Slow Times, Summer Projects, and Free Consulting (Oh My!)

Pre-S: As you’ll read here, my plan for this summer is to formalize and grow my business consulting/coaching work. As part of that process, I’ll be opening up ten hours of completely free consulting (one hour each with ten different people). All I ask in return is

  1. your patience while I set up systems and procedures;
  2. your questions and concerns about building your business (i.e. what you'd like me to help you with); and
  3. your honest feedback.

I first publicized this last night in The Memo, but there are still a few spots up for grabs. If you want to get on the list of people who will be invited to book one free hour of consulting with me, click here, read through the brief page there, and then leave me a message through the form at the bottom of the page and I will be in touch. 

This week I will be figuring out a way to automate scheduling. Once I figure that out, I will open the times up first to the first ten people who contacted me originally. Then if any spots remain unclaimed, I'll figure out a good way to move down the list to fill the remaining free spots.

Now onward to this week’s post.

This past Wednesday was the last of my major holiday-related design deadlines, which means it was also the start of my slow season. Because of the cyclical, calendar-driven nature of a lot of the work I do in stationery design and licensing, my year has predictable slow times — times when the money is slow to come in, when the work is slow to come in, or, the worst, when both money and work are slow to come in. The next 90 days or so is one of those periods in my year when everything is slow.

Thankfully, my slow times tend to be preceded by my fast times, and I’m nothing if not good at budgeting. So the slow times aren’t a crisis, they’re an opportunity.

An opportunity for rest, sure, but also an opportunity for goal setting, project tackling, and business building. An opportunity to grease the cogs so that my business can run a bit more smoothly during the busy times.

Last summer, I splintered my business and created a completely new brand and website for my wedding-facing design.

Two summers before that, I did a total rebuild of the Up Up Creative website, complete with custom wedding e-commerce built right in.

In 2011, I used my slow season to set up and execute this crazy (some said stupid, reckless, irresponsible) experiment where I let people name their own price for wedding invitations.

This summer, I’m trying my hand at setting a 90-day income goal.

Over the years, I’ve proven that I can accomplish huge things. I can build websites and design and code fonts. I can design for major companies and for individual clients. I can bring in enough money to do my half of supporting my family.

But my son is turning nine this year and my daughter is six and while my little family is thriving, we’re still saddled with lots of school debt (have I mentioned that my husband went to a private law school?) and I’m feeling downright driven lately to start saving for my kids’ college educations.

Other than knowing my minimum required monthly and annual incomes (if you missed The Memo from two weeks ago, you can find it here), I’ve actually never set a short-term income goal like this, and then created a plan for how to (try to) achieve it.

Typically, I prefer goals that I have complete control over — goals that rely solely on me. An income goal depends on other people to hand over their money, which makes it the kind of goal I typically avoid. Too easy to get frustrated, disappointed, and down.

But I’m going to try it anyway.

So how do I go about tackling this kind of goal? Here’s my basic process:

First: numbers.

I sat down for a couple of hours this past week and did some research. According to various estimates around the reputable regions of the Internet, if I want to pay for college for both kids, in full, I need to be saving about $37K per year. Starting now. That would cover them at any state school and many private schools, according to inflation estimates, tuition trends, etc.

My business does well, but so far, it’s not even in the ballpark of generating enough extra income to sustain a $37K-per-year college-saving habit.

I’m not ready to take on something quite so extreme, but I’m ready to make my first stab at figuring out how to get there. So I’m setting a goal of earning $6000 more over this ninety days than I did over the same ninety days last year.

Second: focus.

My next step in setting up an action plan for achieving this income goal is to pick an income stream to focus on.

I have about seven or eight predominant income streams right now, and while I’m not going to ignore any of them during this 90-day period, I know that in order to hit my income goal, I need to have sharp focus. Research tells us that we lose a shocking amount of time to switching focus from one project to the next, and I’ve NEVER been a good multi-tasker. If I want to hit my goals, I’m going to have the easiest time doing that if I start out as focused as possible.

I’ve decided that I’m going to spend the next 90 days formalizing and growing my consulting business. Right now, consulting and coaching are things I do here and there when people ask me to, but I don’t have systems in place. I have no onboarding process, no automated scheduling, no specific consulting packages or offerings, and no regular stream of clients.

Third: action plans.

Without action plans, goals are really just dreams. With action plans, goals become reasonable - and sometimes even inevitable - outcomes. So my next step is to put an action plan in place. I started this on Friday by making a list of all the projects I can think of that need to be completed in order to develop my consulting business. Things like setting up a way for people to book time with me, creating a letter of agreement, gathering testimonials, setting up a consulting page on my website, deciding between skype and google hangouts, etc.

This week, I’ll take that list of projects and I’ll also sit down with the numbers I talked about above and I’ll set up two-week mini-goals and an action plan for how to achieve those by completing various projects within those two-week spans. I’ll come up with loose timelines and key benchmarks. Like maybe I’ll set a goal of doing 25 consulting hours by the end of July or something like that.

At the same time, I’ll also set a few non-income-based goals, too. Benchmarks I can hit on the way to striving for my income goal. Benchmarks that I can delight in even if I don’t ultimately hit the specific dollar amount.

I like to celebrate achievements rather than lament when I fall short, so those more me-driven goals will help ensure that I’ll get to do plenty of celebrating by summer’s end.

The other thing I’ll be doing this week is scheduling 10 hours of free consulting, to take place over the following week or two. If you have a business and want to be considered for those free hours, click here and then leave me a message using the form at the bottom of the page.