Most of us would rather do boring chores around the house than to go out for a run.
That's what Dan Ariely, a behavioral economics professor and author of Predictably Irrational, discovered a few years ago when he surveyed almost 3,000 Oprah.com.
Ariely found that even though all of us have a tendency to drag our feet occasionally, there are certain tasks that are consistently "back burner" items for most people.
Of the 12 activities listed in his survey, exercising and starting a diet are the two tasks people put off the most—topped only by evaluating our retirement plan.
According to Ariely’s survey, most of us would rather work on boring assignments, respond to voicemail and email, and pay bills than take care of ourselves through diet, exercise and retirement planning!
So why the disconnect?
After all, if you listen to traditional economists, they'll tell you that we’re logical, rational beings. We’ll do what makes sense. We’ll eat the broccoli and skip the chocolate cake.
But we all know that's not true. And that's why a whole new discipline has sprung up in the last few decades to explain our behavior—that of behavioral economics.
Behavioral economics says that most of our day-to-day decisions are actually very irrational. We're driven by factors that can't be explained with simple logic.
Take marketing, for example. If you're a creative professional, there are few things more important than prospecting for clients. But many of us only do it when we need more work, which creates a dangerous feast-or-famine cycle:
1. It takes time to find work, which creates anxiety.
2. Our anxiety leads us to take on bad clients or projects, which sucks our energy and self-esteem.
3. Eventually, we become overwhelmed with work we don’t enjoy.
4. We burn out, take a break to regain our sanity and then eventually panic as we slide into famine again.
So what’s the root cause of this feast-famine cycle? We're not motivated to market our services consistently.
But there's a way out of this dangerous cycle. The trick is to develop a marketing plan that you’ll actually enjoy implementing. How do you do such a thing? Here are the three basic steps:
Step #1: Discover What Drives You
Step #2: Craft a Plan That’s Aligned With Your Goals
Step #3: Take Action Based on Your Intrinsic Drive
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Step #1: Discover What Drives You
Part of effective prospecting is understanding what drives you and what holds you back. What factors propel you to action? What factors keep you in paralysis?
You might be driven to action by pride in operating a successful business. Maybe you get charged up by competing with other businesses in the same market. Or perhaps you’re motivated to perform by great clients or interesting projects. Whatever it is that motivates you, write it down—but try to come up with at least five or six key motivators.
Consider, too, what factors are holding you back. What’s keeping you from prospecting more consistently? Is it fear, lack of time or are you simply overwhelmed by options? Be honest with yourself and make a note of these too.
Once you understand what’s driving you to action or inaction, work through the following exercise to develop a new and powerful force for action.
Exercise #1: Learn to associate non-action with pain
Behavioral economics teaches us that fear of pain holds more power than desire for pleasure. By learning to associate non-action with pain, you can create a new and powerful motivator. For this exercise, list all the negative consequences that could result from ignoring your marketing. Your list might include landing fewer clients, having a lower income and working on less interesting projects.
Once you have a list, consider the ultimate price of non-action. If you failed to land new clients for an extended period of time, what would be the consequence?
Would you have to go back to a regular desk job? Would you have to run every decision by a manager? Would your weekends be consumed with grocery shopping, laundry, doctors’ appointments and other chores you can no longer fit in your weekday? Would your children have to forgo after-school activities, like soccer or dance class, because you can’t get them to practices?
Thinking about these outcomes is not pleasant. In fact, it’s downright painful. And that’s the point. Every time you’re tempted to ignore your prospecting, you want these painful associations to be top of mind.
Many of us avoid prospecting activities because we’re overwhelmed by all the different strategies we’re supposed to implement. So we don’t develop a marketing plan at all. The barrage of constant marketing “noise” creates confusion and paralysis.
Or we suffer from “shiny object syndrome,” where breadth of choice leads us to jump from one marketing tool to the next. You attend a new networking event one week, open up a Facebook account the next and then start drafting a direct mail campaign the week after.
This isn’t to say that strategies, tools and techniques have no value. I’m suggesting that there are so many choices today — so much well-meaning advice — that we fall into the trap of trying too many things without going deep enough with any one strategy.
Today, more than ever, less is more. And the key is to focus on the handful of marketing strategies that will yield the best results for YOU. To figure out what these strategies and techniques are, take a stab at the next exercise:
Exercise #2: Figure out what works for you
Look back at the last three to five clients you’ve landed and ask yourself: “How did I land these clients? What prospecting strategy worked? Did I get them via word of mouth? In-person networking? Some other method?”
As you answer these questions, you’ll start to see which one or two marketing methods are working best for you. And that’s an important indicator of where you should focus your time.
And if you’ve been freelancing for a while, you can expand on this approach. Think about what you value most in a client. Is it profitability? Interesting projects? Greater flexibility? Available resources? Now do some analysis:
- List the last 10 to 15 clients you landed
- Rank them based on what’s important to you (e.g., profitability, work variety, flexibility, etc.)
- Take a look at the top five clients on your list. What prospecting strategy did you use to land them?
You may find that the strategies that generated your best clients are the ones you resist the most. And this leaves you with a decision: Can you persuade yourself to continue using these effective methods because it brings in your best clients?
Or maybe there’s room for compromise. For instance, maybe you’re not crazy about networking events. But there’s a particular conference you’ve attended the last two years that generated three top-shelf clients for you. Could you continue to attend this conference, considering the impact it’s had on your business?
Once you’ve identified your top strategies, narrow your list to three or four and start by applying just one or two.
Step #3: Take Action Based on Your Intrinsic Drive
Once you’ve identified which strategies to focus on, you’ll have extra juice to apply them because you’ve done the analysis and know they work. You’re also clear on the ultimate price of failing to act, having considered the consequences of non-action.
