Boss Responses

#43: A Masterclass in Avoiding the Feast or Famine Cycle with Liz Heflin

June 25, 2024 Treasa Edmond
#43: A Masterclass in Avoiding the Feast or Famine Cycle with Liz Heflin
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Boss Responses
#43: A Masterclass in Avoiding the Feast or Famine Cycle with Liz Heflin
Jun 25, 2024
Treasa Edmond

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In today's episode of the Boss Responses podcast, hosts Treasa Edmond and guest co-host Liz Heflin discuss strategies for avoiding the feast and famine cycle common in freelancing. They explore the importance of understanding one's work capacity, building sustainable business practices, leveraging community support, and consistently marketing for ongoing client work. Key insights they discuss include anchor clients, maintaining a buffer for unexpected opportunities, and prioritizing ideal clients.

About Our Guest
Liz Heflin has been a freelance writer and editor since 2006. She’s also the founder of MACE Writing, her content marketing consultancy. After fifteen years of seeing firsthand the benefits of freelance, she launched a second arm of her business. Designed to help her fellow freelance writers have more success, these services include group and private coaching, resource creation, and the Inkwell community. Liz is excited every day to do her job, and her mission is helping other freelancers capture that in their lives!

Links You Might Want
Check out Liz's Inkwell community 

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn 

Interested in Liz's "Find Your Floor" course? Learn more about it.  

Support the Show.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to Boss Responses. Have a question you'd like answered? Send it to info@bossresponses.com

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

In today's episode of the Boss Responses podcast, hosts Treasa Edmond and guest co-host Liz Heflin discuss strategies for avoiding the feast and famine cycle common in freelancing. They explore the importance of understanding one's work capacity, building sustainable business practices, leveraging community support, and consistently marketing for ongoing client work. Key insights they discuss include anchor clients, maintaining a buffer for unexpected opportunities, and prioritizing ideal clients.

About Our Guest
Liz Heflin has been a freelance writer and editor since 2006. She’s also the founder of MACE Writing, her content marketing consultancy. After fifteen years of seeing firsthand the benefits of freelance, she launched a second arm of her business. Designed to help her fellow freelance writers have more success, these services include group and private coaching, resource creation, and the Inkwell community. Liz is excited every day to do her job, and her mission is helping other freelancers capture that in their lives!

Links You Might Want
Check out Liz's Inkwell community 

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn 

Interested in Liz's "Find Your Floor" course? Learn more about it.  

Support the Show.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to Boss Responses. Have a question you'd like answered? Send it to info@bossresponses.com

Treasa Edmond:

Welcome to the Boss Responses podcast. Today it's all about that feast and famine cycle. It's a popular topic in the freelancing world for a reason it happens to everyone at some point. Today, liz and I are going to talk about managing deadlines to help avoid those dry spells. If you're a freelancer, business owner or anyone who deals with clients, you're in the right place.

Treasa Edmond:

I'm your host, Treasa Edmond. I've been dealing with clients and running my business for nearly two decades and in that time I've dealt with my share of doubt, imposter syndrome and not knowing what to say when a client asked a question I wasn't ready for. I created this podcast to empower you with the boss responses you need to grow your business. Each week, my guest co-host and I will bring you five episodes packed with practical insights. Monday through Thursday, we answer your questions, and Fridays we dive deep to explore how our co-hosts embrace their role as the boss of their business. Welcome to Boss Responses. We are back for day three with Liz. And Liz, I have a question for you from Sandy from Florida what tips do you have for managing deadlines to help avoid the feast or famine conundrum?

Liz Heflin:

Yes, another great question, something that's always on a freelancer's mind, because there is inherent flexibility and fluctuations that happen in freelance, with your income, with your schedule. It's just kind of part of it. I will start by saying and Treasa said, variations of this, but there really are as many ways to freelance as there are people, really are as many ways to freelance as there are people. So a big part of this is getting to know yourself and your tendencies and how you work and operate, and a big part of that is knowing how much you can realistically tackle in any given day, because that will let you know okay, here's how much work I can fill in my pipeline without completely overtaxing my brain, without completely undertaxing my brain. And for me, when I started out, even though I've always been freelance I have never really been a standard typical W-2 in-house employee I realized I had a lot of kind of mental carryovers, that I had a lot of employee mindset issues that I had to work through even though I had never been an employee, which was really interesting just ingrained in there. So I always thought okay, then I have to do eight hours of work at my desk every day or I'm not being productive that day and I very quickly realized, oh boy, with writing that's not going to work for me. For actual client work, I max out somewhere around four hours a day, because writing is just a mentally taxing creativity pulling activity. It just is. That's not to say that I'm not at my desk for a full day, because there's a lot else that goes on in running a business other than just the client work and that's what the rest of my day is dedicated to. But I had to learn what that cadence and balance and rhythm was for me going. Oh my gosh, I have no mental bandwidth left. Or oh my gosh, I completely undershot how much work I could get done this month one way or the other.

