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EPISODE 83: How to Avoid the Feast or Famine Cycle in Your Writing Business

by Apr 26, 2022Podcast, Thought Leadership

Learn how to avoid the Feast or Famine cycle in your writing business. In this episode Jessi will cover:

  • Increasing your client load {the good, the bad, and the ugly}
  • Preventing the never-ending cycle of Feast or Famine 
  • How to create a business that operates on “enough” versus “too much”

Typically, having more clients means making more money, but this mindset can facilitate a seemingly endless pattern most business owners know as Feast or Famine cycle.

During Feast phases, you’re overwhelmed trying to juggle multiple clients, switch between different voices, and satisfy everyone’s needs. When you’re in a Feast cycle, you don’t have the bandwidth to think about sales. But when those contracts end, you enter Famine mode, where your business suffers from a lack of clients, work, and ultimately, revenue. 

The Feast or Famine cycle isn’t just about money; it also drains your time, energy, and joy. The truth is, more isn’t always better. We all have an upper limit. When you operate at or above your limit, your work, your well-being, and your business all suffer. Growth for the sake of growth is a recipe for burnout.

A strong business is built on stability. North Star has experienced both Feast and Famine, and we’ve learned over time  ‘yes’ isn’t always the best answer. Instead, we structure our business around having “enough,” rather than “too much.” 

This allows us to create more predictability in our workload, making it easier to manage the varying demands of our clients, as well as stability that prevents the never-ending Feast or Famine cycle. 


So, how do put an end to the Feast or Famine cycle?


  • Figure out your upper limit. How much work can you reasonably take on? {Clockwork has an amazing exercise to help you determine this.}
  • Do some time management exercises. We have an entire episode dedicated to this topic.
  • Create processes and efficiencies. Think automation!
  • Adjust your prices. We also have an entire episode around setting your prices.
  • Be okay with saying no and creating wait lists. 

Your business should be designed to support you, not burn you out. If you find yourself overwhelmed by an ever-growing client load, it’s time to re-evaluate your upper limit, your processes, and your pricing. 



  • Figure out your upper limit. What is the MAXIMUM number of clients (or projects) you can take on at once? 


Services/Products/Offers/Freebies Referenced (for affiliate links or list growth):


Welcome to the copywriter collaborative podcast, where we're digging into how you can build a sustainable writing business. We're your hosts, Jessi...

...and Marie. We're the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy. When we started our business in 2010, we had no idea what we were doing. We just knew we wanted to write. Since then, we've learned a lot and we've grown into a successful multi-six-figure copywriting agency with a talented staff of writers and project coordinators. We've served hundreds of clients and we've seen it all. We wish we could have had a resource like this way back then. So we created it for you.

