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How to prepare for the summer lull

The nature of owning your own design business can be scary when preparing for the summer lull when designers and their clients tend to go on holiday.  In the southern hemisphere there is the double whammy of Christmas and New Year holidays when clients head to the beach and design work coming your way tends to dry up. I reached out to a bunch of switched on designers and design businesses to see what they do to prepare for the quiet times so they can hit the ground running in the following year. I also checked in with some of the Rocketspark team who ran a design business for many years.

Cash is king 

The biggest stressor during this time is cash flow during arguably one of the most expensive times of the year for many people. You’ve got Christmas pressies to buy and summer shenanigans to embark on. On top of that, summer is an extended period of time where you have less capacity to design and clients are also on break, so cash flow may diminish.

To soften the impact some of you may like to lock in a deposit early. Nat from Magic Fingers Graphics ensures to get clients booked in and deposits paid over the summer lull. Nat mentioned that it ensures the client doesn’t forget about the upcoming project or miss the available window to work on it without worrying if they will pay in the New Year! There is nothing worse than a holdup waiting for someone to get back to you or pay you! This will mean your clients are the first in the queue in the New Year and you can hit the ground running with projects locked in ready to go. 

It may also be worth looking into retainer clients or other revenue stream options to keep cash flowing over the quieter season. We’ve gathered some great insights from Rocketspark partners below: 

  • Chantelle from Varntige mentioned that they have clients on regular packages that pay the same price throughout the summer months 

  • Leah from Varntige uses this period of time to follow up with clients to get projects across the line and reach out to their clients to see if anyone needs final bits and pieces completed such as social media graphics to get them through the summer period

  • Tonia from Greenhouse Creative ensures she has retainer clients during the summer lull. She schedules promotional content over the course of December and January so she is able to invoice the client in December 

  • Karen from Kaz Design has reached out to her website clients informing them of the changes to Google Analytics (GA4) in July, and have added a standard fee to get clients changed over. Karen drilled into a pain point of her customers and has an extra revenue stream as a result

  • Grant from Rocketspark recommended getting in touch with your clients to see how you can help them get their websites ready for this time. Whether it be adding an announcement bar with updated hours or initiating a micro project such as a Christmas landing page

  • Karen from Kaz Design also uses this time to go through old websites they’ve built and look at how they can offer a website refresh - are they on an old template? Are there any add ons which would add value to their website? Karen said “it’s easier and more cost effective to sell to a client who has used your services as they know and trust your work, than it is to find new work and build the relationship” - very wise words

  • Tonia from Greenhouse Creative likes to save her years worth of Rocketspark partner commission and cash it in, in December, so it acts as her holiday pay! Great thinking Tonia!

Get creative, drill into your clients’ pain points and help set them up for success during this time of year.  

Client management 101

Another concern may be whether your lovely clients will be okay while you take a well deserved break. Grant and Jeremy from Rocketspark said that great service is about meeting and exceeding expectations. It is important to set and manage expectations with your clients for the summer period - you need to be clear with them when you’ll be unavailable and when you’ll be back. You can prepare your website for the holidays by utilising an announcement bar with clear out of office dates (there’s also the opportunity for a nice brand piece of content to let your clients know what you’re up to), and nothing beats a good old fashioned out of office responder on phone and email. 

Another thing to consider is whether you have systems in place if things turn to custard? Fingers crossed this won’t happen but it’s good to cover your bases just in case. This could be ensuring your clients know how to get support from the tools they use, whether it be the website platform, booking system, marketing system, email or domain provider (to name a few). Ensuring your clients know how to get in touch with the tools in place will help you to eliminate stress while you step away from work. Grant from Rocketspark mentioned that you may want to consider making a page on your own website with all the relevant contact details if things don’t go to plan during this time. 

Plan, plan, plan! 

The end of the year is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year that’s been and where you’re hoping to go for 2023. Claire from the Renew Room ensures they do a big planning session before they switch off for the year covering everything from the highs, lows and what they want to achieve in the following year. 

