If I had to name just ONE reason why so many solo professionals fail to achieve their goals it would be this:
Failure to take MASSIVE action on a continual basis.
Action alone will usually move you in the direction of your goals. But it's not guaranteed. However, if you commit to taking serious, focused and MASSIVE action, you're virtually guaranteed success.
That's an idea I implemented early in my freelance career, and it's a big reason why I was able to quit my day job to go solo after moonlighting as a freelancer for just 27 months.
I created a list of what I thought I needed to do to achieve that goal... and then I DOUBLED it. By doubling the amount of action I thought I’d need to take, I virtually assured that I’d achieve my dream of a freelance career.
If you study successful people in any field, you find the same pattern. Those who overcome what seem to be insurmountable challenges do so because they took massive action. And they kept at it, day after day.
Where Do You Start?
But where (and when!) do you start? What do you do first? And second? How do you establish priorities? How can you break this monolith task (of landing work now!) into attainable chunks?
If you want to get out of your current situation as soon as possible, the trick is to get started right away. Don’t wait. Take action while your excitement is high and you're motivated to take those first few steps.
What follows is a simple framework (and a bit of inspiration) for taking massive action on a weekly basis.
Take Quick Action
Let’s start by quickly assessing where you are. How are you feeling? Is this all a bit overwhelming? Are you feeling anxious or confused? Are you really desperate to get work in the door and pay some bills?
If so, then this is how you should start:
- Pick one prospecting strategy
- Write down three simple and quick steps you can take in the next three days to implement that strategy
- Then do it!
Pick something you can do immediately, something you can do tomorrow, and something you can do the day after.
Pick tasks that shouldn't take you long to accomplish. They should also be tasks that will give you quick wins, even if they're small, psychological victories.
For instance, if your strategy is to creatively approach a few past clients, then maybe your first task is to make a list of the five or six clients you want to contact. On day two maybe you detail the approach you're going to take for each client, based on the ideas from Strategy #1. And on day three, you contact all six of them via email and phone.
Frankly, it doesn't really matter what three tasks you pick for this exercise, as long as they help you implement at least one of the strategies — and as long as you commit to doing them as if your life depended on their accomplishment.
Don't underestimate the effect these baby steps will have on your psyche. Sure, this may not be considered "massive" action. But if you feel overwhelmed, taking even the smallest action will get you on the right path and will start building the momentum you need to keep yourself focused.
Get a Quick Win
Closely related to taking quick action is getting a quick win. Even though your longer-term goal may be to get out of this "I need work NOW!" situation on a more permanent basis, a more pressing goal is to land one gig — any paying gig — as soon as possible. And to go about pursuing this goal with confident expectations and a sense of joy and purpose.
The gig doesn't have to be great. It doesn't have to be the one that pays all the bills. It just has to be enough to prove to you that you're moving in the right direction!
A quick win will provide the fuel you need to get back on the superhighway of success — and the protection you need to avert negative downward spirals.
Sometimes our bigger goals overwhelm us when we’re struggling badly. But small, quick wins seem much more attainable. And when you land it, the impact it can have on your self-confidence and drive can be just as big as landing that huge client.
So go easy on yourself. Yes, we’re going to set some big goals, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed and dejected, set yourself up for some quick wins too. They can make ALL the difference in getting back on track. And your quick action steps will help get you there.
Determine the Size and Nature of the Gap
Okay, so once you’ve taken some quick action and have landed (or are working on landing) some quick wins, now’s the time to take a step back and analyze the current state of your freelance business.
How much work do you need — now and longer term? Do you need to land more gigs right away or do you have some breathing space? What would it take to get you to a manageable state?
If the gap between where you are now and where you need (or want) to be is huge, don't be discouraged. Draw motivation and power from the fact that you and the Universe are in control of bridging that gap.
Not some bureaucrat, not some "exploratory committee."
Yes, you have work to do. But take comfort in knowing that the tools and strategies you need to narrow that gap are things you already know about and have done in the past. They do NOT involve some sort of "ninja" marketing technique.
Draft a Simple Action Plan
Once you’ve reviewed your current situation and you have a sense of what it would take to bridge the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be, draft a simple action plan based on what you've learned so far.
It doesn't have to be fancy. All you need is a straightforward list of strategies with clear action steps under each idea. List a date next to each action item indicating when you'll start that effort.
Again, don't try to do it all. Pick the strategies that resonate best with you and are a good fit for your specific situation. From there, prioritize your strategies based on their likelihood to yield results fast.
How do you know what will work best? Think about how you landed your last 10 clients? What specific marketing strategy or effort helped you land each of them? List them out one by one. And start with the strategies that enabled you to land the most clients.
In other words, when in doubt, stick to what's already been working for you.
Also, remember to limit the number of strategies you implement. I typically advise freelancers to have no more than two to four marketing strategies in play at any given time. However, if you're looking for work NOW, it's okay to expand that number to maybe three to six strategies.
But that's about the upper limit if you want to keep your sanity. It's just too hard to do any of them well if you're spread too thin. So choose wisely.
Your basic action plan could look something like this:
- Day 1: Draft list of 6+ current and former clients and contact all 6.
- Day 2: Go through my hard drive and email archives and find all projects quoted over the last 2 years.
- Day 3: Email/call at least 5 prospects to whom I quoted work in the last 2 yrs.
- Day 4: Draft a simple script for friends/relatives that explains what I do in layman's terms. Also, contact 10 friends, relatives and colleagues to see if they can refer me to someone.
- Day 5: Spend all morning searching through LinkedIn groups to see if I find meaningful connections I could leverage in warm emails to select prospects.
