does, as Marie said, require a little creative energy upfront, but it's a document that lives in breathes with the client relationship, which allows you to get to our next point, which is increased retention.
We talked in a previous episode about how a few years ago, North Star pretty much did website copy all the time. And we loved it and we still love it. But the inherent problem of doing only website copy was that it didn't leave a lot of room for retention. People would come for that project, and when the project was done, our together would often be done because you don't continuously update your website every single month, hopefully. And I mean, maybe if you have a blog and whatnot, but that's different type of project. And so we looked at our business models that, okay, how can we keep this thing that we love doing, which is website copy, but also diversify our revenue streams in a way where we can offer things like ongoing blog posting so that we have a reason to invite that client, to stick with us after that initial project or to come on with an ongoing project in mind, right from the get-go.

Marie:
You know, no that diversifying revenue streams, doesn't just have to be creating more types of content and spending more time typing at a computer. It can also be things like, you know, do you tend to recommend a lot of books to people? Okay. Well, great. Are you part of like an affiliate program for your favorite bookseller? Are you, affiliates for the technology that you use? Is that something that you can recommend, even if you're not, you know, building a whole affiliate business. Like all the time we'll have clients say to us things like, well, how did you build that quiz? Or how did you, you know, create that course? Or how did, how are you invoicing me? Cause I really like the way that, that runs, you know, see if there's an affiliate link that you can leverage for tech that you're using.

Jessi:
Yeah. And those are small, you know, dollars and cents here and there from a revenue money, but it does add up. And when you're implementing a lot of different, pieces of these strategies, it can all work together to create this sort of base layer of more consistency.

Marie:
Yeah. Or like a funnel even, right. If you have some kind of small offer within a funnel.

Jessi:
Yeah. Which leads right to our next point, which is automating what can be automated. I remember back in the day when we were still creating super, super custom quotes for every single client who came to us, which was like a three hour process and highly not recommended, we at some point realized that that was not efficient and decided at that point to create some more standard packages in our business, which is one of the things we did in order to alleviate the feast and famine, because we spent less time in sales, we spent less time coming up with the sales pitch. We could just easily send it over, which allowed us to have more sales calls to begin with, but also to shorten the sales process, it was quicker from phone call to Greenlight to go ahead with a project. But we also use that as an opportunity to automate what we could automate. Whether that was a funnel that led to a product that did not require us to physically write whether it was a email sequence so that when someone signed a contract with us and paid their invoice, they automatically got emails that told them their next steps so that we were not manually writing that every single time for every single client.And this may seem pretty simple, but this is stuff that we didn't do for years. And it really, those just like the dollars and cents add up. So do the seconds and the minutes that you spend in this process that could be automated.

Marie:
Absolutely. And so another way that you can save yourself time is explore if there are any ways for you not to just serve clients one-on-one, but one to many. So for instance, you know, we had for years been using, templates that we would use to make sure that every landing page, for example, that we created kind of had all the right elements and in the right order. And obviously they're all custom, you know, we use the brand voice to make sure that they sound like the client. But ultimately, you know, you want to do similar stuff. The landing page has a purpose, whether that's for a nutritionist or, you know, a life coach or like anybody, right. Like it's going to have the same purpose. And so we then actually decided to make those templates available to the public for a low cost, so that we could serve more people, but it didn't actually take us more time. So see if there's ways that you can explore one to many models, a membership like whatever, right. It may be a little bit out of your wheelhouse. And so find something that actually makes sense for you and your business, but if you can, that can really help because it doesn't actually necessarily take you more time to serve two people than 200 people on a model like that. So you can scale it up.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think too, one of the, this is for writers specifically, one of the things to look at is what you're bringing to the table that is not writing specific, but ties into the writing you're doing. So for example, in our business, we do spend a lot of time creating content, but we also spend some time on the front end talking strategy. And so there's an opportunity there to pull the strategy piece out and offer that as a service, a standalone service that does not require as much delivery energy as, you know, writing a full funnel for a client. And it can still help supplement that income, allow you to stay out of the piece and famine by giving a quicker cash injection into your business that doesn't require, you know, like a website copy project, which might take a month of work after you get the invoice paid. And so the money is able to go a little further, faster.

