OK, no, seriously – I’ll tell you for free. Put your money away. Here it is:
There isn’t one.
There’s no secret, no blueprint, no formula for six-figure (or seven-figure – I mean, really now?) success.
That’s not to say there isn’t valuable stuff you can learn from others who’ve walked the small business path before. Lots of solopreneurs and freelancers have favorite tricks, tips, tactics, and strategies. Some of what they can teach you may work for you; some of it may not. Personally, I’ve spent several hundred dollars over the past 12 years or so in search of the former, but getting (mostly) the latter.
But there is one thing that in all my years of making a living on and through the web has never let me down – and has never not worked for every single solopreneur and freelancer I’ve met or worked with. This thing is free, but it’s not easy. If you learn how to use it properly, and apply it strategically, it will help you, too. I guarantee it.
It’s the power of habit. And it can work for you, if you know how to put it to work correctly in your own business.
Why Habits Are So Universally Powerful
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” ~ William James
Most of us struggle to “get it all done.” Finding time – or rather, making time – to write all that content we’re supposed to be marketing with, “engage” in “conversations” on social media, manage our websites and SEO, run our businesses and, oh yes, actually do the work we’re paid to do is the single biggest challenge we face.
And even when time isn’t an issue for us, managing ourselves – wrangling consistent effort across the board from ourselves – definitely is. We all struggle with getting it all done, whether it’s time or consistency or a lack of information that we perceive as the culprit behind the struggle.
Harnessing the power of habit quite neatly and efficiently cuts all those culprits off at the knees, metaphorically speaking. It sidesteps the whole issue of why you’re not getting it all done, so that you can get it all done, without a struggle.
When a particular action becomes a habit, you no longer have to expend as much time or effort to take that action. That’s true of any action, from the simplest (brushing your teeth) to the most complex (writing and publishing quality content on a consistent basis).
Automatic behavior requires less effort – actual or perceived. It also becomes more consistent: when the right conditions exist, you simply do that thing. The challenge for all of us is getting through the difficult period where habits are forming, before the actions become truly habitual.
Habits are simply the natural consequence of human neurology. They form when the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine, through a process called “chunking.” And much of our daily activities, it turns out, are driven by this neurological process.
In fact, one study published by researchers from Duke University found that over 40% of all the daily actions we take aren’t the result of rational, well-thought-out decision-making processes, but of habit.
Digital marketing in particular makes a good area for well-formed positive habits, because it requires consistency of effort over an extended period of time. If you can make marketing a habit, you’re much more likely to succeed and grow your business.
Habits and the Three-Step Loop
As Charles Duhigg outlined in his excellent book, The Power of Habit, a habit is formed out of a feedback loop, consisting of three components:
- A cue that tells your brain which habitual behavior to trigger
- A routine – the habitual behavior
- A reward that helps your brain decide whether it’s worthwhile to remember that loop in the future
So, the entire process starts when a cue occurs, that triggers the routine, which leads to the reward. When the reward is powerful enough, your brain recalls the routine the next time it encounters the cue, and prompts you to take that action again. The more often this happens, the more often and regularly it will happen – that’s the power of habit.
Let’s look at what this means in practical terms. For example, if you have a habit of writing blog posts and publishing them consistently, your habit loop could look something like this:
- You look at the editorial calendar you’ve set up and realize it’s time to write and publish a new blog post (your cue).
- So, you begin researching, drafting, organizing, and revising your blog post, adding in images and links where needed, proof your work, then publish and promote it on social media and in email (your routine).
- Once the post is live, you begin getting traffic to the post, which leads to comments and shares from others, which reinforces your feelings of accomplishment and progress in marketing your business (your reward).
The more posts you successfully write and publish, the greater the reward (in the form of shares, comments, traffic), and the easier you’ll find it to write the next post.
How to Create Good Marketing Habits as a Solopreneur
Forget that 21-day nonsense. Here’s what it really takes to get in the business marketing habit.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to create a new habit (even more on how to break a bad one). (That old saw about new habits taking 21 days to form, however, is bad advice – it’s based on a complete misunderstanding of one scientist’s anecdotal experience. Science now tells us it’s probably more like 66 days on average, but that depends heavily on a lot of factors that vary from case to case, and person to person.)
What I’m about to describe is the process that works best for me. It’s based on research as well as my own experience and that of friends, clients, and colleagues who have also struggled with producing consistent results in their businesses. Feel free to tweak or revise, as your unique situation may require.
At its core, any attempt to create a new habit – be it personal or business-related – requires four things:
- A clear purpose – whatever habit you want to create, you have to know the reason behind it. What are you really hoping to achieve? This is usually a specific goal or state of being. For bloggers, it could be “I want to convert 20% more readers to my email list” or “I want at least 10,000 unique visitors each month.” For social media marketers, it could be something like “I want to grow my followers by 30%” or “I want to increase traffic to my landing page by 15%.”
- A well-defined routine – a complete understanding of exactly what you want to make habitual. It helps to think in terms of systems ultimately, but you should start by listing each specific, individual action you’ll need to take. So, instead of calling your routine “writing a blog post,” break that complex project down into the smallest possible steps – “pick topic,” “draft outline,” “find images,” etc.
- A reliable cue – the thing that will trigger the habit for you. This can be anything – a situation, a piece of information, a time of day, a day of the week, a pop-up digital reminder. The idea is to tie the routine to a cue that occurs without prompting from you on a regular and consistent basis.
- A sufficient reward – whether it’s something tangible and concrete or simply the recognition of an internal feeling, it has to be strong enough to encourage future repetition of your new habit.
I think it also helps to have some system for tracking and reinforcing your new habits, especially when they’re complex ones that take some time.
My favorite new habit-creating tool is Toggl.
It’s a free web-based application that lets you track your time and assign specific blocks of time entries to different projects and label them with different colors so you can identify them at a glance.
How does it help you create a new habit? It forces you to get clear about how much time you’re really spending on each action.
By tracking the time it takes for your new routine as well as for everything else you do during your workday, you can put the lie to that little voice whispering “you don’t have time to do this.”
The simple fact is we all have the same amount of time – 168 hours are granted to each of us, every single week. Our choice as individuals is how to spend those accumulated hours and minutes. Our challenge is to make the choices that support our goals, instead of distracting us from them.
Toggl, and other time-tracking apps, help you take an inventory of your current “default” time choices. That’s the only way you can really hope to make smart changes to those choices.
Once you’ve identified how much time you’re actually spending on your marketing tasks, you can identify ways to streamline your processes and figure out which tasks have the highest ROI for you. Those are the ones you want to habitualize first.
Habits can wreck your health, your life, or your business – but they can also help you reach your goals successfully. Think of habit not as something to break or dissect, but rather as a tool that, when used correctly, can powerfully assist your conscious efforts.
One note of caution: It’s not smart to tackle too many habits at once. Pick the one or two that are most critical to your success — or that are hardest for you to do consistently.
It may also help to find an accountability buddy or two when you’re forming new habits. Pick a method – email, Facebook group, etc. – and check in with each other periodically to make sure you’re sticking to your habit-forming plan.
Have you tried making marketing a habit? What works for you?
Favorite book, pack of OreosTM, lucky rabbit’s foot, four leaf clover, a kick-ass CRM, a favorite project management system … we all have our own must-have accessories to complement our day-to-day activities and grow our businesses. Check out all the Word Carnival bloggers who are sharing the things they can’t do without in business.