Monday, May 23, 2005

How to Increase Your Freelance Income During the Slow Summer Months

As you probably know, editorial is a seasonal business -- and we are about to head into the slow season.

The Workflow Cycle of The Editorial Industry: During the summer months, not much happens. It picks up again in September and that usually lasts through the middle of December. Mid-December through January are pretty slow. Then, it picks up again in February and lasts through May/early June.

Ahh, the pleasures of downtime. The phone is not ringing, your inbox is not full of projects to be completed and you've had a pretty good year. BUT, it's what you do during a "lull" that can make or break your freelance income.

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Complacency kills - sales, motivation, innovation - you name it! There are things you should be doing during off-peak times to ensure income during the busy periods. Outlined below are three areas that you should be paying particular attention to before you relax during off-peak times.

1. Inventory: What services sold? Which ones didn't? Why? Can you increase/decrease services to better meet client needs? Can/should you increase your offerings by adding complementary services? Can you add products (t-shirts, mugs, note pads, etc.) to increase your income?

Now that you have some time, take stock of what worked, what didn't and what you can do about it. Examine prices, work systems, merchandise offerings, etc. The effort you expend can add exponentially to your bottom line over time.

2. Advertising/Marketing: If you don't have a marketing budget, now is the perfect time to devise one. If you do have one, then you know that it requires constant tweaking.

Now's the perfect time to pull out sales charts and see: What ads worked? Which ones didn't? Which medium (newspapers, postcards, sales letters, Internet ads, etc.) produced more actual sales and/or generated more leads? What was the cost per sale/lead from each medium? Which ad programs should you expand, cut, explore more? What partnerships can you form with like businesses? How much will it cost? Etc.

You should also be pre-paying for as much ad space as you can. Advertising during peak periods and/or at the last minute can be expensive. So, plan ahead as much as you can.

You will be better able to track your ads and make better financial choices than if you wait until the last minute. Your money will go further because ad takers are much more likely to offer discounts if you pay early -- and in full. So, even if you feel the financial strain right now, try to squeeze it out for the long-haul benefit to your freelance business.

3. Work Flow/Management: Systems and processes can always be upgraded to meet the demands of your business.

For example, is your customer database automated? If not, now is a good time to get all contact information on your customers into some kind of easily retrievable, automated system. If you really want to increase sales, find out who has spent what over a period of time. This way, you can creative incentive/reward programs for your best customers.

Do you use software to keep your books? Do you update it on a regular basis? Do you have an accountant, financial advisor, representative at your banking institution? Now is the time to catch up on paperwork you've been lax on, and to establish relationships that can propel your business to the next level.

NOTE: Every small business owner should develop a relationship with a bank. Even if you don't think that you have anything to offer them, or them you, remember, you are growing a business. Having a relationship with a banker can pay off in more ways than you know over time.

Who knows when you might need a home equity loan, a small business loan, a business line of credit, an increase on a credit card, etc. Although your credit history carries the most weight with banks, when your application could go either way, an endorsement from your banker could be just the thing to push an application through.

These are but a few ways to use effectively utilize the slow periods of your business. You don't have to spend every moment of the off season taking care of these tasks, but it is a good idea to always set aside a portion of time when your business is not crazy to give it a checkup. This way, you can guarantee continuous profits year round.
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