Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pause for breath....or will my bubble burst?

I'm really busy at the moment, but worried that my business is in a bubble that could just burst at any moment. So, with 15 minutes between phone interviews, there's just time to knock out a few thoughts.

This week, I've three live projects on the go. One has a deadline of Thursday, and on current form, it'll be a tight squeeze as some of the needed information still isn't quite here, and interviewing will go right to the wire.

Another has a Monday deadline and it's eminently do-able....so long as I put in a stint over the weekend.

The third completes next Wednesday. At the moment, all's A-OK.....but that's 'coz nothing much is happening. If it's still that way by Friday, I'll move from slightly manic to rather panicked.

After those three, there could be an hiatus or I could be just as busy. I simply don't know. The economic downturn hasn't had much of an effect on my work pipeline yet - but if some of the possibles don't turn out to be actual pieces of work, I'm definitely going to feel the pinch soon.

Balancing work with the MA has rather forced me to take a tactical and linear view over the past 12 months. That's quite a change from the previous three years when I've gone for the strategic projects and spent most of my time balancing between clients. Sometimes it worked and sometimes......

I expected to make less money this past year, but I've ended up slightly ahead, mainly through doing solid projects for solid clients with a few added extras dropped in from three or four agencies who all know me well.

To be honest, those agency calls have been less frequent in the last couple of months. The previous pattern had been to quote for work from one or more of these agencies on about a weekly basis. Some we won and some we didn't, but it produced a few good little earners, and it always galled me to have to turn down these opportunities when bigger projects demanded all my time.

Since the summer, the calls have become fewer and the word is that clients have been postponing projects left right and centre, and cancelling some plans outright.

My direct client work has actually benefited a little from the downturn as clients haven't replaced staff who have left, but have been asked to do just as much and more with leaner teams. The result has been outsourcing some projects - and I've been lucky enough to pick up some of this work.

However, a lot of my work is linked to the organisational development arena and that so often comes under intense cost pressure when times are tough. So I'll wait and see what comes through over the next few months.

I'm still in a far better position than some of my peers. A former colleague called this morning to say she'd gone into work and had been told her project had been cancelled and her interim contract was being suspended. She was running comms on a people development project for a bank. The Lehman effect has kicked in and her project, along with a number of others, has summarily been pulled and the contractors and small numbers of permanent staff involved have been laid off.

Her contract is actually with an employment agency, so she should be paid the remaining six weeks, but her strong hopes of it being extended for the next year or more have been completely extinguished.

I've done work for three major banks in the last six months, and have no doubt that the ripple effect of the Wall Street meltdown will even catch up with mini-fry like me sooner or later. In the past three years, I've pared my costs to a minimum and have enough now in the Bank to cope with a few months of flat-lining business. But I doubt any micro businesses are feeling too confident about things at the moment.

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