Preparing for the Back to School Freelance Busy Season-EP61
Laura is back with a solo appearance and she is tackling the feast or famine cycle almost every freelancer is familiar with. It doesn’t matter what you do in the freelance world – whether you’re a virtual assistant or a writer – it can be hard to view the slow seasons positively but in this episode, Laura talks about how these downtimes are the perfect opportunity to up your game and prepare for the busy season (which will come!) or even to get all the pieces of a big marketing push together so that you are ready to take advantage of the upward swing when it happens. There are many seasons to the freelancing experience and knowing when they happen and what you're going to do with them can really help you embrace the craziness that is being a freelancer.
Hello everybody! If you are listening to this Better Biz Academy Podcast shortly after it airs, we are at the end of summer 2017, probably sad for a lot of people. I love fall, it's my favorite season and we've recently moved somewhere where we can kind of appreciate the fall colors and weather. So I'm super excited about it and honestly, it's been a little too hot this summer for me. And I feel a lot of what I did was just moving and working a ton of hours so I'm fine with seeing summer come to an end. It's a little bit hectic because where we moved is a university town and approximately 30,000 students descended on the town just a couple of days ago and you can definitely tell at the grocery store and on the roads and everything. So I love the energy of going back to school because it really allows you to set your intention and really, I find there's even more energy than even at the beginning of the New Year, particularly for freelancers. That's what I wanted to talk about today - getting ready for freelance busy seasons.
Now if you ask a group of freelancers, what freelance busy seasons are, they might give you slightly different answers. However, I've talked about this with a number of different freelance writers, virtual assistants, graphic designers etc. And for writers in particular, but really all freelancers, there are a couple of times of year when things seem to be really, really busy and honestly, the most profitable and busiest months of my business, every single year, are always pretty much the beginning of September through late October - maybe the first week of November.
But things really quiet down around Thanksgiving and the holidays. So a lot of times, I use that as my opportunity to go on vacation. I take vacations in late July throughout August. I take vacations in November and December and early January because people aren't in the office anyway, so it's not asking a lot for me to step out of my office and do some other things. But it can be hard for people who are new to freelancing to kind of jump in during one of these slower times; like late summer, like the holidays. And in this episode, I want to talk to you about what you can do in this last week of August, first couple of weeks of September to really capitalize on the fact that people are ready to order content.
There are many different reasons why people are prepared to hire you as a freelancer at the end of the year. Part of it is that some of them restart their fiscal year in September… they have a lot of money in their budget… they have these things they've wanted to do and they've put it off all summer but are now ready to do it.
Another reason is that there is this super energy around going back to school. People are done with vacations, their kids are enrolled in school; they view it as a time to buckle down and get things done.
For other people who run things differently as far as their fiscal year is concerned, they might have money left over in their budget for the year and they are like, “Oh my gosh, all of a sudden, it's the fourth quarter! Why don't we use some of this money?” And that's particularly true for solopreneurs who may be doing it for tax purposes. They need to max out their deductions and this is something that they could subcontract to somebody else and it's a deductible expense.
For all those reasons people are interested in hiring freelancers from September through to the end of October. This makes it a great time for you as a freelancer to reboot, refresh and come in guns blazing because the demand for freelancer increases dramatically. Every September and October, I am fully booked - I cannot take on another client, I work a ton of hours and it's just kind of crazy. And like an accountant who is always going to be busy in the spring and basically through tax day, freelancing can be similar. So if you choose to ride this wave of the ebbs and flows of your freelance business, it's a great time for you to schedule your vacations around it, to schedule your down time, to be able to accomplish a lot during these months, like aside money for the slower months. It works really well to do that and what I would like to chat about briefly today is how to make the most of this time before the busy season picks up again.
How to make the most of the quieter times in your freelancing business
Now if you're listening to this after the fact and you're like, “Oh my gosh it's already November and December!”, it's still a great time to implement these ideas because things ebb and flow over the course of the year; maybe like three times, you'll see things are really busy and then they quiet down and then they pick up again. So for me, after January is also huge and the summer doesn't have to be a dead time; I doubled my business revenue between May and June and typically June to August are dead months. It would just be my retainer clients. So it's always possible to improve your business and you can use these tips whether you're planning on expanding, getting ready to go into a freelance busy season, just wrapping up a big project with a client and you have some bandwidth to do some other work. It's all going to benefit you.
1. Improve your work samples and reach out to former clients
So as you're looking into the busy freelance season, there have probably been some things you have neglected in your business or that you honestly haven't looked at in a while because you didn't need to. If you were fully booked or if you're just getting started, you probably created some samples of your work that you're using to pitch to potential clients. A lot of times I see writers in particular, but also designers who have examples of their work that is six months, a year, eighteen months, even several years old. Now there's nothing wrong with it if it’s great material or if you have produced it for a nationally recognized company, by all means share that information. However, this is a great time before things get busy or before you want to push yourself to the next level to go back to the drawing board and say, “Are my samples truly the best work that I'm putting forward?” And we just had an episode about freelance writing pitching and how a lot of the reasons that people were rejected to work on a project that I recently managed, were the writing samples. They were of poor quality, they had mistakes, they just weren't clean and clear.
