That which you actually do

The actions we must take to make meaningful progress

This is the third in a series about how to get “unstuck in the middle”, move up-market, and charge profitable prices with marketing strategy. Part One, Part Two.

People make big, bold decisions all the time.

At the end of the year, they write down their New Year’s resolutions and announce and commit to them publicly on social media.

They make the purchase, they buy the equipment, they tell their friends and family about their new ambition.

And then they promptly fail.

Supposedly, 92% of New Year’s resolutions are eventually abandoned, and 23% are broken within the first week.

Making decisions is the easy part. The hard part is putting those decisions into action.

The problem is, as David Maister wrote, that “you get no benefit by announcing anything. You get the benefit of that which you actually do.

To accomplish our goals we must take action. But action that gets results doesn’t look like one big audacious commitment that burns itself out in a few weeks.

It looks like slow, steady effort in the right direction, which builds momentum and can sustain itself over time. In fact, actions that lead to real results are often invisible to others. They’re small and incremental, but they accumulate over the long-term.

“Whatever you do, do it humbly,” Donella Meadows once wrote. “Use your action, whatever it is, to learn.”

And to move our business up-market and build profit, we must first act to learn more about our clients.

Who are your very best clients, the ones that get what you do and why you do it, and especially appreciate your value?

Who comes to you when they truly need your help?

What industries clearly value your business more than others?

Dig in to discover where your ideal clients go if they don’t work with you. How are they overcoming their struggle without support, or who are they hiring for their “Job to Be Done” when it isn’t you?

Once you’ve landed on your very best clients and their true struggle—and the big, meaningful result they’re looking for in their life or business—you’ll better understand how to effectively communicate to them.

And you’ll know to focus on what they’ll find most valuable about your particular offering.

Narrow your focus to as small a client set as possible. Not so narrow that there are no possible clients at all, but not so broad that you are replaceable with multiple alternatives.

This means saying no more often, and realizing that to get the work we most want, we must stop taking the work we don’t want.

Hang on to your ideal customer information and update it frequently as you adjust your marketing and work with new clients.

Next, we need to understand our true capabilities.

What special skills or sets of experiences have you acquired that make you especially good at your work?

What wisdom have you accumulated over your career? In essence, what are people really buying when they work with you that they simply can’t get anywhere else?

What areas of your business do you get the most compliments on, or the most happily-surprised reactions to? What is it about your process that sets you apart from everyone else?

And just as importantly, what do you currently do that you’re not the best at? What do you dislike doing or feel less confident about? What do you avoid doing if you can?

Create a narrow a set of capabilities (usually 2–3) that make you especially good at helping your best clients overcome their struggle, and leave behind the work you should no longer be doing.

Now, we need to figure out what we love doing most.

What inspired you to start your business in the first place? What was the ultimate dream you’d been working toward?

What was the feeling you were searching for that made you take the first leap toward entrepreneurship? Consider whether you’re getting closer to or farther away from that feeling on your current course.

Take a moment—and ask friends or family to help—to discover what you love doing that other people seem to despise. What do you do for fun that others find boring, tedious, or a waste of time?

What element of your work do you find surprisingly easy that other people struggle with?

And if you had to change everything about your business, what would you find hardest, emotionally, to part with?

Document a list of 2–3 elements of your business you find especially enjoyable and that give you energy to work on, rather than deplete it.

We can now start putting the pieces together.

With those questions answered, you’ll have notes on who your very best clients are, what these ideal clients want most, what you can do to help them overcome their struggle, and the precise way you’re best suited to work with them.

Based on this exercise, here’s what my the position would look like for my own business:

Who We Work With:
We work with the owners of service businesses feeling “stuck” in their business, unable to charge profitable prices or struggling to attract new clients.

What We Do:
We help them get unstuck, move up-market, and find clients who value them above all other alternatives.

How We Do It:
We use one-on-one coaching and counsel to help them apply the fundamental principles of marketing strategy to set themselves apart, focus on what they’re best at, and build profit margin in their pricing.

For somebody, this position is perfect. For many more, it isn’t. And that’s what makes it work—the people who get it get it and don’t need to be sold. And the people who don’t get it won’t have their time wasted, nor waste my time, in a long and unsatisfying sales process.

Write out your own position based on the questions above. With that, you’ll find you’ve already taken the first crucial steps toward your desired result.

Your job now becomes reinforcing that position in everything you do.

From your website copy, to your social media posts, to your “elevator pitch” when you meet new potential clients or contacts, you should be able to quickly and concisely explain what you do, who you do it for, and how you do it in your own special way.

From here, the goal becomes finding ways to give potential clients a taste of what it’s like to work with you.

But there’s one final ingredient to making everything work for the long-term.

As I often say, the simple fact is that people don’t like doing what they don’t like doing.

So the final action to take is to structure your day to include more joy. 

Nobody does great work in a miserable environment, including—perhaps especially—business owners. So take the time to structure your workspace and your day to allow for more order and less chaos.

More excitement and less dullness.

More fun and less anxiety.

We’ll like doing our work more when we like it more. And we’ll see better results faster when we focus on what we like doing and are best at, rather than avoiding and procrastinating on what we don’t like or aren’t good at.

This might mean cancelling calls or video chats you don’t truly need to have, turning down work opportunities that are really distractions, tidying your desk and organizing your computer files, or simply adding some fresh flowers or brighter colors to your workspace.

It will certainly mean writing down your worries and your fears about the future. It will mean addressing each of them, one at a time, with a strategy for overcoming it. Which requires facing what you’re stressed about instead of avoiding it or trying to put it our of your mind.

And it means celebrating the progress you’ve already made, and reminding yourself that much of the hard work is behind you—and the fun part is ahead.

Taking action is difficult. Everything in our minds and bodies wants us to pull back, protect ourselves, and maintain the status quo. As Stacey Abrams wrote, “With any bold decision, our personal fears wrestle with our ambitions, arguing about whether the risk is worth the reward.”

But you’ve already paid the fare—you took the leap, you’re taking the risks, and you’re working hard—so make sure you actually arrive at your destination.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “action creates its own courage.”

Moving forward makes continuing on easier. Taking action builds confidence, and getting what we want is its own motivation.

As she put it, “there is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely and then act boldly.”

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But once we act, how do we know what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do next? The final post in this series will tackle those challenges next week.