The hardest thing a freelancer can do is take action.
I’m talking real action. Not doing research, not reading your emails or checking Facebook.
With rare exceptions, none of that adds up to anything.
In fact, it’s a great way to procrastinate while convincing yourself that you are taking action.
Nope, I mean behind in your chair and doing things that result in you making money. Creating stuff (content, websites, podcasts, whatever), getting referrals, sending pitches, all that good stuff.
That’s the stuff people don’t like to do because it’s hard.
It’s a lot more fun to watch YouTube and read 50 blog posts hoping something might trickle through via osmosis.
So in this post, believe me, I understand the irony of yelling at you for reading too many blog posts and then telling you to keep reading this blog post, you’re going to learn how to finally start taking action.
Enter: the 30 day challenge.
But first, let’s dive into something called compounding.
The Compound Effect
There’s a book by Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success Magazine, called The Compound Effect.
In it, Hardy tries to move you away from the conventional wisdom that you need to make sudden big changes to improve your life. Instead, he advocates for taking tiny steps every day that compound on each other over time.
He explains the theory well here in this q and a with American Express Open Forum:
Q: What’s the “Compound Effect”?
A: It is based on the principle that you can reap huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. In other words, your present reality is the outcome of the little, seemingly innocuous decisions that have added up to your current bank balance, waistline, business success or relationship status. Success or failure is earned through the consistent habit forming practice of making smart choices over time, culminating into what Einstein called the 8th wonder of the world: compound results, or The Compound Effect.
Do you get the concept?
Basically, the goal is to take small actions daily on things that will actually push you forward and help you achieve success. It’s all about playing the long game, something that is all too often forgotten today.
When I read Hardy’s book, this was a passage that stuck out to me:
I want you to know in your bones that your only path to success is through a continuum of mundane, unsexy, unectiting, and sometimes difficult daily disclines compounding over time.
Oh man, how terrible, and how oh so true.
In my own experience of years of freelancing, this is true. The decidedly unsexy stuff in the trenches is where the magic actually does happen.
I struggled with this for years. Who wants to do mundane unexciting stuff where there’s always some fun new distraction popping up right around the corner!
People who don’t want to freelance very long is probably the answer. Beyond the obvious (lack of money) there is the emotional toll here too.
Let’s face it, freelancing is hard. There are a lot of ups and downs. The downs can feel low and can sometimes take over, especially when you’re overwhelmed or not hitting those big picture goals you’ve set for yourself.
When that happens, it can be a hit to your confidence. It’s super easy to get discouraged, think it’s never going to work, and give up.
Now, before you do that. Hold up a second. This is where compounding can make a huge difference.
Making Choices or Doing Nothing
A key component of compounding is actively making the choice to make smart decisions.
On a day to day basis for virtually everything you do there are three choices. Here’s an example:
- I decided I’d like to see my writing in a magazine, so every day, I send one pitch.
- I decided I’d like to see my writing in a magazine, so I read a million how to send a pitch to magazine articles and call it a day, I swear I’ll send a pitch tomorrow (probably).
- I’m watching Netflix and eating Cheetos because no one can tell me what to do!
It seems like this doesn’t really matter over the course of one day, right? That’s kind of the point, the actions you want to get into the habit of taking are so small they might not seem like they matter for the first day or week or even months.
You’re playing the long game, remember. You want to focus on continuously improving a tiny bit every single day.
Here’s a chart to show you how the choices on day one can have an impact on the outcomes down the road:
Let’s use my examples from above.
My daily pitching a month or a year or two years from now leads to me being in 15 magazines. I’ve got a bunch of cool new bylines. My writing has improved. I can send a killer pitch that has a high acceptance rate. And I’ve gotten 3 new high paying clients from all the exposure. Huzzah!
Me doing the same thing I’d done before,
reading procrastinating and sporadically sending out pitches has left me with 1 article in a magazine, no new clients, and a pile of frustration. I’m basically in the same place I started.
Watching Netflix and eating Cheetos will only take you so far. Although I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Netflix’s offerings, I ran out of money, I’m back in an office job and now I’ve gained 10 pounds from those @&#*% Cheetos!
As you can see from our little thought experiment, the tiny choices I made on day 1 seemed like nothing. But on day 300 the outcomes were dramatically different.
In one I was living the dream (yay) and in the other, I was back in the office looking up gym memberships that I’d probably buy and never use (boo).
Choices and action. What it all adds up to is consistency, getting a little bit better every single day.
Why Being Consistent Matters
One of the things I tell people inside Location Rebel Academy over and over again is to be consistent. This is hard because as you saw in the chart, being consistent takes time and effort.
Being consistent ruins that notion that everyone is an overnight success who just tossed up a blog or took their first picture on Instagram and then they were internet famous.
