How NOT to freak out when you're not reaching your $$ goals

| 22-min read

It’s almost the end of the month and you aren’t even close to reaching your monthly income goal. Do you freak out?

Or do you take action?

You know the right answer – but which actions to take?

This is actually the moment when you’re most likely to be a bit paralyzed by all the things you “could” do.

Well today’s guest on the Marketing Mentor Podcast is, copywriter and coach, Austin Church, shares his 7-step freak out protocol – which is actually the antidote to freaking out. In fact, that’s just one of several excellent ideas he shared in today’s episode.

So listen here (or below) and learn. (And scroll down for the transcript.)

 

If you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Transcript for Marketing Mentor Podcast #452 Austin Church.

ilise benun

Hi there. This is ilise benun, your Marketing Mentor.  And this is the podcast for you if, and only if, you are ready to leave the feast or famine syndrome behind, and I mean for good. 

It's almost the end of the month and you aren't even close to reaching your monthly income goal. Do you freak out or do you take action? You know the right answer, but which actions to take? Because this is actually the moment when you're most likely to be a bit paralyzed by all the things you could do. Well, today's guest, copywriter and coach Austin Church, shares his Seven-Step, Freakout Protocol, which is actually the antidote to freaking out. In fact, that's just one of several excellent ideas he shared in today's episode. So, listen and learn. 

Hello, Austin welcome to the podcast.

Austin Church

Thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to our conversation.

ilise benun

Me too. So please introduce yourself as I ask everyone to do at the beginning.

Austin Church

Sure. I have been a freelance writer for 13 years now and counting. I also do a lot of strategy work, particularly branding, and the past couple of years, I've coached more freelance creatives. I know you do some of that too, so I just really enjoy paying forward mostly what I've learned from mistakes the last decade-plus.

ilise benun

And tell me a little bit more about your freelance writing. Do you have a particular niche or type of writing that you do?

Austin Church

I like to focus on messaging and normally that's a natural offshoot of the brand development work that I do. And so, I typically work with digital agency owners and eCommerce founders; pretty much any solopreneur who is in a very crowded market. So sometimes there's some direct-to-consumer brands in there as well. But work on the messaging, and then sometimes I'll also have a hand in what I would call ‘boots on the ground copywriting.’ This week is kind of an unusual project: I've been working on a case study for a consulting firm. But it's fun. It's a nice little departure from what I normally do.

ilise benun

And how do people find you? How do you market yourself?

Austin Church

I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. I have really enjoyed being a guest on podcasts because I get to meet the loveliest people, yourself included. So those are the two primary ways that I spend my time marketing. I do write a weekly email newsletter and I have my own podcast too, but I would say those are secondary to LinkedIn.

ilise benun

Interesting. And one of the things that you either said or wrote that I really liked is that you've learned, perhaps the hard way, that being hard to miss is more important than being the best at what you do. 

Talk a little bit about that, because I know that a lot of creatives and copywriters, especially if they're new to copywriting, are really focused on the quality of their writing—and what if they don't like it, and what if it doesn't generate the results that they expect it to? Are they going to hate me? Will I have to give the money back? All of that, I've heard it. In fact, I've read it just yesterday. And I agree with you that being hard to miss is more important than being the best at what you do, but how did you come to that and what does it mean to you?

Austin Church

So I have a background in the liberal arts. I thought I was going to be a college English professor and all that formal training in writing created in me a belief that if you build it, they will come. Most people are familiar with that movie “Field of Dreams.” It's great for the plot in a movie; I don't think it's good business strategy.

ilise benun

Right, not really.

Austin Church

And so I would fuss over all the details that I really took pride in as a craftsman of words. But I realized over time, I had a much greater sensitivity to quality in writing than my clients did. There was one very specific memory, and I could get into the full story some other time, but my assistant accidentally sent off a draft to our designer. And then the designer sent it to the client, and I'm like, "Oh no, no, no, no. That wasn't ready."

ilise benun

It's not ready.

Austin Church

My assistant had written just written words to be a stand-in, the equivalent of Greeking in the design, so we could finish more or less mocking-up the design. Anyway, you can see where this is going. 

The client said "Looks great." And I go back and I'm like, “I can see all the rough patches, all the blemishes, all the warts,” and I'm like, "I would never want to put my name on this." But the client thought it was fine. 

