for the record - I am slow
I have not made so little money since 1999 (the year I moved to Florida from NY). I have done very well this year, but starting in July, I saw that something was wrong, and made very little. As of August 2015, I am shocked as how little activity is going on (at least for me). I don't know if I am just "out of touch" or this reflects our industry - but it's freaking me out a little bit (more than a little bit). I hope that everyone that reads this says "your day has come" and that everyone else is making a lot of money.
Rescue 1, Inc.
Condolences, Bob. It will come back. But not sorry to say we've seldom been as busy as we are right now. It has a lot to do with an Energizer Bunny of a new client coming on board while the normal pre-fall, trade show crunch is in full swing.
This year has been very very weird.
Usually we are anywhere from moderately to extremely busy most of the year... except summers.... which can be anywhere from "fairly slow" to "deadly." A couple of years ago our summer business was almost non-existent. I did try to stay "glass half full" about it and take advantage of what I called the "Summer of Me" where I worked a four-day week, and have to tell ya except for the actual money part it was fantastic.
This year though, I am clueless as to what's going on. We've had the busiest summer ever... it's not only busy for summertime but it's busy compared to anytime, and I can't figure out why. There doesn't seem to be one thing or one fact that is different in what's going on, or in the type of business we are doing... but it has definitely been a balls-to-the-wall summer.
NOT that I'm either bragging or complaining... I'm grateful for it, and I'm sure the slow times will come around again.
Our business is just so darn cyclical... and except for the things we can readily point our fingers at (such as political seasons) there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it... without any regard to calenders, economies, or anything else. It's just wildly up and down for no reason.
We'd be doing really great if we could just get it to even the heck out... but looks like that ain't happening.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Hang in there, it will be back.
In the meantime, call your clients for the last 5 years and ask them how they are doing and what's happening?
Maybe also ask the companies that manufacture the stuff you make work so brilliantly - are they selling? And to who?
If based in NY, I would look up any company that has "arrived" in the last 2-3 years (many UK companies seems to be hitting NY with an office). Are those new companies happy with their infra-structure?
Also, if you are having a bit of time on your hands, no disrespect intended, but your LinkedIn profile could use a bit of loving. You have a lot of connections + a lot of ticks for various skills. But where is your profile picture? How about a case-study or two - maybe even ask a recent client for a reference. And you can use LinkedIn to reach out to long lost friends, colleagues and customers.
Work the phone, knock some doors down, get seen...
All the Best
@madsvid, London, UK
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"Work the phone, knock some doors down, get seen..."
You realize you're telling that to the absolute King of aggressive, take-no-prisoners door-knocking, wrote the book on it self-promotion, right? Nobody is a more self-motivated go-getter than Bob. Nobody. There must be something else going on, or things have reached a momentary point of stasis in terms of demand and supply.
Unaccustomed Slow Period or Cheese Moved?
I can relate although this particular summer is "OK". It's important to figure out if it's just you being slow temporarily or if there's a tectonic shift in the area of the industry you service. I imagine it's just an extended slow patch, but I don't really know what you do. I think it's setting up systems? The first thing I would do is some competitive research on your competitors. See what they're up to. If they are really swamped what are they doing now that you aren't? If they're slow too then stop freaking and start selling. If you're friends with people who do exactly what you do and are not in your area, reach out to them and ask how things are. I found that local competitors will never tell you the truth but out-of-towners will confide because they don't consider you a threat and you are a Brother-in-Arms. Try that. If they're also having a bad summer then you can feel a little better.
I tend to catastrophize: I'm too old, I'm charging too much, my gear isn't the latest new thing, damn these crowd sourcing sites, etc. etc. I often go through the same thing as you are now doing: have a pity party and start freaking out. But then I start marketing like crazy. Soon the fruits of that appear in a few weeks/months, just by reaching out to old clients and then NEW ones. If we didn't get slow and worried then we wouldn't market our services, we'd be fat and happy. It's good to be edgy about cash flow and ARs, the laid back go under sooner or later. A small business owner should always be worried, keep an eye on ARs and be looking to do estimates. A shark moving forward.
Summer can be slow but as you know everything comes down to your client base and if they need your services at the moment. Just because you've gotten slow doesn''t mean there's an industry shift, everybody now hates you, you're charging too much, etc. Maybe it's because you're not used to an extended slow patch? As Mark says we know you know how to market yourself as do I and I assume you've been doing that? I come from a long line of micro service business owners and you just got to tighten your belt and hustle, hustle, hustle. Don't spend one cent you don't have to.
I have the benefit of being married to someone with a steady (teacher) paycheck so when we get down to seeds and stems at least there's something coming in. Are you single? If so, that's tougher. I advise the young freelancers that it's hard to make it on one's own. In fact, I don't think two freelancers can survive together. ONE needs a steady pay check.
Lastly, I don't like to use the terms Slow or Busy because I can be busy but not very profitable and vice versa. I am doing nothing this week but starting Sunday I will work every day for a week for 3 clients, then nothing on the boards. But that work is for camera work and it is with very slow paying clients, really slow. Yet if I do some producing I can shoot a half day, have the editor do the majority of grunt work and make as much as if I shot 3-5 days. So I like to think in terms of profitability rather than busy.
