3 Things I Learned From Getting Fired on Valentine’s Day
I had gone from making six figures working in a large corporate environment as an Organizational Development professional to living in a small town where I was told I could never make the same salary. I had always wanted to have my own consulting practice but wouldn’t have launched it by design in a town with few big businesses and little to no network. Due to my husband’s insane travel schedule, having a child with special needs and no family in the area, I had to make it work, serving small businesses in my community.
I was off to a decent start but it didn’t last. While the initial highs were exhilarating, the lows were downright excruciating. I’ll share the story of a particular low and three valuable lessons in hopes to spare you some of the pain.
Diving in feet first, I got a contract for a big project with Client A. I arrogantly thought that projects like that for customers like that would continue one after the other. In parallel, I had a smaller but still sizeable engagement with Client B plus a few small projects here and there. Life was good. I was living in a gorgeous place and meeting lots of wonderful people. I had a relatively easy schedule, doing interesting work and making (and spending) pretty good money.
You see this coming, don’t you? The work with Client A was completed with no specific next projects lined up. The project for Client B had turned to ongoing support (a retainer) but after the initial challenges were addressed, the ROI for my monthly fee was diminishing. I dropped the ball in client communication (more accurately, my son dropped my phone in my coffee) and Client B fired me…..on Valentine’s Day!
Financial strain set in, but the emotional hit was worse. Not only was I feeling unloved after being fired on Valentine’s Day, I felt like a stupid business owner for not being prepared for this possibility. The frustration and self-doubt made me needy and difficult. It put a strain on my marriage and made me an impatient mother. Something needed to change!
This painful experience turned out to be a gift. It forced me to focus more intently on how I ran my business, not just how I supported clients with theirs.
Here are 3 valuable lessons that have transformed my workload and income.
1: STAY IN YOUR SWEET SPOT
After the primary challenges were handled in Client B’s organization, in order to keep the contract, I was filling my time doing work that needed to be done but was not in my wheelhouse. This is led to a lack of focus and an ultimate breakdown in communications. In hindsight, I can see that I should have completed the work that I know how to do well for that client, ended the engagement, and moved on to the next client.
2: DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Anytime a significant percentage of your income is coming from a single customer, you are at risk of your business tanking. Even if your performance is perfect, your contract could be reduced or eliminated due to their budgetary constraints or your primary point of contact leaving the company. I currently have a few large contracts. However, now, if I lost any one customer, the revenue from my remaining customers would cover the minimum amount I need to keep afloat.
3: KEEP IN TOUCH WITH INTERESTED PROSPECTS
Though I had a list of contacts with notes, I had been following up with leads in a pretty haphazard way. I had not cultivated any serious prospects. The lesson here is the importance of staying in touch periodically to maintain a relationship with leads and referral partners, with even greater touch and frequency for the prospects closer to a possible yes for a specific offer. I now track this in a table I call Prospect Purgatory.
The Big Takeaway
After my Valentine’s Day wake-up call, I studied and applied lessons and tools from gurus like Michael Port, Lisa Sasevich, Callan Rush and Justin Livingston. I began developing a model and a system that was going to work for my lifestyle and in my community. By reframing my services into categories and improving my structure for keeping up with prospects, I was able to better focus my marketing energy to secure new clients. I call this my No More Feast or Famine process.
Structure and systems are the answer. If you are a creative thinker, like me, the thought of a structure or formula might seem constraining. I have found just the opposite. It actually allows for greater freedom. I have continued to refine my No More Feast or Famine process and supporting tools for myself and have shared with my clients who also struggled with reaching a sustainable workload and income. Creativity can now be spent more enjoyably in other areas, rather than wondering about where to find my next client.