And that's not to say that's always true with clients, but I realized that just laboring over the tiny details and obscurity wouldn't have near the impact on my freelance business, long-term, as showing up in public, and making myself easy to find, and really just doing that through marketing—which I know is your favorite subject.

ilise benun

Exactly. And let's just focus for a moment longer on this question about quality, because I think it's really important and I am definitely a stickler for quality, myself, in everything I do. And we're not saying one shouldn't be.

Austin Church

That's right.

ilise benun

Right?

Austin Church

Yes.

ilise benun

But the clients, what I've always said is, most of them can't really tell the difference. And so I'm curious what your take is on that. Is it that they don't know or they don't care or something else?

Austin Church

So, I think it's a combination of both. They don't know and maybe they don't care. And I, at times, have called this the “Applebee's effect.” 

I think if you compare the food at Applebee's to a lot of other restaurants, it is quantifiably worse. It's not the best food. But, you know, if you're driving through Kansas and it's the only place to eat and you want dinner and then you just want to get back on the road, it's fine and you can even be happy with that decision. 

And I think a lot of clients, some of them really love quality, but oftentimes the convenience, the need to get it done … and to some degree ... I don't know how to put this. It's not lesser taste or lower taste. They just don't have the same taste. They don't have the same palette for writing that we do, and so they're looking for good enough writing, not like Michelin-Star-winning writing. And when I realized that, that didn't make me want to put less time in my writing. It just made me realize that sometimes putting more time into writing is actually not serving my clients better.

ilise benun

So, in a way that also seems to mean that you have to know when good enough is good enough and stop there and not over-deliver because you want to and the client won't even notice. Right?

Austin Church

That's right. I mean that judgment, I do think that comes with time, but I also think a good question to ask is: “Is anxiety driving my need to polish and edit and edit and polish right now? Or is it good enough? Will it accomplish the client's needs? Will they be happy with it?” 

And also, here's the sort of golden ticket for freelance writers. You don't have to put it in your portfolio. If you don't love it, if you're not proud of it, or if the client was thrilled and you were just ready to be done with it, you don't have to ever show it to anyone ever again.

ilise benun

No one needs to know.

Austin Church

No one needs to know, that's right.

ilise benun

Bank that money.

Austin Church

That's right.

ilise benun

All right. So let's then move on to talking a little bit about LinkedIn, but overarching, I've heard you talk about a morning marketing habit or some kind of daily marketing habit. So talk a little bit about that and how much time it takes and the importance of that. What is your take on that?

Austin Church

So I was that freelancer who for years was just caught up on the freelance feast-or-famine roller coaster. And if I had a lot of work, things were great, the money was flowing, and then my pipeline would dry up and suddenly I would find myself with way too much time and not nearly enough work. And yet despite experiencing that cycle again and again, I would still tell myself when I was busy, “well, I don't have time for marketing right now.” 

And I finally realized that belief, that story I was telling myself, it just wasn't working. I guess I got tired of the ups and downs, the volatility of it. And so I took this principle from personal finance. I'm sure it has been passed around amongst all the gurus, but I heard it from Robert Kiyosaki and this principle of pay yourself first.

If you max out your Roth IRA and your savings, or however you're saving long-term at the beginning of the month, well, you'll figure out how to stretch what's left over to cover your bills and other expenses the rest of the month. 

And I realized that if I did my marketing first thing in the morning, I had this morning marketing habit, then I would find a way, some way, somehow, to stretch the time I had left across client projects and email and communication and project management and all the other things that we spend time on. 

And so that's ... I guess I've been doing this for about two years now, where I've made marketing non-negotiable. I don't give myself the freedom to move on to other stuff until my marketing is out of the way, so to speak. And to answer your other question, that really only takes me 30 to 60 minutes a day. I have a plan I work from. I think you have a marketing plan that you either give away or you sell, I think.

ilise benun

I do. I sell the Simplest Marketing Plan.

Austin Church

There you go. So my marketing plan is, no joke, one page long. And then I broke it down into these discrete activities that are actually schedulable—talk about 15-minute, schedulable activities. You can't schedule marketing as this big squishy concept, but I can, on a Monday say, “All right, time to write some LinkedIn posts today,” and I can schedule that. 

And so that's kind of what my marketing practice looks like right now. I do it Monday through Friday. I have very specific activities I do every day. I do it in the morning and that has really helped level out some of those big dips, and things are just less anxious and scary on the money front.

ilise benun

I can see how that would be because it is really is about consistency and just showing up.