Liz Heflin:

Because really the name of the game here is sustainability. Right, anybody can cram in a hundred hour a week one time. But that's not what we're trying to do. We're trying to build sustainable businesses that take us from month to month, year to year, decade to decade, if we're really lucky. So that's a big part of it. It's just knowing what you can fill your calendar with in a sustainable way, and that's one core of it. And then, once you are booked out, you're full and a lead comes to you. That's when you can say, okay, great, I'd love to work together. We seem like a great fit. I have availability in my calendar in three months or whatever.

Treasa Edmond:

The case may be.

Liz Heflin:

When your existing contracts or obligations are over, then you can say great, you can fill my calendar and if they go, oh no, I'm sorry, I need an immediate fill. That's where community comes into place, because that's a hot lead, a legitimate job that you can then open up to your network and that reciprocity, that community is a huge part of freelance and it's why I started my community ThinkWell. I saw so many gains in my business once. I really embraced being part of the freelancing community and giving as much as I could to that community has only brought back tenfold onto me the benefits, and not just financial but the education piece and the friendship piece and the this not feeling so lonely piece and all of those things. I will say that if you have a booked calendar and you have a hot lead who needs somebody right away, don't covet that position and pass it on, because that will have a way of coming back to to only help you in the long run.

Treasa Edmond:

Whether you believe in karma or not, that kind of a thing it does bounce back, and I have had some of my best clients, some of the most wonderful people, because I had passed a project onto someone else and then they passed one back to me later.

Liz Heflin:

Yes, absolutely, absolutely A hundred percent. I can attest to that too. A hundred percent, yeah, and another sort of like. Logistically, if you're just looking to to not to get off the hamster wheel of searching, searching, searching, trying to fill your pipeline, it's go for retainer clients, go for the work that lends itself to. Every month this client's going to be coming back to me and it doesn't have to be a retainer payment structure model, but just the kind of work that client is going to need you every month. Blog content is really good for this. Newsletters are really good for this. Ongoing social management is good for this.

Liz Heflin:

That was when I was able to take a breath in my business, was when I had enough anchor clients that were coming back to me month after month. I knew, okay, I know I'm doing eight blogs for that client every month, I know I'm doing four clients and four blogs and a newsletter for that client. And when I had those anchor clients, that's when I thought, okay, I have the time and the space and the mental capacity to explore other things, other avenues in my business and all of that good stuff. So part of getting off that cycle, part of getting a little bit of predictability in a job that can be inherently unpredictable, is going after those jobs that come back to you month after month Again, whether you're charging a quote, unquote retainer or not, but just somebody that will come back to you. Yeah, repeat clients, repeat clients. Exactly.

Liz Heflin:

And I always, too, leave a little bit of a buffer in my schedule just in case a really exciting project comes along that I don't want to say no to. If something comes along that's just too good for me to pass up, I want to make sure that I have a little bit of wiggle room. I'm not so booked out that I just have to say, oh, I have to say no, I just can't right now. And in order to do that it meant I had to go back and adjust and reassess my rates, because I still needed to be reaching certain financial goals but not working quite as much. So there was a practical adjustment that had to happen there. But I do like to not pack my schedule so tight that if a really cool project comes across my desk I can say yes to it.

Treasa Edmond:

It goes back to that sustainability. You want to be able to do it and leave room for it, but you can't do it if it's going to hurt your other clients.

Liz Heflin:

Yes, exactly, a hundred percent, exactly. And then the last thing I will say is that I do sorry clients for who, anybody who's listening to this, but I do have a mental hierarchy of clients, ones that I always know. Okay, this is the bottom of the totem pole client. If I'm booked out on retainer recurring anchor clients and something new comes in and I the only way I can put it in is if I have to cut somebody, I do always have a running total and know who that client would be. That would get cut off the bottom to accommodate a new exciting opportunity. So that would be my last piece of advice there is rank your clients a bit.