Marie:
Absolutely. A couple other suggestions for you. If you can figure out what's like the capacity that you want to be at in terms of delivery, take a look at creating a waitlist for anybody who goes above and beyond that capacity. Instead of being like the dragon, who's hoarding all the goals and the jobs, see, what it looks like when you tell someone great, sure. I can, I can start you in two months. You're obviously going to want to be judicious within this. If somebody has a launch in three months, it probably doesn't make sense to create the content, you know, a week before. So, you know, evaluate based on who's a bit more urgent and who's less urgent. Um, and know also that you totally can say, no, even if somebody seems like a lovely person and the project seems great, but if they're like, you know, pushing you faster than you feel comfortable, or there's something that you're not comfortable with, you can say no to that because I promise it's not going to get better once the project gets going, unless you lay the, the boundaries up front and you stick to them really closely.
The other thing that you can do is explore payment plans. I heard from somebody recently that they refuse to do payment plans because they want all their money up front, but then they always find themselves running out of money, you know, a few, a few months later. And so one thing that we've instituted, and this is actually a suggestion from a Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. I think at least it's in the book, if not, it's, you know, advanced Profit First stuff that we've picked up along the way, but, creates a bank account that is called drip. And that way, like, let's say, somebody pays you all upfront for a six month long project. Okay, great. Then you save a sixth of that money for yourself right now, and then put five, six of that into the drip account. And then every month you put another six of it into the account that you can actually spend money from that way, you don't feel like your, it sounds like you're a drug and hoarding gold, but what's actually happening. There is now, you know, you have security knowing that that money will continue to come into the business over time. And now you can breathe a little easier, even if you are kind of entering a quote unquote famine cycle, because, you know, you still have set aside some money from this project that you're still working on, but that they paid you, you know, four or five months ago for.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I want to circle back around to something you said around capacity too, because you know, this whole idea of a dragon hoarding their gold, and hoarding their dollars. I want to talk about what we do with our hours, because that is, I think something that writers and done for you service providers struggle with a little bit more than maybe other areas, because there's a need to accurately assess how much time and energy it's going to take to create these products that, you know, sometimes that's a bit of an abstract thing and it can change from client to client. You could have a client that is, you know, everything's great on the first round and it turns around real fast. And then you could have a client where it's a little bit more revision heavy, or where the direction changes and things like that.
And not all of that can be avoided, but if you really your capacity and set up a system where you are pacing yourself, that also allows you to avoid that sudden huge influx in delivery. So it's so important to know, okay, I can take on five clients at once, anything more than that and I start to become really, really overwhelmed, or maybe it's three clients, maybe it's one client. You there's no wrong number, but knowing that number, or I can take on one of this kind of project at once, or for example, launch copy is the example Marie used, which I thought was a really good example because this is something we run into pretty consistently where we have to sit down and have conversations about setting expectations around the length of time it takes to create launch copy. If you're doing a full fledged launch with all of the working parts, the time it takes to write that content is going to be more than a week, it's going to be closer to six weeks and setting that expectation upfront doesn't just allow the client to know what to expect, but it also allows us to plan our delivery and plan when we're creating content in a way where we don't get overwhelmed by it. And we're not trying to create a sales page and an email sequence and ads and all of this different copy all at once. And so we're giving ourselves the time to recharge our creative batteries as well.
So when you're thinking about your delivery and when you're thinking about a wait list, and when you're thinking about ways to pace your content, think about it, not just from what money you need in the bank, but think about it from the perspective of what you need to do to fill your creative bank as well.

Marie:
Oh, I love that creative bank filling. It reminds me of, like the Sims, right? It's like, Oh, well, I've hung out with someone now. So my social bank is full. Like that. Think about that. Like, what does it take to fill your creative bank? And to be clear if you're, especially if you're not a content like a professional content writer listening to this, when I said 17 sales pages and an afternoon, that was hyperbole to be clear. Okay, we're going to have an episode soon on expectations between, you know, CEOs and content writers. So we'll get into that more then, but in the meantime, let's wrap this episode up. So, um, let's talk about how we can actually leverage content, whether you are a writer and have like a writing business or you're a CEO who does not have a writing business.Doesn't really matter. You can use content to break out of the feast or famine cycle and really reinforce your brand voice in a way that supports your business.
So what we suggest you do is decide on one, some of the suggestions above or something else to support you, you know, that we were just talking about like leading into the Brand Voice Process, increasing retention, diversifying income streams, automating, um, exploring one to many, creating a wait list, exploring payment plans or drip accounts to kind of make your own payment plan. Um, any of those that sound good to you, great decide on it, commit to it at least for, you know, 90 days, see how it goes. And then here's the key, communicate it in your content. And also if you need content to support that process, for instance, you want to finally create that funnel that you've always been kind of dreaming of, like that is going to take some content creation to make happen. So go ahead and do whatever you need to do to create content, to support that process. And then...

Jessi:
And then you actually implement it, put it out to the world, put the process in place. And you know, as you're creating the content around this process, do use this as an opportunity to reinforce your own brand's voice because often the especially automated content things like, Hey, here's your invoice, or yeah, you paid your invoice or here's your contract. All of those things that once they're automated and set up and going in the background, you don't even think about every single one of those is an opportunity to reinforce your brand while also helping you break out of that feast and famine cycle. So pick a how do you do it, communicate it through content and make sure that whatever you chose, you're implementing it and giving it a fair shot for a period of time where you can see if it's working for you and make tweaks if it's not. So that at the end of the day, you have a system that allows you to finally break free of that feast or famine cycle.

Marie:
Exactly. So that was your homework. And I hope that you are able to finally create more stability and fill that creative tank while also filling your money bank.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast, make sure to visit our website Northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you and happy content, creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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