I recently starting listening to more audiobooks to give my eyes a rest after long workdays and to keep my mind active when tidying up the house or while I'm out for a run. One book that has me thinking a lot lately is Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. There are so many "golden nuggets" of wisdom in this book, but there is one quote that really stood out to me.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
We all have the best intentions, Clear explains in his book. Many of us also love to set goals for ourselves and for our businesses (I'm raising my hand!). But if we don't also set ourselves up for success by building good habits and systems, then how can we expect to reach these goals? If we were to reach them, it would certainly take much longer without good habits.
He suggests taking small actions so that we can make our big goals more doable and feel like less of a chore. Marketing in a consistent way is the perfect place to start building good habits in our businesses. But it can be overwhelming. That's why, a lot of times, we end up procrastinating instead. Or we spend more time than we'd like to admit not marketing our businesses only to realize that we have made little progress, or worse, we've earned less income than a previous year.
Of course, we know that if we don't market our businesses in some way and on an ongoing basis, then we run the risk of experiencing more times of famine than feast in the future. Sure, our clients might find us. Referrals and a solid web presence make that possible. But we cannot assume that relying on referrals or web traffic will give us a better result next year than they did this year. We can, however, assume that if we market our businesses effectively and consistently, then it is likely we'll have a result to show for it by the end of the year.
Taking small, manageable actions every day to market our businesses, is what will get us the traction and the results we seek. I have heard Ed Gandia, a business strategist and the host of the High-Income Business Writing Podcast, say more than once that even if we have a steady stream of client work, we should be actively and consistently marketing our freelance businesses. He suggests sending several warm emails every week, doing it first thing in the morning and being more concerned about the action of actually sending the emails than the responses we get from them. Because, in the end, the more we put ourselves out there, the higher our chances are of gaining new clients and building more solid business relationships. Seems pretty logical, right?
In addition to Ed's approach, I really like James Clear's suggestion of setting up a cue that triggers the action. The repeated action will, over time, form a good habit that allows you to achieve the results you want in your business. Of course, the opposite is also true. If we have cues that trigger an action that feeds a poor habit, then we will continue to get a poor result. For example, say our cue is delivering a project to a client. This cue then triggers the action of opening up a social media application because we have some time in between projects. We run the risk of forming a poor habit if we are using the social media application only to find ourselves falling down a rabbit hole of tweets, messages and shares. Instead, it would be more effective to use the time spent on the application to engage with clients and actively market our businesses.
Atomic Habits also made me realize all the cues and triggers we experience on a daily basis and what it could mean if we started to consciously and intentionally shape them. For example, a cue to start sending more of the warm emails Ed suggests could be as simple as this. Every morning when you make your coffee and sit down at your desk, open your computer and your email. You don't answer a single inbound message until you've sent a warm email to a prospective client. This allows you to move on with your day and know that you've already handled a marketing task before you even have the chance to get lost in a sea of emails.
Here's one of my own suggestions I'd like you to consider. Commit to spending 20 minutes a day on marketing your business to your clients. Whether that's 10 minutes of engaging on social media each morning and another 10 minutes spent crafting warm emails to potential clients (or following up with those who you've met at networking events, conferences, etc.), the effect of this small habit will certainly add up over time. Let's say you work eight hours a day, five days a week. By committing to 20 minutes a day, that still leaves you 460 minutes every day to handle the rest of your work. How's that for some perspective?
If you spent 20 minutes a day the way I just described, 5 days a week for 48 weeks out of the year, you would essentially engage with clients on social media for 2,400 valuable minutes and send 240 warm emails to prospective clients. I'd be shocked if you told me that this habit yielded few results. In addition to warm emails or engaging with clients on social media, you could use good habits with cues and triggers to sit down and write a blog post or an article to share on LinkedIn over the course of a week. The actual marketing you do depends on your audience, but you get the picture.
I realize this all sounds like logical, common-sense advice, and perhaps as though we just need a little willpower to make these things work. But I do believe it's more than simple willpower. After all, if it were easy, we wouldn't have people writing books on habits and systems. Many of us choose not to market our businesses for fear of rejection. Or because we are overwhelmed at the thought of marketing. Or because we simply don't know where to start. And instead of taking action in spite of rejection, or finding ways to reduce the overwhelm, or learning ways to market our businesses effectively, we often find ourselves simply using these issues as obstacles. We make excuses. These are obstacles that we have essentially created for ourselves. We all do this in some area of our businesses. So, let's commit to changing that by rising to the level of a few newfound habits and systems to achieve the results we want to see in our businesses.