Desperation

And how it kills your business in a not so subtle way.

Artists are especially prone to desperation. As are all beginning business people, freelancers, writers, singers, and anyone else whose lifestyle depends on their own ability to put food on the table through their skills and talents. It comes in many flavours; standard ‘I need more clients’ flavour, ‘I’m stuck on this piece’ flavour, ‘I need a break but can’t take time off’ flavour or some other flavour of lack.

You’ll be familiar with how it hits you;

  1. The realization that you don’t have enough
  2. Creeping dread as you picture what that means
  3. Frantic scrambling to make it work

If you’re lucky you manage to hustle enough at this point to meet your needs and things return to normal. More likely you cycle between the second and third phases, adding a fourth unintended side effect;

  • Driving people off with your air of desperation

Further down the line you either luck out and the situation becomes less desperate on its own, or you reach the ‘or else’ (and at the very least you no longer dread it, even if you then have to deal with the situation). There are many horrible things that can happen prior to digging yourself out and almost all of them are avoidable. For the purposes of this post we’ll look at the ‘Not having enough money’ aspect of desperation, but you can see similarities of thought for the other kinds as well.

Behaviour One: Taking Any Job

A common way to feel less desperate (particularly if its centred around money) is to take any job, the first job, that you’re qualified to complete when offered. On the positive side this means some cash flows in – taking the off the immediate edge of your problems. Some of the best places to find this sort of work are Craigslist and bid sites.

Personally I always had more success with Craigslist than the alternatives but for some people those can work better. Elance, People Per Hour, and oDesk are examples of this type of site.

The negatives, however, are many:

  • Hourly rate is usually much lower than you’d normally accept, but it still takes the same amount of time and effort to complete the work.
  • Clients are often more demanding, will nickle and dime more often, and may require work situations that are untenable (such as really high output for low costs, lots of revisions due to unclear project specs, micromanagement).
  • While working on these projects you have less time to find better ones, so it’s easy to get stuck doing low quality work long term.
  • This sort of work in a portfolio can put off genuine, good clients looking for quality.
  • Say goodbye to your self respect – if handled incorrectly a combination of the above points will ensure you won’t see it for a while.

What I’m not saying is to avoid this type of work at all costs; sometimes you really do need the cash and there really are some good projects that occasionally appear on these sites. If you know how to look.

What I AM saying is proceed with caution. Know going in how much money is enough to dig yourself out, make sure you spend time looking for better projects as well, and keep a firm hold on your integrity. An option that can work better if its possible in your situation is to find a weekend or part time job. It may not be what you set out to do when you started your business / pursuing your art, but you’ll earn a set wage per hour, work only a small portion of the week, cover your basic bills and needs, and (unless you feel like venturing into the adult industry) your dignity remains firmly intact.

Behaviour Two: Chasing Leads and Clients

Lets imagine for a moment that when your desperate panic hits you already have some interested prospects, past clients, or even a couple of current clients. What’s your first reaction when you think of these people?

If operating from a place of having enough you may already have systems in place to follow. You know how to lead prospects through the funnel you’ve created (ending with them signing a contract or buying your thing) and if, through the process, you realize you’re not a good fit for each other you know how to part amiably and refer them to someone else if possible.

Current clients get a similar treatment; you know how to complete the work to the best of your ability and may have an idea of similar services to offer when done which would benefit them.

Past customers you likely check in on every few weeks to a month (or on a time frame that makes sense for you). If you do this well you probably have an idea of when you’ll next be needed and they may even refer people to you.

When you’re operating from desperation, not having enough, and feeling like you may not be able to cover your bills, your relationship to these people changes. Prospects suddenly look like lifelines and you feel intense pressure to get them to sign on. Whether they are a good fit becomes irrelevant. You tell yourself you can handle their project and the cash would help, so you do what you can to get things started. Prospects, feeling that (perhaps sudden!) pressure often decide to go with someone else instead.

Current clients may notice you suddenly rushing to complete their work (costing in quality) or stalling on their project (trying to find other work and lacking the energy to complete theirs). Confused, they wonder what happened to the cool person they hired and may start to doubt they’ve chosen wisely.

Past clients get contacted out of the blue with requests for new work – if they have some they might take you on due to prior positive experiences with you. This can be a fantastic thing! Unless it leaves you in a desperate mode. Its hard to give your best when in that mode which leads to the tarnishing of a previously good working relationship.

So what am I saying here? In no way am I suggesting you don’t continue to attract more people to your business, work hard on the work you currently have, and reach out to past clients. These are all good ideas which are necessary to bring you out and grow your business.

You just need to be aware that you’re effectively working while intoxicated; you’re not thinking clearly and are more likely to make stupid choices.

Some ways to work around this include;

  • Sticking to your original systems despite temptations to ‘ramp things up’ (these systems were made while money sober, right?)
  • Gaining immediate money from somewhere else or outside of your business
  • Doing something relaxing before getting in contact with any of the people in these groups.

Behaviour Three: Discounting Irresponsibly

This is usually an extension of the last behaviour – discounting just to get any new business through the door and keep your head above water a little longer.

Under normal circumstances you probably use discounts strategically. You may choose to discount a little for a promotion or to fill a gap in your pipeline that you can see approaching as part of your plan. As a strategic move you’ll have determined a set discount that still gives you some growth room, covers costs, and leaves you in good standing afterwards. This is different to off the cuff discounting and can be an effective tool.

Where discounting becomes a problem is when you do so last minute, to cover immediate costs, and without thought to the work involved. This is where a lead / potential customer tells you they can’t afford your normal rate and you decide to accommodate their budget (without reducing its complexity) “Because you need money, Now”. There’s nothing good about this – don’t do it. Here are some better alternatives, courtesy of Ittybiz.

Desperation Sucks; What do I do about it?

We’ve barely touched on all the things that can go wrong when you feel desperate, however the theme remains the same throughout the mental state: It’s about filling the lack “Now” and giving no thought to “Later”.

This is toxic to a growing business.

In order to avoid this crunch in the future here are a few points to consider;

  • Don’t allow your business to be your only source of income, at least in the start. Pressure mounts when your survival is on the line.
  • Even if it IS your only source of income, don’t have just one place where you’re making money. Have multiple sources of incoming money; One client that accounts for all your income is less stable than 3-4 smaller clients.
  • Put systems in place to attract new people and cultivate new clients while you’re not desperate. So you have an established, proven system to follow when you start to feel the pinch (and the rest of the time).
  • Have a back up plan. If things start to head downhill, have some sources of quick work in an area that will benefit you lined up. Examples of this include deals with other studios where you can pick up some hours / help out on their projects for a reasonable fee, if you have a part time job then you can ramp up hours temporarily, are there loans you can take out if really desperate?
  • Build up an emergency fund! This piece of advice is common, cliche, and works.

However, if you’re already feeling the crunch and would like someone to talk to send me a quick email and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours with some support, suggestions, and encouragement. This is the best solution I can offer you; personal guidance on how to dig yourself out.

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