In the first year of my business as a ghost blogger, I had my best month ever and my worst month ever back-to-back.
When I told my coach about it (I subscribed to a monthly group coaching call for $12.95 a month!), she asked me how much time I’d spent marketing myself during my best month.
The answer, as it turned out, was “very little” — because I’d been so busy delivering on the work that got me to my best month. And so, naturally, my leads and sales dropped the following month.
Hands up if this sounds familiar. 🤚🏻
While my experience was quite dramatic, business owners experience this all the time — whether they sell products, courses, or services. And this feast or famine business cycle can continue even when you have a successful business.
Why we suffer from feast and famine in business
There are lots of outside forces that might cause your leads and sales to suddenly dry up. My new business inquiries fell off a cliff in March 2020, for example, when everybody was shocked by lockdowns and trying to figure out what the pandemic would mean for their business.
And some businesses are naturally cyclical. Tax preparers and CPAs come to mind as a good example; I can only imagine their inquires BOOM early in the year and then taper off to a trickle.
But if you have a product, course, or service that is evergreen (that is, people can and might want to buy it any time) and you experience big mountains and dips in your sales, you probably have a marketing problem.
The truth is, until you get your marketing systematized, you’ll continue to ride the roller coaster of business success.
Because, as we all know (or learn the hard way): we have to have a full pipeline in order to have regular sales success.
This is especially true if you have a long sales cycle. In other words, if it usually takes people weeks or months (or more!) to decide to buy from you, you have to be careful to keep adding people to the pipeline, or you will experience dry spells down the line.
If you want to stop the feast and famine business cycle, the first step is to figure out why you’re in it in the first place:
1. You’re not marketing.
This is the trap I fell into when I had my best month and worst month back-to-back. I fell into the all-to-easy trap of working in my business instead of on my business.
This is a common one for beginning business owners and solo entrepreneurs to fall into. You have a great month of sales, but then you have to deliver on those sales. And because you’re so busy doing the delivery, the marketing falls to the bottom of the to-do list — or off it altogether.
Sometimes it’s also a matter of energy. If you find that you get fired up about a new plan, project, idea, or channel and post a lot for a while… then lose momentum, get tired, or run out of ideas, you also fall into this category.
The first step to addressing this problem is to make a big picture plan. This is what I teach in my Content Intelligence Academy course: understand your goals and then make your marketing plans to meet those goals.
But don’t get overzealous with those plans! You must keep your own capacity in mind as well — especially if you’re the type to get excited and then flame out.
Consistency and quality are more important than quantity, so set a marketing pace that you can maintain with high standards.
2. You don’t know what’s working in your marketing.
The next stage seems to be that you’ve managed to get plenty of marketing activities done, but you aren’t sure which ones are actually working.
Maybe you’re publishing valuable content on a regular schedule, sending out emails, posting to social media, even guesting on podcasts or getting featured in the media…
But you still can’t seem to predict which months will bring you lots of leads and which months will leave your calendar looking like an empty desert with only tumbleweeds for company.
In this case, you don’t know which activities are bringing in most of your leads and sales, or which messages are — or both.
In this case, it’s time to start tracking!
Put together a way to track where your leads and sales are coming from. It could be as simple as adding a “where did you hear about us?” question to your intake form, or it might need some more technological solutions to track which links people are clicking, which emails they’re opening, and so on.
Once you can figure out where your best or most leads are coming from you can double down on that marketing activity.
For example, when I realized that I was getting some highly qualified leads by being a guest on other people’s podcasts, I invested time and money in pitching myself to podcast hosts. When I realized that nearly 70% of my business came from referrals, I started figuring out how I could more strategically nurture my network.
But you have to start with the data to make good decisions.
3. Your marketing isn’t diversified.
This is the “all your eggs in one basket” problem.
When I was starting out in this ghost blogging space, I had a gig writing posts for a website in the organic living space. Their business model was based on ad revenue from ads on their site as well as commissions from affiliate products they sold.
And the biggest portion of their traffic came from Facebook — both paid and organic.
Then, something happened and their Facebook page got shut down.
In the blink of an eye, the vast majority of their traffic — and therefore their revenue — disappeared.
If you’re an internet veteran like I am, you might also remember when the same thing happened to people when Google changed their search algorithm and some sites’ traffic plummeted.
Having a single (or one main) source of traffic and leads is a risky proposition, especially if you don’t directly control it.
Relying on one advertising channel or solely on SEO are the classics here, but this can be just as dangerous with any channel you rely too heavily on. Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard lots of stories of entrepreneurs whose webinar funnels stopped converting as well, for example.
If this is where you find yourself, you need to find ways to diversify your lead streams.
So, for example: You might have weekly blog with content that fuels your organic search traffic and traffic from social media and nurtures your email list, some paid ad traffic, and a PR campaign to get you on relevant podcasts regularly.
Or maybe you have your own podcast that you share via social and email, a strong PR media campaign to get you articles in traditional media, and an affiliate program.
The individual puzzle pieces matter less here than how you are putting them together.
4. Your marketing isn’t systematized and replicable or predictable.
A fourth problem businesses encounter is when it just becomes difficult to replicate certain marketing successes.
I mentioned above that referrals are a big part of my business. That’s an honor and a privilege — but it’s also not super predictable.
Even when I made it a priority to nurture relationships, find new partners, even try to incentivize my referrals… I struggled to make it replicable and predictable. I would have HUGE months and then very slow months.
If you truly want to break out of the feast or famine business cycle, you need:
- Multiple lead streams
- That perform well (and the data to back it up)
- And that you can systematize so that they are easier to maintain.
If, for example, your blog content drives a lot of your traffic, but you as the CEO have gotten so busy that you don’t have time to write it every week, the system starts to break down.
Or maybe you’ve got ads running for traffic, but you’re not checking on their performance regularly, so you might be losing money.
Or you rely on affiliates to help drive sales, but you forget to remind them about upcoming launches.
Having a big-picture marketing plan is vital here, but systematizing and delegating parts of the marketing plan are also important. When there are more moving parts, there are more places for the system to fail.
But when you get all the pieces working together… When you have systems in place to ensure that the right actions happen, and when you protect yourself with multiple lead streams…
You CAN overcome the feast or famine business cycle once and for all!