We're here to share our and top tips to help you achieve personal and professional success in the copywriting industry. Every week, you'll get valuable insights from us, members of our team, and special guests. Whether you wanna write better copy, create a stronger copywriting business that can support you financially or both, grab your earbuds.
Hello, and welcome to another episode. Today it is Jessi with you, and we're going to talk about how you can manage a growing client list and everything that comes along with increasing your client load, the good, the bad, the ugly, and how to make sure that you're doing it in a way that promotes stability over time, rather then leading to an endless feast or famine cycle, or putting yourself in a position where you're likely to burn out.
So let's dive right in and start by talking a little bit about that feast or famine that I just mentioned often, when we think about feast or famine cycles, we think about it in terms of money. We think about it in terms of we have a lot of work coming in and therefore we're getting paid well. And then we get caught up in doing all the work and therefore we're not making sales, and therefore when the work ends, all of a sudden our bank accounts dry up. That's how feast or famine is typically thought of and typically talked about.
There's not as much time and energy spent talking about the burnout side of this, the work part of the feast mode, other than it takes you away from sales. It also however, means that you have less time, energy, and bandwidth for really anything, not just sales. During the feast times, if you have a feast or famine cycle happening in your business, you might find yourself overwhelmed, not just with more projects than usual or more clients than usual, but also juggling multiple voices, multiple strategies, multiple content needs, multiple types of revision feedback. All of this contributes to that feast overwhelm. It's when you are in a position where you are taking on more, more, more, and there aren't the systems in place or the boundaries in place to tell you when to stop.
And more, isn't always better, right? We all have an upper limit of how much work we and reasonable reasonably handle without burning ourselves out without putting ourselves in a situation where other areas of our business are suffering. Or wellbeing is suffering, or the quality of the work that we're delivering to our clients is suffering, or just the sustainability of our business. This happens often for a variety of reasons. It could be our pricing is out of whack. It could be that we haven't learned how to say no when a new project walks in the door or a new opportunity walks in the door. It can be exciting to have a new project on the table and it can be hard to say no. It could be that you're recovering from a famine period and you feel like you can't say no.
Whatever the reason, when you have a growing client list and a growing project list, you find yourself in a situation where you do have to juggle multiple things and that inherently isn't bad or isn't wrong. Most content creators and most copywriters have multiple clients. And those clients may have multiple projects. One of the things that a copywriter and a content creator gets good at is managing those different workloads, figuring out how to create a system that works, that allows you to jump from project to project, from voice to voice in a way that isn't overwhelming. The problem comes in when you don't know when you've kind of crossed that threshold into a place that is quickly becoming overwhelming. And this is when writers tend to burn out.
So what we believe is that a strong business is built on stability. We've been here before, right? Our business has had periods of time where we have found it hard to say no to new projects. And we've ended up with a lot of projects that we're trying to manage at once. We've dealt with that in multiple different ways. And we've found over time that continuing to say yes is not always the best answer. Instead, building a business around having enough rather than too much, is what allows us to create stability. So when as a writer and as a writer business owner you structure your business around enough, you tend to create more predictability in your workload. You tend to create boundaries around when to say no, and it makes it easier for you to manage the varying demands. It makes it easier to take a beat between client A and client B rather than just rushing from project one to project two, to project three, to client two and all over the place. You end up kind of being like a ping pong ball, just going from client to client, to project, to project. And if you don't have time to breathe, to reset your brain, to re immerse yourself in the new project goals or client goals, you can quickly run into trouble.
So we wanna avoid that. We wanna make sure that you are not in a situation where you find yourself overwhelmed by juggling an ever-growing client load. We don't want you to be in a situation where you are creating a cycle of burnout for yourself or where you're perpetuating the feast or famine cycle as a result of having so much work that you are getting burnt out or unable to focus on other parts of your business.
So how does this happen, how do we do this? How do we manage a growing client list without getting to a point where we're overburdened and overwhelmed? So the first thing is to figure out your upper limit, figure out how much you can reasonably take on. If you've worked with clients, you have an idea of how much work those client projects took, sit down and make a list. There's a really great activity in the clockwork book where you sit down and you list out all of the clients that you've had, and you categorize them as a crush client or a cringe client. Are they clients who make you just jump for joy to work with, or are they clients that make your stomach twist in a knot? And it doesn't matter why, just that gut feeling for the client. Are they a crush, do you love them? Or are they a cringe? And you're kind of reluctant to really immerse yourselves in the project. And then once you've decided that, then you can go back and look at why are the cringe clients cringe? What do they have in common? Is it something about the workload? Is it something about their attitude? Is it something about the type of projects that they want? And that can allow you to eliminate in the future, certain things and set certain boundaries.
Maybe all of your cringe clients all have email sequences that they need. Well, maybe that is something to tell you that maybe email sequences is a stressful type of copywriting for you to do. Maybe that means you want to do more professional development in that area, or maybe it means you need stronger boundaries around how email sequences set up as a copywriting offer. Or maybe it means that you need to look at your pricing because you're undercharging for what actually ends up being a massive project. Especially if you're looking at massive email sequences. So there may be multiple solutions, but it starts by figuring out that upper limit. How many projects can you reasonably take on, how many crush projects can you reasonably take on, and how can you work on eliminating cringe clients or cringe projects?
I'll link to the Clockwork book in the show notes, because it's a really great activity. And there's even more nuance to it if you take a look at it in the book, it's something we come back to periodically because we wanna make sure that our clients are in alignment with us. And if a client is a cringe, that doesn't mean that they're a bad person or anything like that. It just means that for some reason, something is off about the project, about the relationship, about something. And so it bears looking at a little bit more deeply.
So that's number one is figuring out your upper limit. You may wanna do some testing with this. Maybe you think your upper limit is having six clients simultaneously, and you practice that for a little bit. You get up to a client load of six clients and you realize actually, no I'm feeling burned out. I can only take five clients. May mean that you need to adjust your pricing, but at least now, you know, or maybe you get to six clients and they're all easy breezy clients. Okay. I could reasonably take on one more client. This is going to be different for everyone. It's going to be customizable to you. And it may change based on this season you're in in your life. So check in with yourself periodically.