You will want to look at how many enquiries you got for work, how many proposals you created, and then how many projects went ahead. This will help you get a clearer picture of how many leads turn into customers. So for 2023, working backwards, you know how much money you’d like to make, so how many leads will you need to generate to hit that target? For example, you want to generate $100,000 in revenue. Your average project rate is $5,000, so you’ll need to secure 20 projects across the year. Last year, you did 10 projects, from 100 leads. So to hit your revenue target for 2023, you’d need to generate 200 leads.  Now that you know you need 200 leads, you can make a plan as to how you’ll get them.

Jason from Rocketspark has some great techniques up his sleeve for securing new leads; networking, small business Facebook groups, digital marketing, or his favourite - SEO.

Karen from Kaz Design recommends that this time is the perfect opportunity to get out there and market your business. Whether it be at your classic neighbourhood backyard cricket tournament, family BBQ or waiting for your fish and chip order - it’s the perfect time to meet people, let them know the services you offer and let them get to know you. That will build trust and over time, work. You need to go out and find work, you can’t expect it to come to you. 

Chantelle from Varntige said it’s important to forecast for this time and make sure you generate enough income during the year to cover the lull. This could involve looking at your pricing strategy and potentially increasing your prices

Community is important to Chantelle and Leah from Varntige, so they make sure they set some time aside at the start of the year to carry out their community based projects. Their free website giveaway is strategically arranged at the end of the year so when they come back to work they can work on the website when other work can be a bit quiet. 

Working on your biz

The old classic saying goes ‘a builder’s house is never finished’ and designers are no exception. You are so flat out during the year with client work that your own website is usually the last area of focus. Take this time to work on your own website and give it a refresh that represents you and your brand. Minja from Relatable Design Co is using this time to further develop her brand and add new design elements such as patterns and drawings that she can use across different platforms such as website, social media and business cards. Jason from Rocketspark recommends thinking about whether your website plainly states what you offer and why potential clients should choose you? This is the prime opportunity to ensure your portfolio of work is up to date. 

Similarly, it’s a great idea to tie up loose ends and follow up with your clients for testimonials. Karen from Kaz Design said that potential clients always look for reviews so it’s important to follow up with them, don’t be scared to ask for the 5 star review, most are willing and if not there are valuable learnings where you can grow. 

The summer lull is the prime time to invest in educating yourself and upskilling so you are keeping your finger on the pulse. Minja from Relatable Design Co will be updating her knowledge in the social media space for both her clients’ and her own business’ benefit. 

It’s time to do the spring clean that you never got around to doing a few months ago. Nat from Magic Fingers Graphics said that things tend to pile up in her studio when timelines are due so this is a priority for her. A clean office is the recipe for improved mood, productivity and organisation allowing you to feel inspired and hit the ground running next year. Another task which will be a daunting one but is worth doing is to clean up your computer files. I know you’re all guilty of new.psd, newnew.psd, newnewfinal.psd, newnewfinalforsure.psd, so it’s good to go through your files, give them a good clear out and clear that chaotic desktop background! Your future self will thank you for it. This goes hand in hand with doing a good email clear out. Karen from Kaz Design said to unsubscribe from those who are cluttering your inbox so you aren’t inundated with emails when you come back to work. 

You also want to know where your money is going. Karen from Kaz Design recommends looking at your accounting system and checking out all of your costs, particularly your subscriptions, are you using these? Karen said that you need to keep as much money in your bank account as you can this year, and we’ve got to agree with her! Something that goes hand in hand is to tidy up all your accounting bits and pieces so that you’re all good to go for the end of the financial year. 

Rest and recovery!

Do you do social media management for clients? Claire from the Renew Room aims to get as much scheduled content ready to go before they knock off for the year. This will allow you to completely switch off and get your well deserved break. On the note of switching off, remove all business apps from your phone. This removes the temptation to keep an eye on things and allows you to completely switch off. 

Grant from Rocketspark said that for many designers and small businesses 2023 was a topsy turvy year with plenty of uncertainty and ups and downs. It is likely that your clients and yourself are more than ready for a break so make sure you look after yourself and build in some well deserved rest! Switch off as much as you can and spend this time with your nearest and dearest. 

Thank you! 

A massive thank you to Leah and Chantelle from Varntige, Claire from the Renew Room, Minja from Relatable Design Co, Tonia from Greenhouse Creative, Karen from Kaz Design, Nat from Magic Fingers Graphics and Grant, Jeremy and Jason from Rocketspark for sharing their expertise with us. 

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