It’s also hard because too many people spend their time looking at what’s down the road, the big picture, and not what’s in front of them. They get disappointed after a month because they don’t have 500 subscribers and 5 new clients.
What I tell them is they are looking at step 100 when they are on step 2. And, beyond some luck, the only way you’re going to hit step 100 is by being consistent with your daily and weekly actions, starting right now.
Easier said than done, right?
But, here’s the thing, you’ve got to do it. You want to see success, it’s not going to come overnight, and you’re not going to stumble on a bag of magic beans. You’ve got to put in a little bit of sweat equity over and over (and over) again.
Don’t take my word for it.
There are people all over the internet who have shared their stories of going from zero to [insert cool thing here] because they took action consistently every day or every week for long periods of time.
Tom Kuegler shares how he went from 0 to 14,000 (now over 18k) followers on Medium. How? He wrote 500 posts, 5 day, for over a year.
Anthony Moore had a similar story. In this post, he talks about how the first 4.5 years of his 5 year blogging journey had mostly downs, he had 79 subscribers and barely any traffic on his site.
What changed? He got consistent:
4 months ago, I finally decided to become consistent. I started publishing every single day, building trust with my readers and honing my craft. It’s no coincidence that in the last 4 months, I’ve gotten more traffic to my articles than the previous 4.5 years combined. I’ve gained nearly 1,000 more subscribers. My articles are read by thousands of people every day.
I’ve made more money from my blog this week than I’ve made in the past 4 years combined.
Andrew Chen is a Silicon Valley VC for one of the biggest names in the business. He’s been blogging for 10 years and not long ago shared his biggest lessons. One of them was all about consistency:
Focus on writing freq over anything else. Schedule it. Don’t worry about building an immediate audience. Focus on the intrinsic.
If there’s one thing, beyond taking consistent action, that unites these guys is they are focused on what’s ahead of them right now and the small affirmative positive choices they can make to keep moving forward.
Start Your Own 30 Day Challenge
Alright, remember way back at the top of this post I was telling you how the 30 day challenge is the perfect way to learn how to take action and be consistent?
Glad you stuck with me because here’s where we get to how to do it.
I like the concept of the 30 day challenge because it’s like a little bit of a game. I’m competitive by nature, and whenever I’m able to gamify anything I always do better.
We run these every few months inside LRA forums and they are always pretty popular.
So here’s how to start.
1. Pick something small but impactful
We’re going for bang for our buck here, remember. The ultimate goal is that these tiny 30 day challenges form into long term habits so don’t go nuts.
This can be really incredibly simple.
Want to build a writing habit so you can finish that book you’ve been dreaming about? Then write 200 words a day, every single day, start creating a daily writing practice in your mind.
I love these sorts of challenges. I’ve done the daily writing. I did one where I wrote 3 times a week on LinkedIn (which did land me a client and helped build a portfolio). That’s one I’ll be getting back into.
You can send one pitch a day. Learn one line of code a day. Do one pushup a day. Floss one tooth a day.
You’re probably thinking, wow all this stuff is so small, that would be easy to bang out.
2. Tell People
Don’t ignore this part. Tell one person you are doing this 30 day challenge. It helps to add accountability.
If you don’t have anyone to tell, announce it on social media.
I had a goal to run a 5k. I told myself about this goal about 28 times and never once did anything about it. One day, in a burst of
insanity inspiration, I signed up for a local 5k and told myself I was running that afternoon when I got home from work.
The first thing I did when I got home was tweet that I was doing it. Then it was out in the ether:
No one commented or liked or cared but that helped click for me. I finished that 5k (I walked it with my sister), and then a few years later ran one and did the same thing, announcing it online.
3. Schedule a time
You can do stuff whenever it floats into your head or scheduling a time.
I prefer to schedule a time because it helps me take this thing seriously and it forces me to get this on my to-do list. Just the simple act of taking the steps to take action (if that makes any sense) helped get it in my head that these were things that I had to do, not think about doing.
It also helps to schedule this time when it works best for you. Don’t make things harder than they need to be. If you’re a morning person, bang out those 200 words right after you wake up. If you hit your stride at 2pm, do it then.
Remove the barriers that are going to stop you from moving forward.
4. Do it
Yea, this one should be obvious at this point but I figure it can’t hurt to make it really clear.
You’ve got your challenge set, you told people, you scheduled a time. There’s only one thing left to do: the work.
5. Rinse and repeat
After 30 days take a minute and pat yourself on the back. You did it!
Most people won’t last the 30 days, they give up. But, you know about consistency and compounding, right? That means you’re ready to do it again.
Here’s where the unsexy part comes in. Yup, you did one rep, it’s time for more. Add a new small task to the mix (if you want) but keep doing that main goal. I promise it will add up.
What’s Your Challenge?
So are you ready to tackle your own 30 day challenge?
Love it! Respond below with what you’re going to be doing over the next 30 days, then check back in and let us know how it went.