And when you start out, you have writing examples that are not your best work over time. You know, I go back and look at my writing samples that I used to first pitch myself and I see that and I go, “Why did anyone ever hire me?” Those were not my best work; grammatically they could've been a lot better, they could've been cleaner, they could've been more tightly written. So you improve over time, you have more things to add to your portfolio and right before you kick up your marketing or enter a freelance busy season, is a great chance to revisit that. So if things are a little slow because you are in a slump or you're in the famine part of feast and famine - if you're about to get ready to up your business, revisit that, spend a few hours on that.
I know it's hard when you're thinking things have been slow, you know I really need to drum up business. A great way to get ready to drum up business as successfully as possible is to put your focus on improving your sample.
Whatever type of freelancer you are, now is also a great time to reach out to your former clients for testimonials or to ask if they have any referrals, because they'll have you top of mind when they start seeing their colleagues or their friends asking for help. So if they don't have a project for you specifically, make sure you reach out and touch base.
So this morning I actually did this; before I recorded this episode. I have two clients that I hadn't heard from in about two weeks and I just thought that I'm just going to touch base with them because I'm making my schedule for the week. Both of them wrote back and that added $1000 to my bottom line this week just with some quick little projects that they needed me to do. So it's always good to keep in touch with your clients regardless, but even more important as you head into the busy season.
So if you are a virtual assistant, it might be a different type of marketing and reach out. It might be asking for new testimonials or asking for referrals. If you are a writer, or a designer or a web developer, it might be updating your portfolio, updating your website, writing some new blog posts etc. Those are all great ways to capitalize on this slower time.
A lot of times people panic when they're in the slow season and they are like, “I need to drum up business; I need it to happen.” Well you're doing it at the worst possible time because a lot of people are on vacation- they're not even in the office! They're not thinking about this yet.
But you can use this time to refine your materials and be ready to go when people are back in the position to hire a freelancer. So that's what I recommend you do first. Revisit your samples. Are they your best work? Are you going to be proud to send this out to start landing business right away? Make sure it's amazing. Have somebody proofread it, look at it, give you their feedback. You really want to have your best materials in line when the demand increases so that you can snag these projects immediately. So that's a great way to make use of the slow period. Don't panic, don't think, “Oh I need to be sending out 25 pitches a day.” Continue with your pitching but you might want to save some of those for the beginning of September when it's better to be reaching out with that.
2. Refine your marketing plan
Another thing that you can do is refine your marketing plan. So when you're getting ready to head into a time when more people naturally want to hire freelancers anyway, what is going to be your approach? You're going to potentially get busy but still need to keep your marketing up and it's a very difficult and delicate balance to do that but it's also really important. So what's going to be your marketing plan?
Go back and take a look at your most successful marketing channels. Are your clients coming to you from LinkedIn, Upwork, Facebook groups, referrals etc.? Choose to focus in on one or two core places where you can drum up business and lean heavily on those.
You might set aside a particular number of minutes or hours per day that you're going to spend just on marketing and that will really help you work within a channel that you are already successful at. So if you've never had success cold emailing - yes maybe dedicate some time to improving your cold email game - but if you have a 50% conversion rate for landing clients on LinkedIn, lean on a service, program or platform that's already working for you. It's going to be much easier for you to land business on LinkedIn if you already have a track record of doing that.
3. Reflect on your business-Are you happy? Is it time to pivot?
The third thing I want you to think about as you head into freelance busy season is, are there any things that you want to change about your business. So I know, I reflect a couple of times a year to make sure that I'm not just buried in projects and going, “Oh my gosh, am I even liking what I'm doing anymore?” Step back and ask yourself, do I ever want to do this again. Maybe you worked on a project where you want to bring it to a close or you are happy that the client has suggested that you close it out or you worked on projects that you really loved and you want to expand your ability to work in those particular types of projects in the future, especially as you think about the end of the year. Think about what you have already done in this calendar year so far that you were excited about; where you delivered amazing results to clients. You can adjust your business. I think as freelancers we often forget that we're really in control here. So if you worked on blog writing projects and you're burned out doing it and you want to do something different; you want to write white papers from September through the end of the year. Use this as your motivation and your switching point to consider doing something different. And if you tried projects that you didn't expect to love and you did, maybe you incorporate that into your marketing plan of what you hope to accomplish.
