If the fear of not having a consistent paycheck has held you back or made you nervous to make the leap into entrepreneurship, you’re not alone. Whether you’re a freelancer, a creative professional, a small business owner, or a side hustler with big dreams, we ALL face this reality at some point.
I know just as well as you do that the income inconsistency is one of the scariest parts of being an entrepreneur. Before I left my steady packcheck and corporate gig and started working from home to be a full-time wedding photographer, I spent MONTHS preparing my budget to ensure that every bill was paid on time, even without a steady, predictable paycheck.
But don’t worry: today, we’re going to dive into some practical tips and strategies to help you navigate the tumultuous waters of inconsistent income while also keeping your sanity intact!
I firmly believe that with the right mindset, a dash of resourcefulness, and a sprinkle of financial wizardry, we can tame this wild beast called ‘inconsistent income.’ So, grab your favorite beverage, find a cozy spot to kick back, and let’s dive into some actionable tips that will help you build resilience, maintain stability, and keep your creative spirit thriving, even in the face of uncertainty!
Tip 1: Create a Budget
One of the best things I did before graduating college was taking a personal finance class. It required me to write down every single possible number related to my income and expenses, which forced me to be honest about my earnings, taxes, contributions to retirement accounts, student loans, rent, and other expenses!
To create a budget, first get open and honest about their numbers, expenses, and financial situation. Then, start with essential expenses, such as housing, utilities, food, gas, healthcare, debt, insurance, and education.
Next, allocate funds for irregular expenses and emergencies, like car maintenance, home repairs, medical expenses, vet bills, gifts, celebrations, vacations, taxes, and other milestones. Between your essential and irregular expenses, you’ll get a good idea of how much money you have left over to save, invest, or splurge with.
My last budgeting tip is, as a business owner, consider creating a separate business account for managing income and expenses. You’ll thank yourself for doing this when tax time rolls around because it will be clear what the business did and what your business expenses were.
I’d recommend using budgeting tools and apps to simplify financial tracking. You should be tracking EVERYTHING as a small business owner – even if it may be insignificant later!
Here are some examples of things to track:
- Operational Expenses like Rent or mortgage payments for your office, utilities, office supplies, software
- If you have employees, it’s important to track expenses related to their compensation and benefits, like their salaries, benefits, training
- Advertising and marketing campaigns like social media ads
- Business taxes, like income taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, and any other applicable taxes.
And here are some tools I recommend to keep you on track:
Tip 2: Diversify Your Income
I recently heard that if you only have one revenue stream, you’re too close to none… And this was SO apparent to me when I was a photographer.
I realized a few years into my career that I only got paid when I showed up, and this was NOT the life I wanted to live. I had read a stat that the average millionaire has seven revenue streams and I set out to do even more than that.
According to Trillium Financial . com, as a goal, small business owners should try to diversify their business to the point that no single customer or product is responsible for more than 15 percent of revenues. That way, if something happens and you lose that customer or that product, you will have others to fall back on.
In the last decade, here are ways I’ve brought in income:
- Watercolor print art
- Influencer work
- Affiliate income
- Airbnb income
- Podcast sponsorships
- Online courses
- One-on-one coaching
- Writing a book
As you can see, I’m always trying to explore different ways to diversify. Not only does it give you more earning potential but it takes away the risk or feeling of uncertainty!
Earlier this year, I dropped an episode on 10 small business ideas you can do from home – check it out!
Tip 3: Create an Emergency Fund
Drew and I were recently on a phone call with our financial advisor and he asked a question that was like, “What is the safety net that you need in order to feel peace?”
I loved that question because I think that looks different for all of us. Financial peace looks different person to person and a lot of times we don’t ask ourselves what would bring US peace when it comes to our savings.
Here are some easy steps to creating an emergency fund:
- Set a financial goal: You know how we talked about essential expenses before? The general rule of thumb is that your emergency fund should contain 6 months of essential expenses. Go through your bank statements for the last month and figure out how much you spent on rent or your mortgage, utilities, groceries, education, insurance, and debt payments… and that number is your monthly ‘essentials’ cost. Multiply that number by 6 and that’s how much you should have in your emergency fund! This number will look different for everyone, but once you know your target goal, it’s time to start chipping away at it.
- Determine a realistic timeframe to achieve your goal: The budgeting apps I mentioned above can help with this – like Qapital, Acorns, EveryDollar, Goodbudget… They will help you decide how much money per week or month you need to achieve your goal.
