One of the main reasons I decided to set myself up as a freelancer was that I needed the flexibility to dial my workload up and down as my availability shifted. This was mostly related to being able to support my husband’s metal art business during his busy spring and Christmas periods – and to generate additional household income during his quieter winter months.
Having started my business early in 2019, I just went through my first dial down period. Now I am back in full swing with my content business but feel a little like I am starting from scratch.
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Dialling down gives you the opportunity to temporarily pull back from full time work while still keeping your business operating. Why would you want to do that? Reasons for needing or wanting to dial down could be:
• Taking on new caring responsibilities for elderly parents or young children
• Undertaking further study
• Going on an extended holiday (yes please!)
• Undergoing significant surgery or being unwell for an extended period
• Seasonal shifts in demand – for you or your partner’s business, like in my case
Successfully dialling down your business – whether it is for a couple of weeks, a couple of months or longer – takes planning to ensure you and your clients/customers move through this stage smoothly. I know from my own experience that you need to ensure your time is protected, your boundaries are respected and your mental health is kept intact. Plus, your clients/customers need to feel their needs are still being met.
Here are three lessons I learned the hard way about what you need to do to successfully manage a dial down period in your business:
1. Be realistic about your availability
This was my biggest downfall over the past few months because I kept deluding myself that I could commit 100% to both businesses at once. I would tell myself I could complete a client project at night, once the kids were in bed and the housework was done. Yeah right! That just led to missed deadlines and rescheduling client sessions, and resenting the time I needed to spend working with my husband.
You need to be totally honest with yourself about how much time you will have available for your business.
• Are there clear windows of time when you are/are not available?
• How long will the dial down period last?
• Are there services/products you won’t be offering during the dial down period?
You are not doing yourself or anyone else a favour by being overly optimistic about your capacity.
2. Communicate clearly and early
Whatever the reason for your dial down, you have to tell people about it. This might be easier if you are dialling down for a good reason, like having a baby or returning to study, but could feel uncomfortable if the reason for your dial down is not so positive. You don’t need to provide all the details, but you do need to make people aware that your availability is changing. It will be a lot more uncomfortable and confronting if you miss deadlines or run out of stock or drop the ball elsewhere because you are trying to cover up your reduced capacity.
It is ok to need to step back.
Most people will be understanding, and it may even create a new level of connection with your clients. When I finally fronted up to one of my clients about all the work I was doing within my husband’s business it opened up a whole new conversation about his past experience in retail and we found new common ground.
Part of the conversation need to be clear and upfront communication about how the changes will impact your clients or customers. Go back to your boundaries and work through how each of these will change the way your customers interact with you. The more notice you can give people the more easily they will adjust, and the more time you will have to address their concerns about how your dial down will impact them.
3. Plan, batch and automate
I love planning. Yet, I neglected to do this for my own business. Which meant my social media presence plummeted. I didn’t invoice regularly. My inbox got ridiculously full of unopened and un-actioned emails. I hesitated to take advantage of opportunities that came up during my dial down period because I was painfully aware that my digital footprint was lacking. I put together a couple of content calendars but failed in the execution because I was already in the midst of the crazy spring season.
What I should have done was to plan out my social media, long form content, client work and other activities way back in June so I had time to create, write and action my plan. It would have also given me the opportunity to batch together similar tasks so I could be more productive. For example, I could have dedicated a day to drafting a bunch of blog posts or collecting links to articles my followers would find useful. I could have created invoice templates and saved common invoice items to make invoice creation super streamlined. I could have cleared my inbox, unsubscribed from unwanted emails and filed old emails away so I had better visibility of new ones coming in.
Bringing the planning and batching together with automation – using software/apps to schedule tasks to be completed automatically – would have put me in a much better position to continue growing and connecting with my audience while I was focused elsewhere.
If I had a larger client base and more mature business, I would also look at outsourcing to support my dial down. A virtual assistant (VA) would complement the lessons above to help manage high volume transactions or tasks. For example, a VA could manage your inbox while you are dialling down. This means people contacting you get a personal response rather than a set out of office reply. A VA can also help triage enquiries so you know which emails you need to action. Other areas you could consider outsourcing during a dial down include bookkeeping, social media, blogging, sales order fulfilment (warehousing), and website maintenance. I will be keeping this in mind for next year!
I have big plans for 2020 to grow my client base and release some new services. But I know come September I will again need to step back to focus on supporting my husband’s business. So I have nine months to take these lessons and put in place the systems and processes that will prevent my business stagnating!
Temporarily stepping back from your business should not mean sacrificing your own hard work and progress. Regardless of your reason for needing to dial down, I hope you can take these lessons on board and avoid making the mistakes I did.
This post was written by content writer and editor, Katrina Tite.