Launching a Consulting Business – How to Avoid Feast vs. Famine

One of the biggest challenges that freelance consultants experience is the phenomenon of “feast vs. famine.”

That is, the consultant lands a piece of lucrative business (an engagement) works hard, knocks it out of the park, gets paid handsomely and wraps up the project. That was the feast. At this point it is realized they have no business opportunities ahead of them and go months without any compensation. That would be the famine.

It does NOT have to be this way. Although, I experienced it — ONCE! And, after that I said “this won’t happen again!”

After I had established those 3 reference accounts (covered in the prior post) business came at me in succession for a couple years straight (quite easily). Then, I landed a “whale” of an engagement. It happened to be in the Philadelphia area. I was commuting there on a weekly basis (Monday to Thursday) for several months. And, there was more work than I could do myself (in the desired timeframe) so I engaged another person to join my team. We were heads down “making hay while the hay making was good.”

In the back of my mind I knew that this engagement was going to end at some point, as all engagements MUST. Even so, I continued focusing on this single engagement and did no other marketing activities (had no time). Coincidentally, when I was just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel for this engagement a colleague (from a prior life) contacted me asking if I would help him to “do what we did at [the company we were previously employed].” Since we knew each other well I felt pretty confident that this was a “sure thing.”

In parallel with the Philly engagement I visited this other company a couple of times to frame-up the project, draft a Statement of Work, etc. All was looking good!

FINALLY, the Philly engagement ended – project complete! I took a deep breath (if I recall correctly, this included taking my wife on a trip somewhere 🙂 ) and then reached out to my highly developed prospect. It turned out that they were not ready to immediately engage me, although they knew they needed my help. 1 month turned into 2, 2 months turned into 3 (of zero revenue / zero compensation). During this time I had again fired up my marketing activities, but consulting engagements can often take a couple of months to develop and land.

After about 5 months with no revenue / no compensation (I was in my famine) a couple of my prior clients offered me very lucrative (high paying) executive positions in their company. With a family of 6 to feed, you know that I was tempted. After lots of contemplation, praying and weighing my options I declared: “I did NOT go into business to find a job. I WILL make this work!

Within just a few short weeks of this declaration (in the fall of 2005) I landed two of my largest clients, one of which is STILL active today.

In summary, there are 2 major learns here, to ensure that you maintain a continuous revenue stream:

  1. NEVER cease your marketing activities
  2. Don’t try to do it all yourself

Never ceasing your marketing activities takes time. To address this, you have a couple of options.

If you are fully engaged with a client (40+ hours) per week, you are going to need to do this after hours (writing e-Newsletter articles and/or Blog posts). And, you’ll need to plan ahead with the client for days that you cannot be onsite because you are attending an industry or professional association event (to network, volunteer and/or speak).

To give yourself a little wiggle room (i.e., more time with family, etc. after hours) you are going to need to plan differently. An approach I’ve found that works well is ONLY engaging with a (single) client for 3-4 days per week. Then, I can use the other 1-2 days for marketing (or leisure 🙂 ) activities. This obviously can fluctuate (which can be a GREAT thing). That is, there may be some weeks where you are booking 40+ hours per week on a client engagement, then other weeks when you may only work a couple of days. It all balances out in the end. And, the flexibility is FANTASTIC!!!

Regardless of the approach you take, until you have a continuous revenue stream, you must NEVER cease your marketing activities. As previously promised, in a future post we’ll cover what some of these marketing activities could be.

In the next post we’ll cover the topic of “Don’t try to do it all yourself.”

Click here to review the next article in the series.

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