You get the point. The idea is to commit to key actions every day. As the week progresses, you may have to adjust your plan. You may have to spend more time on one activity than you had previously expected.
Or maybe suddenly you'll land a project! That's fine. Just keep moving along so you don't lose your momentum. And if you DO land a project, don't stop prospecting! Keep at it, even if it means scaling down your effort to just three or four hours a week.
Focus on Action, Not Outcome
As you develop your action plan, I encourage you to focus your goals, attention and energy on action, not outcome. For example, it’s better to have a goal of sending 15 emails to previous clients and prospects and contacting 10 people in your professional network than to have a goal of landing a new client.
This may go against much of the success literature out there. But I've found that although you can't control when you'll achieve your ultimate goal, you can control what you'll do to reach that goal.
Think "Ready, Fire, Aim"
Also, don’t get caught up in getting everything perfect before you put it into action. According to Michael Masterson, author of the bestselling book Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat (Wiley, 2008), most people spend too much time trying to get things just right before they take action. In other words, they practice a "ready, aim, fire" philosophy.
Masterson says, "The nothing-less-than-perfect attitude has been the theme of many success stories, but it is exactly the wrong notion to have in your head when it's time to launch a new product or business. When the time is right, you must fire. If you spend another moment aiming, the opportunity to hit your target may pass you by."
So don't wait until everything's perfect before implementing these ideas. It doesn't really matter where you start. Just start... now!
Don't Put Goals on a Pedestal
At the same time, don't limit the goals you put in your action plan because you think they might be too “grand.” None of them deserve to be put on a pedestal. I realize that when you're in a tight situation, goals that may have seemed completely doable before now seem larger than life.
But that's just your current perception. It's not reality. I know this from experience. Every worthwhile goal I've reached became far easier to attain when I stopped worrying about the goal's "grandness."
For instance, when I was in sales, I started landing large sales only after I downplayed the difficulty and skill needed to land them. I also quit my day job only after I stopped being scared and realized that quitting my job was just the last step in a well-executed plan.
Same thing happened when I decided to start writing white papers for clients. I had never written one before, and the thought of charging $3,000-$6,000 for this service was terrifying!
But I went for it anyway. And eventually I landed my first white paper project. Which led to another, and then another and so on.
Today, I don't give it a second thought. I regularly charge $5,000-$6,000 for these pieces and land most of the ones I quote.
Remember: It's Your Full-Time Job!
Finally, if you have zero (or little) work right now, accept the fact that your full-time job is to find work. That means you need to spend 95% (or more) of your working hours actively looking for opportunities.
Naturally, once you land a project or two, you can scale back your search. But until you do, it's full steam ahead!
When finding work is your full-time job, you need to treat it as such. Schedule every hour. Know what you'll be working on and when. And be very clear about your daily action objectives are.
Be aggressive but also realistic about how much you can accomplish in a given day. And give yourself permission to work on these strategies all day long until you start landing work.
Just as important as setting actionable objectives and taking massive action is your state of mind while you do it. One of the biggest reasons freelancers fail to get out of a rut is that they give up too soon. They get discouraged at the first sign of rejection and decide that maybe they were meant to struggle.
After all, we're in a tough economy, right?
Nothing could be further from the truth. As a business of one, you don't have to bring in truckloads of business just to keep the lights on (as opposed to most traditional brick-and-mortar businesses that need tons of work just to meet their monthly payroll!)
Just ONE decent gig can give you the breathing room you need to get back on track financially and emotionally. You can then build on that foundation and climb out of that hole.
Will it be hard? You bet! Can you do it? I have no doubt. But your strength and resolve will be tested. And when that happens, remember this:
It's always darkest and coldest right before dawn!
Try to Relax!
The idea is to go about your plan with a sense of urgency... but also with confident expectations. Set your goals. Draft your plan. Start taking action.
And then just "let go" and let the Universe do its thing.
Let the Magic Happen
Have you ever watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy? If not, I highly recommend it. This classic story is a powerful reminder that amazing things happen when we move confidently in the direction of our dreams. In fact, the movie can be summarized in these words from Dorothea Brande:
Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.
I know that may sound a bit woo-woo. But I know it to be true in my heart. Over and over again, when I've acted boldly, with confidence and a great sense of calm, things have happened that I just can't explain.
It will go something like this: soon after you begin to implement these ideas, you'll get a call from an old client — someone you hadn't yet even contacted and maybe even forgot you had done business with years ago.
Or some random prospect will email you because he found you through a Google search.
The details don't matter. What does matter is that this prospect (or prospects!) will come to you out of the blue. And one or more of them will turn into clients. In fact, they may very well solve your immediate problem!
At first, you'll be grateful for the unexpected win. And you may even think to yourself, "Wow, that was cool. I landed some work before the ideas from this episode could take their course."
That may very well be true. But I submit to you that these serendipitous events (new clients suddenly calling you to give you work) will be the result of your new commitment to find and land work fast.
In other words, it was your faith and your resolve that somehow attracted these good things your way. This training episode was simply the spark that ignited your confidence and got you moving in the right direction.
So if this happens (and it WILL happen to some of you), honor and welcome this blind "luck" for what it really is: your renewed faith in yourself and what you can accomplish.
So, yes, take massive action. Go at it like true champ. But know that you're not alone.
The Universe rewards confident action. In a BIG way!
Have You Experienced This?
I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Think back to a time in your business when you experienced back-to-back wins. When things finally started flowing nicely. (Heck, for many of you, that could very well be there right now!).
What was the intensity of your actions and your faith leading up to that breakthrough? What struggles were you facing? How intensely did you push past your fears and doubts?
How did those actions pay off?
Share your story below. I'd love to hear it.