Austin Church

That's right. You don't know which move you make—which post, which marketing, which piece of marketing effort—will be the one that produces results. So you just have to keep stepping up to the plate every single day.

ilise benun

And actually this is connected to something I was saying to someone on the phone this morning about the expectation of getting work from a particular effort. Like to me, that expectation has to be banished because, as you just said, you don't know which marketing move you make will be in the right place at the right time for the right person for them to say, "Oh yeah, you, I think I've gotten an email from you. Let me go find it and respond to that." You just don't know and so, I'd be curious, do you have a thought or a strategy about how to shift the mindset so that you're not waiting for something to happen with every single effort you make?

Austin Church

So, we have a mutual friend in Ed Gandia and he said something that I thought ... I mean, this is classic Ed, it's just so succinct and so smart. He said, "It's all about effort goals, not outcome goals." 

And so, especially coming into 2022, I made a commitment to putting forth a certain amount of effort each day, because the outcome, that's beyond my control, and you kind of mentioned that. 

All I can control is showing up Monday through Friday. I can control following up with people after someone has expressed an interest in working with me. I can control my mindset when it comes to following up with people. “Oh, maybe they don't want to hear from me. Maybe they've already gone a different direction.” All that's beyond my control. And so I just identified these little activities that are within my control. And then I guess I commit to a bigger principle too, which is always be working to make the total value of my pipeline worth 10 times what I need in terms of income on any given month.

ilise benun

That's interesting, say more about that.

Austin Church

Well, and this may or may not be a provable assumption, but my assumption is only about 10% of the projects in my pipeline are going to close on any given month. And sometimes a project will come way out of the blue and lands in my lap on a Friday. I've closed it by the following Monday. They've paid the invoice on Tuesday. That's the exception, not the norm. 

And so, again, focusing on what I can control, looking at the total value of my pipeline, thinking: well, if only 10% of this closes this month, will I still have hit my revenue target? Will we be all good on the money front? And so that's just a rule of thumb that I've worked with, maybe about three or four years now. And then I fill in a weekly score card each Monday just to track where I am in relation to that 10X number and so that has helped too.

ilise benun

And do you have a way of tracking your prospects? People are constantly asking me about the best customer relationship management CRM software or process. And I personally have not found one that I think is good for freelance creative professionals. Have you?

Austin Church

I use Pipedrive. I think I pay $19 a month. It's fairly inexpensive. I have a very simple, basic implementation of it. It almost looks like a Trello board or a Kanban board where I identified the different stages in my sales cycle and I just sort of moved the cards along as people progress. So, it's very, very basic and I like it. 

Really the only thing I use it for, other than just tracking leads, is to remind myself to follow up with people. And so just those automated reminders, that's worth 19 bucks a month to me, but most of us don't need a ton of leads. Most of us can get away with a simple Google sheet or spreadsheet, just as long as we're actually tracking when we follow up with people.

ilise benun

Right, and so if you're doing the calculation of 10X for 10% to close, you have to have a place where you can go, a piece of paper, a spreadsheet, where you can just do the sum of those numbers.

Austin Church

That's right. And the side benefit of this is that I'm an anxious person. That's something I've realized in my 30s, that anxiety is a something I struggle with. And so I'm able to use that scorecard with the numbers to talk down my anxiety and say: "No, my pipeline value is where it should be. And now it's just about the follow-ups. And so I'm going to follow up with these five people on Tuesday." And again, just focusing on what I can control versus what I can't, helps me be more calm in my day.

ilise benun

Yeah. And that's a very stoic attitude. I've recommended some of the books by William B. Irvine. I don't know if you know him, but he talks a lot about what he calls ‘internal goals versus external goals,’ which is the equivalent of what you and Ed are calling ‘effort versus outcome.’ 

So that idea is out there, and really, really helpful. But I think requires ... like, we're not wired to think that way. We're wired to focus outside and wait for something to come. But as a self-employed person, you have to be able to be accountable to yourself, number one, and be satisfied with your own efforts because often the client doesn't give you feedback, the feedback that you want.

Austin Church

That's right.

ilise benun

Or all these things that are supposed to come from the outside, we just can't control them.

Austin Church

That's right. And if you don't have some of that mindset scaffolding in place, then you're going to spend a lot of time sitting on your hands, worrying about where the next project is coming from instead of being creative and proactive, the way we all can be. I have a Seven-Step, Freakout Protocol that I keep handy.

ilise benun

What is that?

Austin Church

Well, more than anything it's just a way to generate leads toward the end of the month, if I'm just not seeing what I want to see in the bank account. And just having those marketing ideas, those lead gen ideas, ready to rock and roll is part of that scaffolding for me. 

