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Avoid the Designer’s Roller Coaster: 4 Easy Tips

What is the designer’s roller coaster?

I suppose I should actually call it the self-employed-person’s rollercoaster, since it’s a problem that applies to almost anyone who’s in charge of their own hours.

So here’s the thing: as a designer (or production crocheter, or graphic designer…), you’re not only in charge of actually doing your work (the designing or crocheting), but also finding work for the future.

Why can this lead to a problem that I call ‘the roller coaster’? Because when you’re totally busy with current projects, it’s very easy to let the planning-for-work component slide. And if you don’t plan for future work, then you’re very busy season will be followed by a totally-dead season. That’s a problem.

The problem stems from the fact of life that most projects have a certain amount of lead time. So, while you may be working on a garment for a magazine right now, you were only able to land that project because you sent in a proposal 6 months ago. If you want to be working on a new project 6 months from now, that requires that you do a little footwork now to schedule it!

I can say this with some degree of authority because it’s my life right now. I’m writing a book manuscript that’s due in 4 weeks, followed by the holidays. I want nothing more than to bury my head in the crocheting/writing involved with the book and not to worry about anything else.

But do you know what would happen, then? February would be full of crickets chirping.

How to avoid the roller coaster

Avoiding the roller coaster is astoundingly easy in theory, but difficult in practice. All you need to do is: consistently plan for future work even when you’re feeling completely swamped by your current projects.

Easier said than done, right? Yup.

It’ll take a little bit of willpower to keep your schedule smooth, but you can do it!

Here are a few easy-to-implement tips that will help:

  • Develop a regular habit of discovering opportunities. This could be any habit that makes ‘staying in the loop’ easy, such as asking to be included on various magazines’ email lists (to receive calls for submissions) or deciding to email a few contacts every week about setting up teaching gigs.
  • Even during your busiest times, schedule a chunk of time exclusively for future planning. It’s easy to put off, which is why you have to schedule it in. And while it’s easy to tell yourself that submitting a teaching proposal or design will take no time at all… a good proposal requires effort to draft, so you need to dedicate time to it.
  • Break the submission process into do-able chunks. Are you feeling overwhelmed because setting up a collaboration with a friend requires a lot of work? Think about breaking it into chunks. For example, today you’ll just email about ideas, next week you’ll do swatches…
  • Self-publish. I know this tactic isn’t for everyone, but the more control you have over your production schedule (as opposed to the timelines imposed by external forces), the easier it is to compensate for busy/slow times.

What I’m doing now

So, as I said… I’d very much like to be in a book-only hole.

But I know that’s not a good idea, so I make sure to stay on top of planning for the future. Here’s a peek into what I’m doing:

  • I started the FreshStitches Kit Club (where people sign up for 6-month subscriptions), which guarantees I’ll be busy for the next 6 months!
  • I’m emailing a friend about collaborating on a design project (and she knows I can’t do ‘real designing work’ on it until after the New Year, but I’m getting the ball rolling!)
  • I’m sending out teaching proposals for future teaching bookings.
  • I’ve sketched the next couple of FreshStitches designs and set their publishing timelines in place. This ensures that I’ll be releasing designs in a steady fashion in the future.
  • I check Ravelry/twitter/FB daily… keeping my eye out for opportunities!

Doing these things only takes a small bit of time out of my week, and the rewards of having a pretty consistent work life are worth it!

Would these tips help you?

Do you have any more to share?

9 Responses to “Avoid the Designer’s Roller Coaster: 4 Easy Tips”

  1. i really understand this problem. its one i suffer with all the time. i missed 2 sub deadlines last week because i had a design commission deadline. i’m working hard on planning ahead & i’m getting there.

  2. Wow, this is a really awesome article Stacey! I shared it with a business marketing group I’m a part of. You’re right, what you write about applies to any kind of business!

    If I were to add anything, I’d add to remember some time for investing in your relationships. This is kind of covered in your point to look for opportunities, but just making sure to invest in and tend to the garden of relationships in your business too. Some might take time, but you never know how they will pay off down the road. With customers, with colleagues, with potential investors, community, supporters or any kind, etc.. Every relationship will affect you somewhere, whether negative or positive. Might as well keep it positive. Especially as an artist. People do not have to buy art. They choose to – because they are buying an experience, or investing in a piece of you or your story. Whether they invest in you or someone else is based on their experiences.

    Thanks for sharing this Stacey! It’s an awesome compilation of things to remember in business! And a great reminder for me as I have taken a back step while getting through this move for our family!

    • Stacey says:

      Thank you so much for adding that note, Julia! You’re right that keeping your relationships going is super-important… even if it’s just taking the time to chat with folks on twitter or shoot an idea in an email to someone.
      And thanks for sharing the post with your marketing group… I appreciate it!

  3. Carmel says:

    You’ve got me thinking now. I was recently published in a magazine that has a monthly theme. I have been thinking about what to submit for the same theme, (nearly a year away), where I should be seeing if I can find things to submit in between. I need to find out if they will email me future themes….

  4. This is SO TRUE.

    On the flip side, it’s also important to know if there is a part of the year that is super busy (for me the holidays, and then next year around April when I’m getting married) I also want to plan to make sure I have a “slow period” then.

    I feel like with the design business there’s two rollercoasters we’re susceptible to – the time rollercoaster (super busy/super dead) and the money rollercoaster (a whole bunch of checks coming in, and then nothing). It takes a lot of planning and organization to smooth those ups and downs out.

    It’s nice to hear what other people do to prevent this from happening – I’d love to read more about how you organize yourself.

    • Stacey says:

      Thank you, Jennifer!
      I’ve had requests for posts about how I organize myself… I’ve been thinking of how to convey that in a blog post :)

  5. These are so true. It is definitely important to try and spread out your cash flow when running a small business. For me, I have a fairly regular teaching gig for 30 weeks a year, and I try to plan for extra work during the times when I’m not teaching. (Sadly, my current class was cancelled due to further notice because the building where I teach was damaged in Superstorm Sandy.)

    • Stacey says:

      @Marie- Oh, no! So sorry to hear the building was damaged by Sandy… no doubt your class will be up and running again sometime soon :)

  6. […] exactly the opposite of what happens during this period of time.  My friend Stacey Trock recently posted about the importance of remembering to market yourself, even when you are busy. Although it is mostly about design work, the same is true for teaching […]