- Set automated transfers or percentage-based savings: I love automatic transfers so I don’t even have to think about it! If you typically pay yourself on a certain day of the month, consider having an automatic transfer go into your emergency fund account that day too (so you never ‘see’ the money).
Tip 4: Cultivate Client Relationships for Consistent Work
When I was a wedding photographer, a strong percentage of my clients were referrals. There were families where I photographed all of the kids’ weddings, so many weddings where my brides had been bridesmaids in a wedding I had photographed – referrals were the greatest fuel for my business!
Did you know that the cost of acquiring a new customer is 5-25x more expensive than keeping a current one? This statistic highlights the value of customer retention and the importance of focusing on maintaining a strong relationship with current customers.
Here are some of my best tips to nurturing client relationships:
- Under promise, over deliver: This is like the ace up your business sleeve; it’s all about telling customers or clients you’ll do a bit less than you know you can, and then blowing their minds by going the extra mile. This not only builds up trust and street cred but it also keeps expectations in check, which really causes them to be fans for life!
- Develop a referral or affiliate program: People love to be incentivized to share your business with their friends and family. A simple referral discount, thank-you gift, or affiliate program will do the trick!
- Leverage social proof on your website and socials: According to a survey conducted by BrightLocal in 2019, 91% of 18-34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Another study by Spiegel Research Center found that displaying reviews can increase conversion rates by up to 270%!
- Stay connected with past clients/customers via email marketing: If you know me, you know I loooove email marketing. It’s so important to consistently serve your email list. If this is all new to you, join my FREE email list-building mini-course here!
- Just ASK!: If you’ve provided a great experience for your customer, chances are they WANT to tell their friends… they may just need a little prodding. Below is an email template you can use to ask current or past clients for referrals:
Hi [CLIENT NAME],
I hope this email finds you well! It’s been [X TIME] since we last worked together, and I wanted to take a moment to reconnect and see how you’ve been doing. I’ve always valued the professional relationship we had and the successful project we collaborated on.
I’ve been keeping busy and continuing to help clients achieve their goals in [YOUR INDUSTRY]. Speaking of which, I wanted to discuss something with you that I believe could be mutually beneficial.
Referrals are incredibly valuable in our line of work. I’ve always believed that the best way to grow is through the recommendations of satisfied clients who have experienced the quality of service firsthand. If you were happy with our previous collaboration and the results we achieved, I would be incredibly grateful if you could consider referring my services to anyone in your network who might be in need of [YOUR SERVICES].
Of course, I understand that your time is precious, so please don’t feel any pressure. If you do have someone in mind, I’d be more than happy to offer them the same level of dedication and expertise that you experienced.
If you’re open to this, we could even schedule a brief call to catch up further and discuss any potential referrals you might have in mind. It would also give us the chance to see if there are any ways we could collaborate again in the future.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this email. I truly value our past partnership and any help you might be willing to provide. Looking forward to hearing from you, and I hope we can reconnect soon!
Tip 5: Stay Organized and Track Finances
Every type of business will have different cycles and trends. For example, when I was a wedding photographer, I was the most busy between May and October, and winter was considered my slow season. Meanwhile, many boutiques/retail stores explode around the holidays, or get slow in the “J” months!
Depending on your industry, you probably know when you have the most business, and when it’s a little slower. The more you’re aware of and can plan for these trends, the better you can navigate both the busy and slow seasons of business.
For me, I was busy shooting 6 months out of the year and the other 6 months were SLOW but because I could anticipate this and plan for it, I didn’t panic in the slow season, in fact, I enjoyed it. But a lot of times if we’re not anticipating the slow seasons, we can panic… So my advice to you is that if your industry or work is more cyclical, use the high seasons to cushion for the slow ones!
Some of the ways you can stay organized are:
- Put yourself on payroll and only pay yourself your “enough point” for years to save as much as you can and pay off debt.
- Hire a bookkeeper so you know month by month what your profit and loss is and have an advisor who is paying attention to the money in and money out of the business.
- Implement effective invoicing and payment tracking systems so you’re not leaving money on the table – there are so many tax-writeoffs in business! Personally, I do this in Honeybook!
I hope this episode helped you see that managing inconsistent income is not impossible to manage. With the right mindset, strategies, and support, you can build a resilient and prosperous business that withstands the ebb and flow of finances.
Remember, your dreams are worth pursuing, and with the right financial management skills, you have the power to create a life you love!