Again, being an anxious person, I'm not just going to say, “You know what, I'm just going to be an anxious person” and resign myself to that. I've been very proactive about putting up scaffolding and putting protocols in place.

ilise benun

Love that. All right. So I have one more question for you, actually have several, but maybe we'll have to do a Part 2 of this, Austin.

Austin Church

Okay.

ilise benun

I always like to ask what baby step could listeners take to move in the direction of what we're talking about, but because you mentioned this Seven-Step, Freakout Protocol, I'd love it if you would share as a baby step, perhaps one or two of those steps.

Austin Church

Oh, for sure. So one of the things that lead tracking and even a CRM does is just store all the names of all the people who've expressed an interest in working with you. So, one of the things I'll do at the end of the month if I'm feeling a little nervous about the numbers is go through all of those people and just find five or 10 to follow up with. So that's one thing. 

We all know to follow up with past clients, we just forget. We all know that referrals and repeat business are a great source of new projects, but we just forget. So, make a list of all of your clients from the past two years, and then just reach out and say, “hi.” Say, “I was thinking about you this morning, what's new? Has your business evolved at all?” That kind of thing.

And then if you don't have that list, at the very least, you can go back to all of the invoices you've sent over the past 18 months, two years, and just reach out to all those people, too. 

Then finally, make a list of 10 clients that you would fall over yourself to work with. Not just, hey, they got in touch and yes, I can tolerate this project. But, if I had a chance to work with that brand or that company or that solopreneur or whoever, I would be thrilled to death. And reach out and tell them that. 

Find the podcast interview, find the Fast Company article, familiarize yourself with some of their goals, some of what they're up to, and just reach out and say, “Hey.” I'll use the writing example: “You may already work with great writers, but if you don't, I'd love to throw my name in the hat. I'd really welcome an opportunity to collaborate with you,” and send 10 of those emails. Maybe nothing happens, but at least you're being proactive.

ilise benun

Beautiful. And all of what you're saying fits very nicely into the framework of the Simplest Marketing Plan. And one of the things that I identify as one of the most effective marketing tools is, I call it, ‘targeted outreach.’ That's what Ed calls ‘warm email prospecting.’ But this last piece about just choose your 10 dream, I would call them ‘prospects’ not ‘clients,’ because to me …

Austin Church

Fair enough.

ilise benun

A client is someone who's already paid you.

Austin Church

That's a little presumptuous to call them clients, already.

ilise benun

Exactly. But pick your 10 best dream prospects and just reach out to them. What's the worst thing that can happen?

Austin Church

That's right. Well put.

ilise benun

All right. So that is a lovely place to put the bookmark and thank you so much for everything you've shared and tell the people where they can find you online, Austin.

Austin Church

Come find me on LinkedIn, Austin L. Church, find me on Twitter or find me at Freelancecake.com.

ilise benun

Okay, why Freelance Cake?

Austin Church

Because I see six layers: positioning, packaging, pricing, pipeline, psychology and process. And I think, and if you stack all those up, then your freelance business can be very sweet.

ilise benun

Nice. And I love the alliteration, too.

Austin Church

Thank you.

ilise benun

Awesome. All right. Well, we'll definitely have to do a Part 2 so we can learn more about that, but for now thank you again and we will talk soon.

Austin Church

It's been my pleasure. Thank you again.

ilise benun

Wow. I loved so many of his ideas, as well as that slow, Southern drawl. He'll be back for Part 2 soon. In the meantime, here's the baby step Austin suggested, which is actually the first two steps in his Seven-Step Freakout Protocol. 

Number one is make a list of all the clients you've had in the last 10 years, then reach out and say “hi,” nothing fancy or profound, just check in with them. 

And two, make a list of your 10 dream prospects, then reach out to them and tell them why you love them. That may be plenty; you may not even need the other five steps. 

So, did you learn a little something? I hope so, because that's how this works, one baby step at a time. Before you know it, you'll have better clients with bigger budgets. Speaking of better clients, they're probably not going to fall in your lap. That's why I keep hawking my Simplest Marketing Plan. If you want to build a thriving business on your own terms, it is not too late to start. The Simplest Marketing Plan has six case studies and six lessons about how to use the three most effective marketing tools. You also get three different planners, plus access to the free monthly Office Hours group coaching session, where you'll meet other creative pros who are practicing what I preach and taking control over their business and their life. Find it all in the Marketing Mentor shop at Marketing-Mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are doing what it takes to ditch the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.

 

 

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