But even with this background work, sometimes it’s still a struggle to market consistently. Here are some additional tools and tricks you can use to add more fuel to your marketing fire:
1. Treat marketing like a client project
“Trick” yourself into taking your marketing as seriously as you do client projects. This means assigning deadlines and plotting your work schedule so you’ll complete each task on time. Stick with this approach long enough, and eventually this “trick” will become a habit.
2. Create “effort” goals, not “outcome” goals
Ultimately, we can’t control whether prospects engage our services or not. What we can control is the effort we apply to landing them. Your goal setting should reflect this. Make your goal not, “I’m going to land two new clients this month,” but “I’m going to attend two networking events and follow up with five prospects this month.”
It’s even better if you can break your effort goals into smaller allotments: daily as opposed to monthly or weekly. If your timeframe is too long, you’ll be tempted to procrastinate until you’re squeezing all your marketing efforts into the last day or two.
3. Set goals that speak to you
Everyone has goals: “Retire by age 55,” “Travel the world,” “Send my children to private school.” There’s nothing wrong with these goals, but do they speak to you?
Make sure your goals are tied to your dreams, not someone else’s. Otherwise, it will be even more difficult to motivate yourself to achieve them. When your goals are aligned with your desires and vision, you inherently amp up your drive.
4. Get an accountability partner
Find a partner who will listen to your goals and follow up with you to see if you’ve accomplished them (and vice versa). This will help hold you. You don’t want to have to tell your partner that you didn’t do what you said you would. And so you’re more motivated to take action.
5. Use friends and family to keep yourself accountable
This is similar to an accountability partner, but here you’re using friends and family to hold yourself accountable. Social media is perfect for this. Post your prospecting goals and updates on Facebook. When you know others are seeing your progress (or lack of it) you’re more motivated to do the work.
6. Try stickK.com
If you can’t line up an accountability partner, give stickK a try. It uses the same concept of accountability, but you’re working with a broader swathe of people.
With stickK, you set your goal, choose the stakes, get a referee and then add friends for support. Your progress is open to the entire stickK community, which helps keep you accountable and focused.
7. Play Games
Some of us are driven to win. If you have a competitive streak, game play is a great way to achieve your prospecting goals.
Working with a partner or a group, set up a scoring system and goals. Then ... game on! Players accumulate points for every marketing action, such as writing a blog post, attending a networking event or handing out a business card. Everyone keeps score and can compare results for additional motivation. In this type of game, there’s no winner, and the game goes on and on.
8. Wake up an hour earlier
If your reason for not prospecting consistently is lack of time, then give yourself an extra hour. Wake up an hour earlier each weekday. Make this time sacred and reserve it only for prospecting.
9. Recondition yourself with a new empowering association
In Step #1, we talked about associating non-action with feelings of fear, dread and anxiety. Although negative associations tend to be more powerful, positive associations can also help. Try rewarding yourself when you complete a marketing task. “I’m going to buy myself a latte after I make these prospecting calls” or “I’m going to take the afternoon off if I attend that networking event in the morning.”
10. Remind yourself what worked well in the past
This is an extension of the exercise you completed in Step #2. As you acquire new clients, continually update your list of prospecting strategies and tools that are working for you. When you know your activities are based on a real analysis of what’s working, you’ll be more motivated. When your prospecting activities are simply a shot in the dark, it’s easy to get discouraged.
11. Master a new skill that has a marketing side benefit
This is another type of marketing “trick.” Distract yourself with an activity you enjoy, while at the same time generating new prospects.
For example, you could join Toastmasters and learn how to give talks to associations and other organizations. When you do this, you’re now motivated by the desire to learn and master a new skill. But in the process, you’ll meet new people, generate new leads and land new clients. Delivering talks is the focus. Prospecting is the byproduct.
Make sure to review this list of motivating tools and tricks over the next few days. And select the one or two that connect the most with your intrinsic drive. Apply them to your marketing activities for some extra motivational oomph.
Landing new clients takes consistent marketing effort. By discovering what drives you, crafting a plan that’s aligned with your goals and taking action based on your intrinsic drive, you’ll create a marketing plan that you’ll not only implement ... but may even enjoy.
Wouldn't that be something?
A Challenge (and a Favor)
Monday is the first day of April. It's a not only a new month, it's also the start of the second quarter of 2013.
Which makes it a perfect day to start something new! So let's try something fun:
1. Pick a habit you want to develop. It could be a new prospecting habit, or it could be something else — a new exercise routine, cleaning out your office, reading more ... whatever speaks to you.
2. Commit to taking action on that habit every day. It doesn't have to be anything onerous; it could be a small daily action. For instance, sending out 3 warm prospecting emails every day. Or spending 30 minutes a day cleaning out and organizing your office. Or taking a daily walk around your neighborhood.
3. Make this daily action a top priority for the next 21 days. Why 21 days? Because it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. After three weeks you break through the "hassle" factor, and it becomes something you actually want to do.
4. To add accountability to the process, I encourage you to post your daily progress on our Facebook page. I'll start a new post every day asking everyone to share their daily actions, ideas and breakthroughs.
5. If your habit is work-related, it's OK to do it on workdays only. But make sure to practice that task for a total of 21 days. (This means that your last activity in this exercise will be on April 29 instead of April 21.)
What do you think? Will you join me? Let me know in the comments area below. I think this will be good for all of us.
Finally, I have a favor to ask. If you know anyone who could get value from this training episode (or if you'd like them to join us in this 21-day experiment), please take a second to forward them a link to this page. I've included some sharing buttons below that make this super-easy. 😉
Thanks in advance! See you on Facebook.