Breaking the cycle of "Feast or Famine" for Creatives

January 19, 2019

Over the years, one of the biggest challenges I faced and learned to understand was the seasonality of working in the creative world, something that greatly contributes to the cycle of Feast or Famine.

There were some months I'd be so busy that I could hardly keep up, which were also great months financially. Then others (especially approaching the holidays), where I'd start getting really nervous because there just wasn't that much work to be had, and often would be financially stressful.

Overcoming the feast or famine cycle doesn't happen overnight, but it's possible to smooth it out with intentional strategy and planning.

1. Plan ahead

Once you've had a year or two of working in your specific industry, you'll be able to pick up on trends of seasonality. For example, the wedding world tends to be incredibly busy in the Springtime and fall, but generally slow down a lot around November-January.  Likewise, in the commercial production space, things slow down considerably towards the end of the year.

A really common mistake that a lot of creatives make is in not planning their finances well.  It's easy to see a high dollar amount in your bank account after a really good month and start spending it on gear or other desired items for the business.  However, knowing that you may not have a lot of work around a specific time of year, you can set aside enough money during your busier months help pad the slower times.

2. Proactive Marketing & Promotion

While it can be challenging during the busy months to be thinking ahead past the projects you might be drowning in, thinking ahead a few months can really be to your advantage. Depending on your niche, it might make sense to start promoting your work for those slower seasons.

Consider the channels you are using to promote your brand. Are you promoting yourself through social media, SEO, content marketing, interviews, guest posts, strategic partnerships, etc?  Start building up more ways for your clients to find you before you get into a slow season.

Do you have previous clients that you could reach out to see if they need any work? If you're in a service based business, let people know you have availability and sometimes that's all it takes!

3. Diversify your offerings

If all of your income comes from only one type of creative work or kind of client, you're at a higher risk for your business failing.  If you lose a big client, trends change, or a source of work goes away, you'll be back at square one every time.

Consider the different skills you have, or you could learn. Evaluate the clients you work with. For me, while weddings will always be a one-off job, I have commercial clients who often turn into recurring work.  Some of those clients are on a monthly retainer, others are job-to-job, and some can be on a revenue share of their course sales. I've also stepped into things such as affiliate income and have product and courses planned to build out.

Retainers are a win-win offering with some clients who have long-term needs. We have some clients who need consistent video work throughout the year and opt for a monthly retainer option. This allows us to predict our revenue throughout the year, and can help smooth out the slower months.

Affiliate Income is an amazing way to fill in income for the slower seasons, without a lot of ongoing effort. Through recommending products, courses, and services, you're able to earn a share of those sales.  Check out Making Sense of Cents if you're serious about setting up a new revenue stream with Affiliate Marketing.

Partnerships are a great way to combine your skills with someone else's in a joint venture. An example is doing work in exchange for a share of the revenue in the project, such as helping someone build a course or product. Consider this for a client who may not have the budget up front, but you can get a percentage of the revenue.

Consulting can be a creative way to meaningfully help your clients without a long-term commitment by offering your expertise. Consider all the questions your clients frequently ask or the skills you have to offer. Think about possibly developing an online course, white papers, content marketing, and PDF downloads that can lead you to more revenue.

4. Raise your rates

Do you know your financial numbers for your business? There are so many creatives that operate at such a low margin (or even at a loss) that it makes sense that they are having trouble making ends meet throughout the year.

Many people fail to account for the actual amount of work that goes into a project. It's important to charge what your worth and include the business development time it took to earn those leads, the education time you've spent to become an expert in your field, and even the fine details of managing a project.

If you're consistently finding yourself having trouble riding the wave of busy and slow seasons, you should consider:

  • Is there room to increase your rates?
  • If you're charging hourly, are you charging at a rate that accounts for the billable hours you need to meet your financial goals? (Include time-off and vacations too!)
  • If you're working with contractors, are you adding a profit margin on top of their rates?
  • Can you charge more and work a bit less to give you more time to work on developing your business?

5. Streamline your processes

I'm someone who really enjoys building out tools and processes to "work smarter not harder".  In my wedding business, I was spending so much time managing my leads for followups, proposals, contracts, and bookings, that it was taking away time from things like editing and business development. I realized that these tasks were all repetitive and could be automated. I started to use HoneyBook to help me manage my leads and clients, using templates and workflows to take care of all the admin work I was spending time on. Read: Why I Switched to Honeybook CRM for Creatives

Do you write the same emails to clients over and over? Use canned responses that you can customize and send quickly. Think things like lead responses, welcome emails, invoice reminders, etc.

There are other amazing tools such as Zapier, which can connect all the tools you use every day through automation.


Working your way out of the cycle of feast or famine can take time, but with some strategic adjustments to your business and processes, you can even out the highs and lows or even eliminate it completely.

What are some changes that you've made to your business to help? Leave a comment below! 

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