Treasa Edmond:

Do you know? I find that so fascinating, and I'll tell you why because Ed Gandia posted about this a while back about do you score your clients? Do you have a rating system for them? And I'm like no. And then I'm like why don't I? And now you're the second person to say that and I still don't have it in place.

Liz Heflin:

And now I'm feeling very convicted that maybe I should start doing that. And mine's not formalized. I know some people really do have a spreadsheet and they honestly calculate out satisfaction levels with a certain client and pass more power to them. Mine is much more a gut feeling. I know which ones I'm getting the most reward out of. But I know there are people who I've seen templates that people are passing around that have I'm more with you.

Treasa Edmond:

I think if I ever had a sheet where a client had a five instead of a 10, I'd feel really bad every time I talked to them. That would be a mental thing for me. It absolutely would. But I do agree that we need to figure out which of our clients and I think this all comes back to who are your ideal clients, and always put your ideal clients first. They get first dibs, they get first everything, because those are the people you really want to be working with. Those are the ones who are going to bring you more clients like themselves and they're the ones who are going to pay without quibbling. They're not going to have five rounds of revisions. They're going to be the clients who are just absolutely amazing, and you really need to do that. And I'm also really glad you talked about sustainability, because now I don't have to. That's a huge thing. You cannot run a business that's going to run you into the ground. This is not a burn the candle at both ends situation. That will mean you're not a freelancer for very long. So if you love freelancing, don't do that.

Treasa Edmond:

Another thing is actually two things, and let's start with the anchor clients. I was always a fan of anchor clients until I got to a situation where I had one client that was about 50% of my income and they ended up being the most toxic of all toxic clients after we'd worked together for a number of years and it got to the point where I had to drop them pretty suddenly because their behavior just got bizarre and because of that, immediately 50% of my income was gone. So I did some hard thinking on that and I'm not saying don't have anchor clients. I'm saying do it the way Liz does it where they're spread out. I have a hard and fast rule that no one client is worth more than 10% of my income. Oh, wow, wow, and that's the thing. So I will happily have them as a repeat client, but they are not considered an anchor client if they're more than 10% of my income. Simply because there is, I believe, a bit of a danger in putting all of your eggs in one basket. Yes, and we need to be aware of that, and it's never a danger until it happens to you, and I hear this happening to so many people. I just lost my anchor client and now I'm scrambling. So that brings me to my second point.

Treasa Edmond:

Never stop marketing. Yes, even if your coffers are full, even if you're booked out for the next six months, you do not stop marketing. And I'm glad Liz mentioned I can't do that until three months from now, that's okay. You say that to your clients and I've had really great clients that are like I need this next week and I'm like I don't have any availability for three weeks. Oh okay, we can wait that long. It all of a sudden becomes not as urgent Whenever you tell them you don't have availability. Same thing with money I need this next week, that's fine. This is a huge project. We're going to have to do a pretty substantial rush fee of about 50% on that. All of a sudden they can wait three weeks again. So put it in terms that they understand that's a big thing.

Treasa Edmond:

But then never stop marketing. And I honestly didn't discover that until I started ghostwriting. Because ghostwriting projects if you're writing a book, that's six months easy, but you can't wait until you're done with that project to book your next one. You can't, and I run two ghostwriting projects at a time, so I can do four a year really easily for the larger projects and that leaves me room to do smaller projects as well. You also can't depend on every one of those actually playing out. So you get that 50% deposit. That's also my kill fee. If they decide two months in that all of a sudden we really can't do this book right now, then I still get that 50%, but now I'm out the other 50% and I have this big gap in my schedule.

Treasa Edmond:

So never stop marketing. Book the clients in and then, if you have a waiting list, you can say I have availability all of a sudden for this project. That's only going to take three months. Are you ready to do it? And then they get excited. The more special you make it for your clients, I think, the easier it is to keep booked out that long. And also there are projects that they're booking out in advance. So if you have and I'm going to use the white paper example here If you're doing white papers and you work regularly with specific clients, you can go to them and say I have an opening in my schedule in three months to do a white paper.

