One lesson I have filed under ‘Things I Wish People Told Me Before I Started My Business’ is this: the highs don’t last forever.
Most soloists know the dance well. One week you’re inundated with work; the next there’s radio silence from your clients and your kitchen has never looked so immaculate.
When I was just starting out as a freelance writer, unexpected lulls in business rattled me. After following up on unpaid invoices – a job that took all of four minutes – I didn’t know what to do with the extra time, apart from sneaking another cup of coffee and going overboard with the housework.
It took me a while to learn that instead of just waiting for work to pick up again, I needed to see lull periods as a gift: an opportunity to pour time into the business and work on intangible aspects that often go neglected.
There are many ways to invest in your business when work temporarily slows down. Here are six ideas to get you started:
1. Dream and scheme
It’s simple really: leave your desk, go somewhere that inspires you (my pick is a buzzy café overlooking the water) and dream up new ideas for your business. Motivational gurus call it different things, but nothing unlocks new possibilities like a good old-fashioned brainstorm session – the kind you used to do at school with a packet of textas and butcher’s paper.
Another good exercise to do away from home is to clarify your goals on paper. According to a recent study, you are 42 per cent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. It also gives you a chance to review your goals and check how you’re going at achieving them.
2. Pull out that insurance policy
If you’re like me and die a little when you hear the words ‘fine print’, this one is for you. In the same way, you review your suppliers, go through your business insurance policy and check you have the right amount of cover – especially if you’ve made any recent changes to your business, such as increasing your stock.
While you’re at it, rather than simply renewing your policy for another year, contact other insurers to see if you can get a better deal. The same goes for your other providers: phone, electricity, internet, invoicing services and banking. Taking an hour to make a couple of calls can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.
3. Get educated
When I’m busy I don’t have the bandwidth for reading anything more substantial than a cat meme, so I’ve started bookmarking all the things I want to delve into when work is quiet: journal articles, long-form blog posts by writers I admire, business/inspirational books and analysis pieces about industries I cover.
Reading not your thing? Podcasts cover a huge range of topics, with the added bonus that you can listen to them while going for a run (or a leisurely walk if that’s more your style). Online courses and video tutorials are also a good option if you have more than an afternoon up your sleeve. You can learn anything from marketing to Photoshop, web development or leadership skills.
4. Look after those around you
Thanks to campaigns like RUOK? we all know the importance of connecting with those around us. Time, though, always gets the better of us and it’s easy to spend time with someone without genuinely asking how they’re going.
Whether you manage a team, network with other soloists or have a business partner, use your spare time to make a phone call, send a card or write an email – for no other reason than to check in. Caring for people may not feel ‘productive’, but it does wonders for morale. Plus, you never know the difference it could make to someone who puts on a brave face, but is going through a difficult time.
5. Build on the relationships in your networks
When I started out, I thought ‘networking’ was chatting furiously to strangers while awkwardly clutching a smoked salmon blini, amassing a bunch of business cards, then wondering months later why I had no contacts. I realised later that quantity does not equal quality. If I wanted valuable business relationships, I needed to put in a bit of effort beyond the event.
Lull periods are a great time to do some follow up, whether it’s sending an email or organising a quick coffee. It’s also worth contacting people you haven’t spoken to in a while; I’ve landed a few jobs from simply reaching out to old colleagues and classmates via social media.
6. Get on top of your marketing
Confession: I struggle with this one. Doing any marketing activity beyond the basics can be challenging as a soloist, even if you already have an (admittedly fairly rough) strategy in place.
One piece of advice that resonates with me, especially when I feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do on the marketing front, is to write a list and schedule a couple of activities each month, such as improving your website, nailing your social media presence, refining your core message, developing a follow-up system or getting headshots done. I’m always surprised by what I can achieve long-term if I simply swallow a few mouthfuls at a time.
What do you do during business lulls? Got any ideas to add to this list?