If you are a small business owner, independent contractor, or have any career in which you predominantly work for yourself, you’ve probably experienced a time when you’ve been without clients or otherwise out of work. This is always incredibly stressful; even if you’ve got money in the bank, at some point you can’t help but worry that you’ll never work again. You wonder how you’re going to pay your bills, and what will happen if you’re out of work for more than a couple weeks. Then the minute you get a new job, client, or contract, you most likely throw yourself right into the work. You get excited, devote all your time to it, and get everything accomplished quickly and efficiently. After all, getting the job done with speed and thoroughness is the best way to serve yourself, isn’t it?
If you’ve answered yes, you unfortunately are at least partially responsible for those dry spells when you’re completely without work. Even though it seems like a good idea to do your job both well and quickly, focusing solely on that means you aren’t spending any time on building new business. If you get too involved in the project at hand, your sales and marketing will lapse and there won’t be anything in the pipeline for when the project is over. Building a successful business, whether you’re a business owner or contractor, is a process. To rely on that process, you must work on building new sales and doing the necessary marketing. Doing a great job for one client is valuable and can certainly get you more work if they hire you again or exalt your skills to friends and colleagues. However, setting a slightly later deadline to complete the task and using the extra time to ensure you have new projects lined up will serve you far better.
So what is the magical balance between sales, marketing and delivery that is the secret to having consistent work and driving up your prices?
The answer is simple: 80 percent delivery, 20 percent sales and marketing. You’re probably familiar with the Pareto principle – the idea that 80 percent of your results are derived from roughly 20 percent of your focus. Here, my version of the rule is a bit different; it dictates that in order to ensure that 80 percent of your efforts are delivering on paid work, 20 percent of your time weekly should be spent on marketing and sales activities. When I tell this to clients, they often ask: why weekly, rather than just 20 percent of my total work time? The answer is simple; technically if a job took 16 days then you dedicating four days to marketing that would be 20 percent. However, the unfortunate thing about sales is that it isn’t that simple. When considering sales, you must consider the time it takes:
- To get a meeting with the prospective client
- Allow potential clients to make their decision
- And, if they hire you, to prepare for you to start.
If you wait until the end of your current job to do this work, you’ll end up sitting at home with nothing to do. You will start to feel desperate for work and in many cases, instead of driving your price up; you will negotiate your price and possibly lower it just to pick up work. Ensuring that the phone call you make this week becomes a meeting next week and a full-fledged job on week three requires you to set aside that marketing and sales time this week, and do so every week hereafter.
So what if you are busy with a project and spend five full days on it? Well then you should be spending a sixth work day on sales and marketing. Working a full week on a project doesn’t give you a pass to stop; it is necessary to the health of your business. People always tell me, “I only want to work 40 hours a week.” If this is the case and you want a successful business, then only commit to 32 hours of paid work and spend the other 8 on sales and marketing activities.
It really is that easy. As a result of following this extremely basic idea, you will run far less risk of being out of work for periods of time. This is especially true because clients will see you have constant work and they will perceive you as busy, talented and in demand. If the standard rule for a restaurant applies to your business, we know that customers will pay more for in demand talent.
To give you a real-life example, last year I coached a contractor who, when she was booked, worked 60 hours per week. If she believed a job would take 120 hours, she worked two full weeks without stopping, investing no time into marketing or sales. Then, after the two weeks were over, she had no work. She would panic; we would have a coaching call where I helped her reduce her stress by reminding her that the only reason she didn’t have work was due to the fact that she hadn’t called anyone. I motivated her to reach out to her contacts, suggesting she act as though she had a space coming up, but then became fully booked- that way, she introduced a sense of urgency while seeming like the most desirable candidate for a job. Finally, I reminded her that once she got work, she needed to commit to a delivery date that allowed her to spend only 80 percent of her working time on the project itself. She repeated this cycle of neglecting her sales marketing, and therefore her own well being, numerous times; however, eventually the idea stuck. Since that time she has reaped the rewards of higher pay rates, consistent work, and reduced stress from having more reliable and profitable work.
I have also worked with a client in a more corporate position; he supplies organizations with gift hampers. He hated marketing and sales, so every time he had an order to prepare for, he completely let that aspect go. Then, when an event was over, he was without work and forced to layoff staff, only to hire all new personnel the next time he got a job. Hiring and training the new staff would eat up a great deal of time and effort when he was already busy with event prep. I suggested to him that if he devoted time to marketing and sales on a weekly basis, he might be able to afford keeping seasoned staff on permanently. Initially, he responded with hundreds of reasons why that wouldn’t work, including the customers’ expectations of a swift delivery date; however, once he agreed to submit to the process it resulted in far less fluctuation in the amount of work at any given time, and a steadily growing business rather than one that continuously fluctuated between growth and shrinkage.
If you only concentrate on the job at hand, you do yourself a disservice; you’ll have to experience the fear and stress of looking for work without a safety net, and you’ll never be able to increase your rate. If you always have business, you’ll be able to raise the price you charge, because you won’t fear being out of work, and because people naturally desire the services of a busy person. After all, the general consensus is that such a person must be the best at their job; it’s the reason they’re always fully booked. On the other hand, if you don’t have work, you’ll get desperate and your rate will stay the same or may even lower. So, begin blocking out a day once a week for sales and marketing. Invest that 20 percent of your time in your healthy, sane, and busy future.
Originally published in The CEO Magazine.
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