4. Evaluate your performance
The other thing I really want you to consider doing as you prepare for the freelance busy season, is to evaluate how you have been performing. So the previous step was about how you're feeling about your freelance business and what things need to be changed. This step is really about how you have been performing; have you been getting great feedback from your clients? Have they been asking you for a service that you don't provide and maybe now is the time to invest in that learning course where you can become more of an expert on that particular thing. Maybe you don't know SEO and you need to spend the money and the time to take an SEO course or perhaps you're a video editor and you want to become familiar with the latest version of some type of software.
So consider that this is a great time to think about how you've been doing and whether you need to up your game and also, how you feel about it. Those two things work together and are really important in preparing for a freelance busy season or a couple of months where you might be working a lot of hours. So all of those things should factor in.
5. Consider your pricing
The last thing that you want to at least have at the back of your mind, you can choose to do this in September - I mean really, you can raise your rates any time, right. You can do it at the beginning of the year when it makes sense, you can do it in September. You should warn your existing clients that you're planning to increase your rates. But it's at least time to think about it; are you getting compensated fairly, are you keeping up with the cost of living, how is your split with your money that's coming in - your revenue versus your profit; how much is going out in expenses; how many hours are you working and what's your average hourly rate when you're doing your projects.
This is a good time to reflect on that because you might not choose to raise your rates now but maybe you'll choose to raise them in January and you want to give your clients a heads up. You might tell them at the beginning of November, hey things have changed in my business, my rates are increasing as of January 1st, or you might give them an opportunity to lock in at their current rate if they order a minimum amount.
So I see a lot of freelancers step back during the slow seasons and just really panic about the fact that they don't have any business on the books. But this is a great time to reflect and pivot if you need to. So if you're not happy with the types of projects that you've been working on or you're not thrilled about what you're getting paid, now is the time to change, right. The momentum surrounding the back to school season, particularly for freelancers, makes it easy to implement these changes and land business. So whereas if you started trying to pitch in the middle of August when people are on vacation and you're not getting any response from your potential clients, it can be very demotivating to stick with that.
But if you make these changes in your business or you establish a new marketing initiative and then you go into it during a busy season when you have a greater chance of landing the business anyways, you feel much more confident in your decisions to go a different direction because you see the results more quickly. You're likely to get more responses, more phone calls and more signed contracts simply because people are thinking about it. This is the reason why it's time to up your game and to think about what you're going to do differently in the year ahead. I mean, your freelance business does not necessarily have to begin on January 1st and end on December 31st. For tax purposes, yes, but when you want to tap into the energy of what's going on with the marketplace, back to school time or mid spring - they're great times to think about changing things in your business; going a different direction, increasing your marketing, changing the services you offer entirely, developing new packages, reaching out to old clients. I strongly recommend that if you do this, that you have a plan in place for what you're going to do if you do make extra income. You might want to set some aside for those slow seasons.
It's really hard to land business in the second half of December and January. It's hard for experienced freelancers to do that. So if you make bank in September and October, set some of that aside as savings to get you through what might be a slower period. And if you pick up business during December and January and you don't need it, that's great but you always have it there. I see a lot of freelancers who just panic about not making any money, and how things are slow. Well people aren't in the office. They're not in the office the last two weeks of December. They're not thinking about this until after the New Year and it kind of takes a week or two weeks for people to get back into the swing of things after they've taken the holidays off. Being aware of this and thinking about how you can actually use this down time to your advantage is really beneficial.
I had a mentor in graduate school who would often talk to me in the mornings - we were the only ones in the entire political science building at 7 o'clock in the morning - and I came in early and got my work done because that's when I got most focused and it was easiest for me to think and there were no distractions of people walking around or knocking on the door. And he kind of stopped in and said, “You know, this is my strategy too.” Sometimes I work over the holidays, I do work when other people are not around because you can get more done. So by choosing to make changes in your freelance business. When other people may be taking the time off to go on vacation or take a break or work 20 hours a week, this is your chance to kick it up a notch and say, alright I've got some extra time. I'm going to use this to revamp my portfolio, make my website look even better, develop a marketing campaign, train my virtual assistant how we're going to do cold email pitches.
Whatever it is that you've got in mind, you can get a jump on your competition for this busy season by staying focused on what you're going to do differently while other people are taking time off. Now if you take the time off and go on vacation, I don't blame you. I often do that in August; there's just very little point in me working. At least that was the case in the past but this summer has really been an anomaly with how much work I've handled. But no matter whether you choose to work or go on vacation, this is not a failure if you're having trouble getting business over the summer or over the winter holidays. This is reflective of the market as a whole. So use it to your advantage; how can you change what you're doing, step things up and really capitalize on when things get busy again. There are so many seasons to freelancing and knowing when they are and how they fall and what you're going to do with them can really help you embrace the craziness that is being a freelancer.
I'd love to know what questions you have about freelance busy seasons, slow seasons and what you can do to prepare for a busy season ahead or a big marketing push ahead. If you'd like to see a future topic or question featured on this podcast, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and as always, thanks for listening.
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