“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill
This spring and summer, I took on a challenge I knew would be a stretch for me. And going through that experience taught me some lessons that can be applied just as well to the pursuit of a copywriting career. I’ll share my three-step formula for success with you in a moment, but first, let me share the backstory…
I had injured my knee a few months before I heard about the challenge and had not really been doing much working out. But I went ahead and signed up for a 1,022-kilometer virtual race across Tennessee.
It had to be completed between May 1 and August 31.
That works out to just over five miles a day, every day.
And I probably hadn’t walked more than a mile, very slowly, since I fell and hurt my knee months before.
I figured this race would at least push me to do more than I had been doing, even if I didn’t actually finish it.
At first — I won’t lie — it really hurt. My knee was on fire and because I was limping, lots of other joints and muscles started hurting. By the end of each day, I didn’t know what to ice first.
But after 10 straight days of hitting that five-mile goal, I began to develop a sense that I’d gone “too far” at that point to turn back. I began to have a vision that included my finishing this race on time.
And after six weeks, the pain was gone and I started setting additional goals: walking faster, maybe even jogging a little, adding in some yoga… things I would not have even conceived of on April 30, the day I signed up.
There’s a formula at work here… one that applies to nature and to business. And the good news is, this formula ensures you could be mere steps away from achieving your goals, whether you can see it yet or not.
Watering the grass
If you’ve ever had to seed your lawn, you know you don’t see a lot of return for your efforts… for quite a while. You spread the grass seed, you water… and water… and water… You pull the weeds that grow because of your watering, but the grass… well, it’s still not showing.
But you can’t stop watering. If you do, the grass doesn’t stand a chance.
It doesn’t seem like it’s helping, but deep under the ground, the roots for a strong lawn are taking hold. And gradually, you start to see little shoots coming up. It’s patchy, sure. Some spots are still mostly weeds, but some spots have these beautiful new green grass shoots.
Your freelance business is no different. It requires continual watering, in the form of marketing and skill-building. And you will definitely get weeds… leads that you don’t want because they waste your time and won’t deliver your business goals, clients who are more trouble than they’re worth, copy fails that make you question your choices.
But just because what you get at first isn’t what you’re looking for, you don’t stop.
Because if you stop, you certainly won’t get your beautiful lawn… i.e., your full calendar of the kind of clients you want.
And when you get that first patch of exactly the kind of grass shoots you were looking for, you still don’t stop watering… you don’t stop until you get a full lawn of ‘wall-to-wall’ thick healthy grass.
And even then, to ensure you keep that lawn full of thick healthy grass, you take care of it. You weed it. You feed it. You water if necessary.
When you look at your goals in terms of the end game, they can seem overwhelming, like walking 1,022 kilometers (635 miles) or having a lawn full of healthy grass.
But even when you break those steps down into smaller pieces, often visible progress can be so slow you feel like you’re not making any progress at all, which can be disheartening.
So how do you balance a grand vision of the future with the incremental steps needed to get there and still keep yourself motivated to keep going?
Your three-step formula for a healthy, long-lasting business
1. Start with your goals in the form of a vision.
Goals like making $1,000,000 a year or quitting your 9-to-5 job may not be sufficient to create a compelling “why.” They’re just words. But having a vision of your days after you’ve achieved your goals can have a huge impact.
And keeping that vision in front of you will provide the motivation to keep going. Positive visions are usually more effective motivators than negative ones, but both can work.
Try scheduling your “visions” each morning, in your calendar, to get started with your day. I have a blast each Sunday evening dreaming big and putting a different vision into a calendar reminder each day the following week.
I might spend five minutes envisioning my husband and I climbing the steps of Machu Picchu (hitting my health and travel goals). Or renting a house on a Greek island for a month, having my family come stay with us, while I’m working on my writing in the morning and exploring the island with my family the rest of the day (hitting my income and lifestyle goals).
Your “why” for your freelance business is probably more than just income. Figure out what your real reason is for pursuing this career and then make sure you’re reminding yourself about that why, somehow, every day.
For me, these five-minute morning visions do the trick. You may have a screensaver on your laptop with a picture of your writer’s life or motivational quotes pinned to your corkboard. Do whatever you need to do to keep your why front and center.
2. Take achievable steps every day that you “can’t” miss.
Desmond Tutu wisely said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
I knew walking a mile was something I could do… so two miles wasn’t a huge stretch. I didn’t tell myself to go out and walk five full miles on day one in one shot. That would have been so daunting, I might not have even left my house.
Just like trying to handle 10 clients at a time while working a (more than) full-time job. But writing a couple of posts a month for one client? Sure. Or spending two hours each weekend adding a new skill to your services? Hard to justify missing those smaller commitments.
You must take consistent action on your business to be successful. But if you’re trying to shoehorn an extra four hours of activity into an already packed daily schedule, you’re probably setting yourself up to fail.
[Don’t get me wrong, failing in and of itself isn’t always a bad thing: it can be a wonderful learning experience. If you failed for the right reasons. Failing because you bit off more than you could chew is not a good reason.]
Maybe you commit yourself at first to 15 minutes of work on your business each day. Everyone has 15 minutes somewhere in their schedule. Once you’ve made that a habit, maybe add another 15 minutes later in the day focused on a different aspect of your business.
Always in bite-sized pieces.
3. Track your progress, so you have visual confirmation.
Measure those bite-sized pieces. For my race, I had to log onto a spreadsheet at the end of each day to report to the race organizers my overall mileage for the day. But on my phone, I kept track of my mileage throughout the day. And it stressed me out if it got too far into the day with too much mileage remaining… so logging that mileage in my calculator on my phone each day gave me my daily motivation to keep going.
And that spreadsheet, where I could see the total mileage piling up day after day… wow, was that motivating.
Visualizing keeps you focused on the end game.
Taking small enough can’t-miss action steps keeps you moving in the right direction.
Tracking your progress gives you visual motivation, especially in the early stages.
Your next client, your next business success, really is just ahead. As long as you follow a consistent and focused formula to get you there.