Let’s be honest, running a freelance business is hard work! It’s normal for motivation to ebb and flow. This week Louise shares her 7 top tips for riding out those dips in motivation and pushing through to the other side, including:
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Mentioned on this episode:
The Dip by Seth Godin
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, freelance friends, Louise here. Today I want to talk about motivation, but first, did you know that fitness coaches also make the best business coaches? There are so many parallels between learning a new sport or getting fitter, faster, stronger, and running a business, don't you think? I love listening to fitness podcasts for business analogies as much as the bicep building advice, shall we say. And recently, I heard a discussion about how when people first get started with a new exercise programme they're usually really excited, they rush out to the Under Armour outlet store and stock up on new kit. They stuff the fridge with bananas and broccoli and high protein snacks. They download their habit tracker app or you know whatever they're using to check off all their steps. But after a few weeks, they suddenly lose motivation. They're doing all this work, but they're not seeing results. Or at least they're not seeing them as quickly as they would like to for the effort that they feel like they're putting in. But if they stick at it, their motivation might pick up again, they might hit a new personal best on their 5k run or lose a few pounds or whatever their goal is, and then their motivation might pick up again. So there's this sort of undulation in motivation, there are ups and downs, it waxes and wanes. And it got me thinking that this is a pattern that we see when we're running a business too, isn't it?
Think back to when you first started your freelance business. Now, whatever led you to that decision to become a freelancer and work for yourself on day one when you opened your laptop, you're like okay, this is me setting up my business, you were probably really excited, maybe a bit apprehensive, you know, the stakes were high and you wanted to make this work, you're really motivated to get stuck into this new life. Then maybe a few weeks, a few months later, the reality of all the admin kicked in, maybe you had a few quiet months, or maybe you got a bit further along in your freelancing career and maybe things plateaued a bit and that early excitement and motivation started to dip. Seth Godin coined the term “the dip” to describe this phenomenon, this was obviously before everyone started buying crypto and “buying the dip”. In this context, the dip is the point in running a business or working towards a goal when people are most likely to quit. They work hard, work hard, work hard, and then quit. If they stuck it out, though, they would get to the other side. So it would have been worth pushing through that dip in motivation and getting to the other side. Sometimes quitting is the right choice, though. You know, I always say that self-employment isn't for everyone. But if this is something that you still want to do, and you want to achieve those goals, then it makes sense to push hard, overcome the dip and achieve the goal. So it's normal, let's say that, first of all, it's normal for motivation to ebb and flow.
I think we can actually lean into this and use it to our advantage. Think of it like climbing a mountain. Bear with me. You've done all the work to get started and your motivation is high and then it dips as you realise you're maybe at a false summit, you're looking up at that new summit and thinking, oh crap, I have to put in all that effort again to get to the next stage. I'm in a mastermind group and we were discussing this recently, you know, you can't change the fact that there will be these ups and downs. There's never really an endpoint when you're running a business, you have to enjoy the process, so you may as well embrace it. And someone described the in-between stage as being in picnic mode, which I love. Shout out to Heather, I think it was her that he came up with this. You've climbed the first peak and now you're going to enjoy it for a while, have some snacks, rest and refuel before you get back into hike mode for the next challenge. So if you ever find your motivation dipping, maybe it makes sense to refuel and then kick yourself into gear for whatever's next.
Another analogy that I really like, is thinking of it as sailing mode versus rowing mode. You know, sometimes in a business you're working really hard, you're rowing hard, you're pulling your oar to push your little business boats through the high seas of new clients and projects and invoices and business admin, and you're making lots of progress. But then other times, you put the sail up, you enjoy the view, keep things ticking along as you float along. Then maybe you spot land in the distance and start rowing again and your motivation to reach that new goal is back. What do you think, do these resonate with you? I really like an analogy.
But then that kind of leaves the question of why does our motivation dip. I think there are a few reasons for that. First of all, we like novelty, we like new things, we jump on the latest shiny objects, partly because it gives us that zing of novelty that has worn off the thing that we were doing before. The next reason, I think, is that it takes time to see results. You know, you need to stick at it. If you're building a business that takes years of constant work, training, investing, doing things that other people won't do, and not giving up.
Another reason is that we might look at other people and feel demotivated because they seem to be so much further along or finding things so much easier. You might look at what someone else has done and think I wish I was there, how did they do that, how are they able to make that happen, where did they find these opportunities? They're so lucky. But actually, it's probably been lots and lots of tiny little steps that have got them there that you maybe just haven't seen. I think it's useful to try and take inspiration from this rather than feeling demotivated, you know, you don't want to compare your first year in business to someone else who's five years ahead of you, or 10 years ahead of you. But you can skip a few steps if you pay attention to what they've done. What are they doing that you can maybe learn from? If you can find one example of one person in your situation who's doing the thing that you want to do, look at how they're doing it. Seeing that someone else does it shows you that you can. It’s evidence, right, so you can stop telling yourself, I can't do this, I don't have that particular arrangement of circumstances, whatever it is. If you can find one person that's doing the thing that you want to do in your situation, then you know that you can make it happen. And that should be really motivating, that's really empowering, because now you can think, okay, what do I need to do to do that. It's also fine not to as well, and then in that case you just need to shut out the noise, get off social media and don't look at what other people are doing.
