How To Stop the Feast or Famine Syndrome — Part 1


Working for yourself is a roller coaster. That’s the reality.

When you depend on yourself to generate income instead of being dependent on a company for a steady paycheck, it is, by nature, up and down.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that experience can be either thrilling or terrifying. You get to choose.

One way you have certainly felt that roller coaster is The Feast or Famine Syndrome.

When you’re up, everyone loves you, the proverbial phone won’t stop ringing and you’re too busy to eat, much less go looking for new clients. In fact, new clients are the last thing you want!

And when you’re down, “It seems like the beginning of the end,” as one of my mentoring clients has observed, and it’s true. No phone calls, no inquiry email messages – not even from clients you don’t want. You manage a few meager marketing efforts – a LinkedIn invitation here, a blog post there, maybe even a random networking event. But all you hear is crickets and it can be paralyzing.

Then, for no apparent reason, things pick up, work starts trickling in again, you breathe a sigh of relief and the cycle starts all over again. You feel like you dodged a bullet!

Needless to say, this is an extremely stressful way to live. Plus it puts you in the weak position of being at the mercy of everyone else.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can have more control over your business. But you must take more control over your business.

All you have to do is put yourself—and your business—first.

I know, easier said than done. But it’s actually not that difficult, when you understand how and why it works.

The Feast or Famine Syndrome

Thomas Barwick, Getty Images

There are 2 elements to putting yourself first. You must:

  1. Cultivate the right mindset. (That’s the hardest part, which is why creatives often don’t get to the second part.)
  2. Know which actions to take (and which not to waste your time on).

This article will focus on the how to cultivate the right mindset, and Part 2 will build on that mindset and show you which actions to take.

Because if you think about it, it makes sense that scattershot marketing would result in unpredictable workflow (and cash flow)—i.e. Feast or Famine.

So if you want something different, you have to think about it differently. Here are 3 mindset shifts to slowly start to make:

1. Shift from “The client’s project is the real work” to “My business is my priority.”

A new mentoring client told me recently how important it is to do her absolute best work for her clients. It’s a point of pride—I heard it in her voice. But when she talked about how she treats herself and her own business, her voice got so much smaller. She puts everyone except herself first!

If you don’t prioritize your business, you may not be around very long to do the so-called “real” client work. Obviously, I’m not advising you to ignore your clients. But understand that your current “client” work represents “your present.” Your marketing efforts represents “your future.” If you don’t plant seeds for your future, there will be nothing there when you arrive. That’s why your business must be your number one priority. Being your own boss means not only accepting (better yet, embracing) this natural ebb and flow, but also taking responsibility for dealing with it, instead of wishing things were different. #MeFirst.

2. Shift from “I want my clients to be happy” to “My happiness counts most”

A designer described to me how good it made her feel when her client gushed over the work she delivered. Now, there’s clearly nothing wrong with making your client happy. But it’s not—and it shouldn’t be—your goal. I see it as icing on the cake — if they’re happy, that’s great. But what’s more important — the cake — is that you are happy with it, that you did your best, whether it’s a logo or a landing page.

This is the business version of “Be your own best friend.” Clients come and go – they’re a dime a dozen. But all you’ve got is you, so treat yourself right! Because there is something much more important than anyone else’s opinion, positive or negative: that is your opinion. #MeFirst.

3. Shift from “Why won’t they respond?” To “The ball is always in my court.”

Last week, another client said, “It’s just amazing how, when someone doesn’t respond to my email message, I feel like the biggest loser.”

If you are waiting for a client or prospect to respond to your proposal or to your marketing outreach, you are in a passive position and you’re doing it to yourself. You’re making yourself passive, when you could choose to be active. Waiting is easy and usually produces a lot of anxiety; taking action requires effort but it’s so much less stressful!

Doing something—sometimes doing anything—takes your mind off what’s not happening and puts it on what is happening. So don’t worry about what you’re not doing. There will always be so much more you could be doing. That’s fine – not worth beating yourself up about. Focus instead of what you can do and do it. #MeFirst

These are new mental habits you have to establish, and it helps to have accountability to get them in place. I’ve been experimenting with a few clients on this. Every day last week one designer sent me a simple email message that said, “I put myself first today.”

On Friday, the message read:
I did it again, on the bus! I really appreciate you saying that it just takes a little bit every day. I was able to do some research into agencies I want to get in touch with and send an email to a buddy who I want to reconnect with work-wise.

That’s all it takes—couldn’t you do that every day, if you put yourself first?


The Feast or Famine Syndrome

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