Second lastly, being just a couple of years away from hanging my spurs up I tend to listen to a LOT of business talk radio, investment shows, financial newsletters, CNBC, etc. I actually hate business and finance but it's really necessary to know what's happening in the industries you serve. Just yesterday I learned that my local giant client Kraft laid off 700 people after it was gobbled up by Heinz, so you must keep up with the financial media in terms of the industries you service. Do that and you'll learn that ALL companies are now keeping their powder dry. No one is spending any money they don't have to. Cash is King. The whole financial world is worried. We just got out of a recession but it's possible we could slide back as is Brazil, Australia, Russia and now China. Ugh! If you are servicing companies in a way where they are outlaying new money in order for you to service their systems, they may have to cut way back, waiting to see how the (world) economy is doing. And by listening to biz media I learn and target what sectors are hot and tailor my marketing towards them (healthcare, financial services, etc.) So in sum, if you made your rep and biz on certain industries, if they are in the doldrums due to the new world financial slow down, then you need to see where your cheese went, read this short book:
My son was doing OK in Australia for three years during their boom and now is forced to move to the UK. The whole Aussie economy's cheese just got moved, big time, due to the Chinese economy slow down. We all have to figure out where our cheese went and the smart small biz owners predict where it will move next. Your cheese might not have been moved, you might just be in a summer doldrum that you aren't used to experiencing. But JUST IN CASE: Check your cheese please.
So cheer up! On my No Work days, when I've done all the marketing I can think of (LinkedIn junkie), I do volunteering and when you're around people doing way worse than you it really cheers you up as to how well you have it, even when you're super slow!
Ned (on my laptop on my deck, overlooking the golf course, beautiful summer day, but making NO money today)
P.S. How many of you young folk here don't know what "down to seeds and stems" mean?
[Ned Miller] "How many of you young folk here don't know what "down to seeds and stems" mean?"
Guess that makes me not so young.
Stems and Seeds was also the name of a head shop in one episode of King of the Hill....
I miss that show....
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Here's a great example of why you're slow Bob. People really don't give a crap who or what they hire today. The race to the bottom is no longer relegated to Craig's List. It's on Staff Me Up and many other sites as well.
They don't want to pay the craftspeople and they use crappy workstations with USB 3 drives. Who needs a properly configured workstation or facility to do work anymore?
Walter Biscardi, Jr.
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FWIW my year so far as been lean but part of that is self-induced (took extended time off for family) and I haven't been able to get back into the rhythm of finding work yet. Lots of 'maybes' and 'we are planning to start soon..." but hopefully that changes sooner rather than later.
[walter biscardi] "The race to the bottom is no longer relegated to Craig's List. It's on Staff Me Up and many other sites as well."
To be fair that's nothing new to Staff Me Up and the listing is in the appropriate 'low budget' part of the site, as opposed to the 'full rate' part of the site. Even when Staff Me Up was called RealityStaff they had low budget listings as well.
Getting back to the original problem, I was thinking about this: if Bob's main business is installing production/post-production systems, and the market has dried up for a bit, perhaps exploring the opposite end for a while is in order. That would be the distribution and presentation side. Corporate and retail display systems, portable road show multimedia display and presentation systems, that kind of thing. I'm hopping busy right now, doing daily stories and feeds from the middle of the Illinois State Fair, and one thing I've noticed is all the corporate presentation "road shows" have really stepped up their A/V Game this year, using more large LED display screens than ever before, and a lot more interactivity.
There are 100 county fairs and 2 state fairs, just in Illinois. Multiply that by fifty, and you see the market for high-end portable presentation systems that are high performance/ high reliability, and very portable. It might feel a little like the old KISS road days, maybe? Sure, it's a niche, but a niche fifty states wide. Car companies, agribusiness companies, telecom providers, just a few of the potential customers. I'm not even listing all the industry conventions, from boat shows to restauranteurs to whatever. Big dollar gatherings where people sell big-dollar widgets, using big-dollar presentation systems. LED's. Lasers. Robotics. Anything.
I dunno, maybe look into that?
What I'd describe the last few years as is "spurty" - as in when the work comes, it comes in spurts. And when it does - like the term implies, it's a minor version of a small FLOOD. Schedules are crunched. Deadlines are nuts. Then it's quiet again for a bit. The issue here is nothing much is sustained or dependable. Clients think nothing of getting a bid, then I don't hear anything for months - then suddenly the dam breaks and they want to shoot Monday and have a final Thursday.
What I've seen in the big picture is a big response to the bifurcation of the market. The Big Players are still playing BIG - particularly when they can invest in buying an early slot in the new digital economy. The Middle sized players have been crunched almost out of existence. And the small shops are lucky if they've picked up the clients that used to hang with the middle players who started downsizing vendors when the screws tightened.
That vanishing middle class thing isn't just about consumer households. It's harder than ever to get a business from small to medium without selling off a chunk (or everything) to someone else. I've seen so many agencies and creative boutiques around here that I used to vend to folded into bigger, richer businesses - and of course, when that happens, one or two folks at the top do really well - while everyone else gets worried about the calls for "more efficiency" so they don't ask for a raise for the next 5 years.
It's the ugly part of capitalism.
It pissed me off me off last week to see on the news that nine of the top ten performing economies in the world are currently some form of democratic socialism rather than capitalism. I suppose the consolidation trend is cool if you work for one of the SIX media giants that now kinda own everything media related. But not so cool if you're NOT a vendor to one or more of them. Oh well.
My 2 cents.
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Noticed similar slowness in stock footage starting this spring and in the forums on a couple of sites just about everyone was complaining that sales simply stopped, many still are, started about mid-April for many and mid-May for me, like falling off a cliff basically. Jives with what you are saying, if producers are slow there is less need for stock footage. What I don't know is why this is happening, the economy, shift in trends, what? people simply doing with less or without? cutting costs?.
In the forums everyone was blaming Google algorithm changes, blaming the stock agencies, you name it but very few asked about the customer? as if the customer was taken for granted.
If I work in building maintenance and we decide to switch to LED lighting, do I still keep ordering boxes on incandescent light bulbs like I have in the past? Probably not.
Something's up that's for sure.