Treasa Edmond:

Are you planning on doing one anytime in the next six months? Could we fit it into that time slot? And they will jump on it because then it spurs them In-house people are so busy. I want you to remember this. We tend to take offense because we get a short email or they don't call us back right away or whatever. It's not about us. It's about the fact that they're answering 300 emails, they have five meetings scheduled that day and they're working on trying to finalize three projects and they have a revision committee.

Treasa Edmond:

That's a nightmare. We have to be aware of that, and sometimes the best way we can do that is by saying I have availability to do this project for you on this day. Can you do that? And they're like oh, I don't have to schedule it now. It makes them happy. So those are all things that with the feast and famine conundrum. Part of that is you're letting your clients set your schedule and I think the best way to avoid that is to do everything Liz said. Get those anchor clients, get those repeat clients in who do the thing, start scheduling out you don't have to limit yourself to what you're doing in the next month and then definitely reach out to your clients, be proactive that's the best way and then never, ever stop marketing. Just don't do it. It's better to turn clients away and, by turn them away, refer them to other people. Make that part of your business model. Part of my business model is that I refer people out and I do. That is part of my business model.

Liz Heflin:

Absolutely so. It's my favorite thing to do.

Treasa Edmond:

Yeah, so that's absolutely part of what I do. The other thing is on the feast and famine conundrum. I have worked with several freelancers that the reason they're stuck in that cycle is because they spend no time working on their business and all of the time working on their client's business. That is a recipe for disaster. So you need to dedicate at least 25% of your working hours to your business and that goes with that marketing, that goes with reaching out to clients and it goes to making sure that your processes are working right, and that's really important.

Liz Heflin:

Absolutely. Yeah, that working on versus in your business. I think more and more people are starting to pick up on that. I know some people will take okay, every Friday now is exclusively for me to work on my business as opposed to in my business. It's a thing that more people are realizing because there's so much value in it, and some of that continuously marketing yourself, reaching out to people, following up it's all very time consuming.

Liz Heflin:

There's practical, logistical time and opportunity costs that are associated with that. I'm not saying it's not worth it Absolutely it should be done and is worth the effort. But being realistic and knowing that part of your schedule is dedicated to that is really big, and I actually have a course that's called Find your Floor and it's all about determining what that minimum rate should be, and part and parcel of that course is this pricing calculator, and a big part of that is how much time is dedicated to client work, how much time is dedicated to all of these other pieces like self-marketing and email follow-up and all that stuff, and then you can accurately gauge how much you should be charging, because you accurately know where all of that time is going.

Treasa Edmond:

And just to give a lead into the Friday episode. We're going to really focus in on pricing and how all of that works for your business, and one of the things I really want to discuss is the difference between saying you're making $300 an hour when that's what you're making on client work, but you're not actually making that for your business hours because you have to calculate in those other hours and all of that extra work you do, and keeping that real. And I think a lot of the pushback we see in the marketplace about rates is because people aren't accurately calculating what they're actually making. And we can talk about that on Friday. So definitely make sure you come back for that episode.

Treasa Edmond:

But I hope, sandy, that this answered your question and I hope you can avoid that feast or famine conundrum, because it's a big one and I know a lot of people have been going through it lately and sometimes we can't. Sometimes the market changes and the best thing you can do is find a way to pivot or really put on your work and shoes and start pounding the pavement. You cannot wait for your clients to come to you.

Liz Heflin:

And I will say I know we've wrapped up already, but one last little thought here before we close. It's also really important just to have that nest egg, just to have money in the bank for the inevitability that you have a dry month, because it can happen too. It doesn't matter how many years of experience you have Now. Obviously it takes some time to get to that point when you have that kind of a runway, but when you are in the good times, don't forget to set aside that little nest egg, that money, for an eventual rainy day, because sometimes they come and sometimes it's precipitated by global circumstances that you have no control over.

Treasa Edmond:

Yeah, and we have several past episodes where we've talked about cashflow and those were really great conversations and I actually learned some stuff from them, because that's not my area of specialty and I will link those in the show notes as well. So if you are looking for more information on that, check out the show notes and go listen to those episodes as well. All right, that was the end of day three. Listen to those episodes as well. All right, that was the end of day three. Tomorrow we're going to talk about imposter syndrome and some mindset issues. Come back then.

Managing Deadlines and Avoiding Famine
Client Management and Business Sustainability
Financial Preparedness and Business Resilience

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