Q&A: “I got out of La Grange”

Philip Morgan

A good question from my post opt-in survey:

I would love to figure out how to create a steady pipeline of ghostwriting clients, get them all into a schedule that works for me, and have a healthy waitlist. My big challenge is the “feast or famine” cycle.

Lucinda Williams is our background music for today’s question: “Come to my world and witness The way things have changed 'Cause I finally did it, baby I got out of La Grange Got in my Mercury and drove out West Pedal to the metal and my luck to the test” — “Fruits of my Labor”, Lucinda Williams Dear questioner, your situation seems to pose two opportunities. 1) I have colleagues whose businesses make 5 to 10x as much as I currently do. They also have feast/famine cycles. OK, I’m being intentionally provocative when I refer to the normal ebbs and flows of business as a feast/famine cycle, but it is the same underlying dynamic. Even if your business is growing overall, revenue can go up and down in little localized peaks and troughs. Dear questioner, maybe your current feast/famine cycle is extreme and stressful and bad, but if it’s somewhat manageable, it seems like the first opportunity in your situation is to get good at managing the profitability of the feast phase. This means using using profit in a way that helps you ride smoothly between the crests and the troughs of normal cashflow. Opportunity ebbs and flows, even if you’re “doing everything right”. I’d rather see you get good at managing ups and downs in revenue than seeing you hope for some mythical up-and-to-the-right-forever growth curve. Uncle John in Grapes of Wrath ate an entire pig in one day. That is the pattern of behavior that keeps extreme feast/famine cycles going. 2) The second opportunity you might have is investment. To put a fine point on it: create value for the kind of clients you want before they show up to pay you for it. For some folks, this sounds perfectly natural. For others, it’s unthinkable that you “do client work” without an agreement in place to get paid for it. You’re not exactly doing client work here, but you are expending time, energy, and maybe money. When you invest in this way, you don’t have a prospect in front of you with the specifics of their situation on the table. So you think about the group of prospects you’d like to show up in the near future. What are their needs? What would help them trust you so much that they see your premium price/rate as an investment in a better result? If you haven’t specialized sufficiently, you’ll stall out at this point. You won’t be able to visualize that group of prospects clearly because the crowd is too large. Assuming you can clearly visualize these ideal prospects, what free gift of knowledge could you build them? Here are some questions that might help with ideation:

  • What is risky about the journey/transformation/optimization you help them with?
  • What is merely unknown about the above?
  • Within the area you help them with, what provides outsized leverage?
  • When they are talking to a service provider, what questions are on their mind?
  • What is the next step in their growth?

This makes me think of a 1:1 coaching client. He’s not dealing with a feast/famine cycle, but he’s wanting to validate a new specialization. I walked him through this free gift of knowledge thing, he built one, directly sent it to about 20 people in this potential new market, and he asked them for their feedback on it. Results: 15 responses with varying degrees of feedback, and 2 early-stage sales conversations. In a market validation context, this is a vigorous response that indicates the market cares about his potential specialization. But if he were trying to escape an extreme feast/famine dynamic, this would be a way out. This would be a small investment that he could continue to leverage, and a small success that he could build on. I lean towards small, every-day-you’re-in-the-office investments via daily publishing, but the above example is a short sprint, and you can certainly package your investment effort into a larger sprint, perhaps as a way to turn the panic energy of a famine phase into investment. The key, though, is to invest. To keep building and keep taking risks in service of the kind of clients you want to show up in the near future. Summary:

  • If you really need steady revenue without any variation, get a job; self-employment will never provide that.
  • Focus on profitability so that you can buffer the ebbs in opportunity and keep them from becoming a true famine.
  • Invest in future opportunity and profitability any way you can. I like small, daily investments, but “sprints” of investment during downtime can certainly work too.

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all, -P