Creative practices are vulnerable to feast or famine cycles. Usually it’s during a famine cycle that most creatives start to get concerned about their marketing. But there are some very important reasons why marketing is just as important during a feast cycle as it is in a famine. But first, let’s consider some of the problems associated with feast cycles (which, while better than those of a famine cycle, are still real).
Feast Cycles Increase Time Demands
The most obvious problem of a feast cycle is the time pressures that come with it. Time is always a fixed and limited resource. When things get busy your time gets filled quickly. And it’s not just the work itself, busy seasons increase your production load and increase the amount of time you have to spend communicating, following up with new leads, billing, and making sure you have enough resources to get everything done. These raw time demands are challenging, but the frenetic pace that accompanies a feast cycle compounds and intensifies everything you have to do.
Facing the Question of Growth
Another challenge that comes with a feast cycle is the underlying question of growth. When your hands are full you have to face the decision of whether or not to add more staff.
Such a huge decision, with all its complex implications, should be thought through before you find yourself in a frenetic feast season. And, should you move forward with growth, in the short run you’ll be even more hard-pressed for time, having added human resource tasks to your overloaded to-do list. Finding, qualifying, hiring, and onboarding resources is a job in itself.
Fragility From Underlying Profitability Problems
Another complication that comes from feast cycles has to do with your fundamental profitability. The creative services business model is not an easy business model to master or to make profitable. More often than not, your profits are tied to your time—either in terms of an hourly rate, or fees based on a rate and time estimates. If, for whatever reason, your rate or performance falls short your basic billable unit will struggle to maintain a sufficient profit margin. And so selling more “low-profit units” during a feast cycle will increase the pains associated with low profits.
These pains are magnified when the increased overhead associated with feast cycles (additional administration, sales, meetings, managing schedules) eat into already thin profit margins.
Hiring under such circumstances really can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I can’t tell you how many creatives I’ve talked to who started growing during feast cycles and found themselves completely tapped out, with loads of active work and even more in the pipeline, all the while facing worse cash flow problems than they ever had before.
Feast cycles that fall upon creative practices with underlying profitability issues can be a curse rather than a blessing.
How Marketing Impacts Feast Cycles
So how does this come back to marketing? There are few ways that pre-existing marketing problems exacerbate the trials of a feast cycle.
First of all, when your marketing is hit or miss, and you’ve been subject to repeated feast or famine cycles, you get trained to take on everything you can when a feast comes—because you know that a famine might be just around the corner. If you had better marketing all along, you’d have greater control over and confidence in your new business pipeline, and more freedom to simply say “no” to work when you’re fully resourced. Strong marketing puts you in the driver’s seat and helps avoid the feast or famine cycles in the first place.
Strong Marketing Leads to Higher Profits
Effective marketing also has a direct impact on your profitability. When your new business pipeline is dependably full, you can be more selective in the clients and projects you take on. Obviously the ones that pay best would be favored. Being in demand gives you leverage to charge comparatively more for your work than your competitors. And with higher profit margins you can build up insulating savings, which gives you even more control and security if a future famine were to arrive.
Growth Demands Even More of Your Marketing
Lastly, if you do decide to grow during a feast cycle (whether deliberately or circumstantially) you’re going to need even more volume in your pipeline to support the added overhead associated with your growth. Since marketing is a marathon and not a dash, your marketing efforts should have a six to twelve month head start over your growth plans. Adding overhead during a feast cycle, without having laid the groundwork to support that growth, will inevitably lead to serious consequences the next time a famine cycle rolls around.
Sadly, most creative entrepreneurs end up growing without serious planning, or sufficient profits, and without a strong marketing plan. Feast seasons can give you a false sense of security, making you think your ship has finally come in, such that you don’t need to spend time marketing. But really, you need a deeper and stronger marketing foundation than ever before.
But if you have not laid this foundation, and established your program ahead of time—if you enter a feast season without it, you’ll have less time than ever to carefully strategize, formulate, and execute an effective marketing plan.
Marketing is fundamental to any healthy business. It should not be an afterthought. If you’re in a famine season there is no better time or better use of your time, than to get that marketing program in place. And if you’re in a feast season without one, don’t wait until it ends to find out how much you needed that foundation under your feet.