How I plan my business to leverage seasonal variations in demand
Did you miss me? I managed to lose track of my blog for a few months during my peak season between February and April. Now that things are settling down I am finally trying to get back on track. And the first thing on my mind is how I am planning to leverage seasonal variations in demand for my services to my advantage in my business planning. So this is how I have divided up 2016 into different periods with different business focuses.
Finetuning Period – from early January to early February
Demand tends to be relatively low during this period. This is when I evaluate the results of my profitability analysis of the past year. This year, I contacted translation agencies I work for to tell them which end clients I want to see more of or less of based on the analysis. I also notify some of these agencies of rate increases, such as minimum charge increases, I have identified as necessary from the analysis. I start working at a moderate pace. Some years in the past, January has been characterized by a bit of a drought in demand from Swedish clients, but not as much this year.
Peak Work Period – from mid-February to late April
This is the peak season for demand for financial translations from Swedish to English. I have one annual report after the other and they are almost all scheduled well in advance, so this does not come as a surprise. It’s very helpful to know in advance that this will be the busy period to that I can mentally and physically prepare for it and so that I can try to concentrate more on other aspects of my business besides operations at other times.
Catch-Up Period – from late April to late June
There is still plenty of demand during this period, but not as overwhelming as in the previous period. This is when I start to spend a little less time on operations and catch up on any other aspects of my business I may have neglected a bit during the peak period. For example, I might catch up on some admin and try to catch up on my marketing and networking by signing up for more events.
Planning Period – from late June to mid-August
This period is one of the weakest in terms of demand from Swedish clients, because almost all of Sweden goes on vacation for the summer at the same time following Midsummer in late June. No problem, I’m ready for a bit of a break myself to rest from a busy first half of the year. I also need some time to do some more serious business planning, which this period is perfect for. I’ll work on redoing my website, my personal brand and how I present myself. I’ll set priorities better, narrow and define my specializations more and work on my CPD.
Marketing Blitz Period – from mid-August to mid-December
Demand for my services can fluctuate quite a bit during this period, peaking during the time for quarterly reports in August and October and sometimes falling off a little in between. With a new master plan, including a new website, and a better idea of where and how to focus my efforts, I’ll significantly reduce my agency workload and dedicate more time than I ever have before to acquiring new direct clients and following up with and nurturing existing ones. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to achieve higher profitability in the medium term by the next peak season and in the longer term across seasons.
Companies start planning and budgeting for their annual reports in the fall, making it an excellent time for me to do more marketing. I’ll sign up for more networking events and I’ll spend more time each week making phone calls and writing emails to existing clients and prospects.
Analysis Period – after Christmas until early January
After putting work aside for a few days around Christmas, I refresh my computer, reinstall programs, upgrade to new programs and apps where applicable etc. In other words, I analyze my whole IT environment, invest in new solutions just before the end of the tax year, and get everything up to date and running smoothly for the next year. I also spend extra time on my admin, such as finalizing my profitability analysis for the past year to serve as the basis for the next Finetuning Period. A key part of this analysis is also seeing whether I met my financial targets from the past year and setting new ones for the new year. These targets may change in the future but the main ones for 2015 and 2016 were increasing my average gross hourly revenue and percentage of revenue from direct clients.
So this is what I have in mind for 2016. The past Analysis Period from late 2015 and the Finetuning and Peak Work Periods in 2016 went as described above. I hope that the remaining periods will go according to plan, but we’ll see.
I think that one of my biggest weaknesses in the past has been being unsure of how to best spend my time when not doing billable work. It’s something I have seen a lot of other translators struggle with as well: being idle and unproductive while waiting for work to drop in instead of working on your marketing, admin, CPD etc. Or accepting work at lower rates or lower profitability than your average to fill out your schedule instead of spending time on other aspects of your business that can lead to better work in the future. One thing that has helped me a bit recently is using an electronic to-do list to write down marketing/admin/billing etc. tasks that need to be done so I can turn to the list and have plenty of things to do at a moment’s notice.
Based on what I have heard from colleagues, seasonal variations seem to vary significantly depending on your source language, the country in which your clients are located, your specialization, and your market segment. Seasonal variations may be essentially non-existent for some translators as well. How do seasonal variations affect you, and do you plan your personal time (e.g. vacations), admin, marketing etc. around them?
Making sense of some Davespeak:
– Higher average gross hourly revenue is my most important measure of profitability and what I am mainly referring to when I talk about a “profitability analysis”.
– When I say “admin” in this post, I am mainly referring to updating my profitability statistics and sending invoices.
– “Davespeak” is sometimes used teasingly by my colleagues and me self-consciously to refer to something I have written which is overly complicated or wordy. Other times, my colleagues use it appreciatively when I churn out a quick sentence or two for them to use in emails.