Next up is time management. This could be a whole episode in and of itself. And in fact, we've done a few episodes on time management, which I'll link to in the show notes. But it's always good to periodically check in with the way in which you're structuring your projects. Often burnout and overwhelm comes from a lack of structure, especially when you're growing the number of variables involved. So a variable might be a new client, or it might be new projects under a client. It may be new team members. Anytime you add a variable, you add the potential for complication. Anytime you add the potential for complication, you add something that is putting stress on your time and energy, unless you put a system in place for it. Those systems allow you to take some of that creative energy away from logistics and onto the actual creative work that you're doing.
So I'll use brand voice as an example here. Back when we were first getting our feet under us as a copywriting agency, we were keeping the brand voice of our clients in our heads. And so every time we switched from one client to another, we would sort of have to reset our brains and be like, okay, we were in this client's brand voice, now we're going over to this project. So we need to be in this client's brand voice. And so we had to dig into the file cabinets of our brains, find the mental filing cabinet for that client's brand voice, pull it out and then get to work with that reset. Eventually we decided to formalize that process that we were undergoing sort of naturally by creating brand voice guides through our brand voice process. So instead of having to do that sort of mental reset, now we just pull up the new brand voice guide for the client and we have all of the information there. So it's quicker for us to switch gears because we have a roadmap, essentially.
Something similar happens when you take things that are happening repetitively and you create a system around them to help manage your time better. So a great example of this would be emails that you send periodically throughout a project. Let's say you send an email at the start of a project. You send an email when you're delivering copy, you send an email to remind the client about revisions. You send an email at the end of a project. All of these emails, you could sit down and write them when they need to be written, or you could write a template and when it's time for that email to be sent, you can grab the template, paste it in, fill in the custom information for that specific client case, and then send it off. A little thing that makes a big difference and helps with time. Management helps with energy management. I'm a huge fan of templates and automation, wherever that can happen to help alleviate some of the burden on your time and energy and creativity. Once you automate and templatize things, you are freed up to spend more time working on your own business or working directly with the deliverables that you've promised your clients.
Next up is to take a look at your pricing. I've mentioned this a couple of times already, but if you are in a situation where you are consistently feeling overwhelmed, overburdened burnt out, and like you are split in 8 million different directions and you are still not making ends meet, you're still not making enough, then the problem is probably somewhere in your pricing. And it may be in a combination of your pricing and your packages are structured. So it may mean that you need to raise your prices. It may mean that you keep your prices the same, but you take away some of the things that are included in that package at that price. It may mean that you create new payment plans or deposit plans or just payment structures in general. There are a lot of different ways you can go about this, but at the end of the day, you wanna make sure that there is a balance between your pricing and your capacity. You wanna make sure that these two things are talking to each other, because if you are only able to take on five clients, but to make the revenue you need to make, you have to have 10 clients, then you are always going to be in a position of stress. So we wanna make sure that those two things are balanced out in a way that makes sense for your business goals.
Last thing is to be okay with saying no and creating wait lists. This is a really hard one, especially if you're coming out of a famine period, but hopefully applying all of these means there won't be famine periods. They'll be more stability across the board. That said, sometimes we just have to say no. Sometimes we have to tell someone, I'm sorry, we can't. We would love to support you, but we can't start for another two months or another three months because we are full up. Again, make sure that things are aligned with your pricing and your capacity, practice saying no. Create templates around what would you say in a situation where you have to tell a client we can't start for two months. Create a system for taking deposits to hold those spots on your calendar. Whatever you do remember that your business is designed to help support you, not to burn you out. And if you are burning out and if you're burning out regularly, it's not just a temporary seasonal thing. That's just happening because of where you happen to be right now, or extenuating circumstances. If you're consistently burning out, if you're consistently entering the cycle of I'm being split in too many directions, that's when it's time to take a look at all of these factors. That's when it's time to reassess what your upper limit is. To look at your time management, create processes and efficiencies, templatize things, automate things, adjust your pricing or your package layout. And to be okay with saying no and creating waitlists. You do all of this and you do it consistently, and you check in with yourself periodically, you'll be able to increase your client load to a place that feels good for you or decrease it because you may be in a position where you have too many clients right now, and it's actually your pricing and your packaging that needs to change. But if you do all of these things, they'll get yourself to a place where you can have stability, consistency, and you can do it without sacrificing your creative energy, your time, your energy, where you can focus on the client deliverables and where you can really focus on developing those long term deep relationships with your clients. Create ongoing relationships with them, which leads to even more stability down the road.
All right, time for your homework, which is to start with the very first thing that we talked about in the how you do it section, which is figuring out your upper limit. What is the maximum number of clients or projects that you can take on at once based on where you are right now in your life and in your business. Take a look at what you've done in the past. Take a look at where you are right now, take a look at your project pricing and the way in which you price your services to your clients. Figure out ideally, in a perfect world, how many clients would you have simultaneously at any given time, and then see if your pricing matches up to that so that you can actually hit your goals with that maximum number of clients. If not, you might need to do a little reconfiguring, if so great. That means that you are on a path towards creating a manageable client load.
All right, go ahead and get started thinking about your upper limit for clients. And I can't wait to hear more about how you are adjusting your packages, adjusting your system so that you can serve multiple clients in multiple capacities without overwhelming and overburdening yourself. If you wanna take this conversation off the podcast, get feedback, talk with other writers, join us in our writers' lounge. It is a community for writers by writers to talk all about writing.

Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Copywriter Collaborative Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com/podcast, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on your favorite podcast app and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy copywriting.

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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