"It's feast or famine." A colleague explained to me years ago when I started my business.
This metaphor has remained common place in the world of consulting. When it's good, it's great. But when it's bad, it's dire.
And I have many colleagues who have closed their consulting practices because they could no longer stand the cyclical nature of feast or famine.
I find this metaphor misses some important components of the natural cycles of business and life.
First of all, the feast isn't always all that great. Sure you're making money, but sometimes it's at a breakneck pace. And the servings aren't always appetizing. Yet, the feast is glamorized as the end all be all.
Meanwhile, the famine is viewed so negatively that one would rather do without it. It's fair. No one wants to starve.
And yet, cycles are a natural part of life. There's no spring without winter. While trees might be bear right now, they are not dead. Winter isn't death, it's a much needed slumber.
Farmers let their fields fallow because even land needs a rest.
Our lives and work are the same. Despite the oft over used metaphor comparing our bodies to cars and our minds to computers, humans are not machines.
We cannot survive and be in a perpetual state of productivity. What's more, the quality of our work diminishes greatly as the hours laboring get longer.
That's why I'd much rather use the analogy of ebb and flow to describe the cycles of my business. There's the ebb, when things are slowing down. And the flow, when work picks up again.
The ebb is a time of spaciousness. It's an opportunity to step back, and gain perspective by looking at the big picture. It creates a chance to pursue other interests, such as simply taking care of oneself. Or on a bigger level, getting creative and reinventing one's work.
Whereas, the flow is when work picks up again. It's a delightful time because the tap floweth. Money is coming in. And there's the gratification of a job well done.
For most businesses, there's limits to growth - you cannot sale more of a product or service than you're capable of fulfilling.
Yet, just like when we feast, there's a tendency to over-indulge. Overbooking work just because one can is not only exhausting, it doesn't produce the same quality outcomes for clients. And I for one don't want to dilute my brand by providing subpar services just to make an extra buck.
That means we need to prepare for the natural ebbs and flows of business.
Before we could go to the grocery store, us humans preserved food for the winter. With adequate food stored, we could weather the winter months.
What if we applied the same thinking in our businesses? With the proper reserves on hand, things don't become that dire when there's an ebb. And inevitably, there will be an ebb.
The challenge is, you can't always plan when an ebb will happen. Some are predictable, such as the seasonality of work. While others aren't, like COVID.
Either way, preparation is a key component for this reframe.
There are businesses that run on debt. And there are businesses that run on cash. If you run on cash, it's imperative to have reserves in the bank. And if you run on debt, it's essential to have an adequate line of credit. These steps will help when enduring an ebb so it's not as dire as a famine.
Being prepared also paves the way for experiencing a regenerative ebb, much like the way nature is resting under a blanket of snow.
It doesn't fully eliminate the stress or worry of work slowing down. But it does allow one to accept the invitation into spaciousness.
The thing about cycles is they always come back around. The ebb is a temporary state preceding another flow. The question is, are you not only prepared to weather it but maybe, just a little, even bask in it?