Another reason that we might find our motivation dipping is because we have obstacles. We do have obstacles in our way, it's hard. You might have a project that doesn't work out, or a long, quiet spell, or a client that has been really difficult, and those are all really challenging. All we can do in those situations is to acknowledge that we are facing a challenge, that this is hard, feel the feels, and then think about how we're going to move forward. If we're going to make this business a success what do we need to do to push through this difficult stage, learn the lessons that we need to learn and think about what we can do differently next time to prevent it from happening again.
One thing that might be useful to think about here, which I think Seth Godin talks about in his book ‘The Dip’, is to decide on what your conditions for quitting would be. Knowing that your motivation may dip and things may get hard, but you do want to keep going and you don't want to give up when your motivation dips. What would need to happen for you to actually say, no, this is one step too far, it's time to change course. Then if these quitting conditions aren't met, then you can say, okay, no, this is hard, I might feel like quitting, but those conditions aren't met so I'm going to keep going. This could be relevant to a specific goal, maybe you're offering a new service that's proving really challenging to get set up, or a new strategy, or a new side project. Or it could just be about freelancing in general, because like I say, it's not for everyone and there's no shame in deciding that employment would be a better fit for your circumstances. But sometimes it can be helpful to take a step back and think, okay, things are hard right now, it might be tempting to stop, but I set my quitting conditions and those haven't been met yet, so what can I do to get back on track and keep going. To that end, I have a few strategies for you for riding out those dips in motivation.
Number one is to break it down into small chunks. Don't worry about the big goal. Don't worry about where your business is going to be in six months or a year. Just get today done. Make a list of 1,2 or 3 things that will move things forward and just focus on them, and then do that again tomorrow. Decide that you're in picnic mode, or sailing mode, and just keep things moving forwards for now, and then your motivation will start to pick up.
Number two is to keep the goal in mind. I like the saying “the goal is to keep the goal the goal”. Don't get distracted by shiny new things. Know why you're working towards this goal, or why you're building this business and keep that firmly in your sights. That way, even when it's hard, you can still cling on to that purpose even if you're dangling by your fingernails sometimes. It's just like strength training or running a marathon right? It takes consistency, you have to put in the reps to build a business and build your competence and confidence.
Number three, which I kind of mentioned earlier, is you have to find a way to enjoy the process. With freelancing there's no fixed endpoint there's always a new level to get to, the levels don't run out. But it does get easier over time. I think I've said before that what was hard for you a year ago is probably easy for you today, it's probably pretty easy for you to do those things today. Remember that what's tough today, what's really feeling really difficult today, will eventually feel easy for you in a year's time, what you're struggling with today is going to feel easy, hopefully, you'll have a new challenge to worry about then. You need to be patient and find ways to enjoy the process. For me, that means staying in my zone of joy as much as possible. You've probably heard people talking about the zone of genius, which is your unique mix of skills and experience and expertise. But your zone of joy is those things, plus the things that you really love doing, when you really feel like you're in the flow. If you can find a way to focus on the activities and the services and work with the kind of clients where you feel in your zone of joy, it's going to be a whole lot easier to ride out the tough days.
Number four is to get some cheerleaders, find a support network, and I've talked about this many, many times. Freelancing can be lonely, but it doesn't have to be, find someone who will cheer you on, celebrate the wins with you, commiserate when things are tough, and maybe give you a little push when you need it.
Number five is to give yourself some incentives. You know, you can't rely on your willpower all the time, give yourself a treat, keep yourself motivated, break things down into small goals and then give yourself a treat when you achieve them. Maybe you set yourself a monthly financial goal and you book a massage or a lunch or some sort of treat when you hit that goal. It really can be anything at all, it doesn't have to be a huge thing, just something that's enough, that is going to keep you going to think okay, I just got to power through get this thing done and then I can have a treat.
Number six is future pacing. This involves visualising where you want to get to, visualising the outcome. You can make a vision board if you like, start collaging, and cut out pictures that are going to inspire you. Maybe you prefer to journal on it and write down a really detailed description of what you're aiming for and why, what your perfect day would look like when you've achieved that. Or if that's not your bag, just make a mental note of what you're aiming for. Maybe you just write it on a post-it note and stick it above your desk. Anything to remind you of what you're aiming for, so that when your motivation dips, you can get your head down, give yourself a little extra push to continue, get back into hype mode. You know, I think this sort of exercise might feel a bit silly when you're doing it, but it does really help you make decisions that future you will be grateful for.
And number seven is to fuel and recover. So this is like the picnic mode analogy, isn't it, and actually another fitness analogy that translates perfectly to the world of freelancing business, you can't run on empty. You can't run a marathon if you haven't carbed up beforehand. You can't hustle 24/7, despite what some people say, without fuelling yourself properly, making sure you've got the creative energy to actually do the work. That could literally be by eating well, sleeping well, but it also fuelling yourself mentally by finding activities or spending time with people who leave you feeling energised. And of course, that involves resting too. It's a constant balance I think, a constant practice in shifting between picnic mode and hike mode or sailing mode and rowing mode.
I hope that's been helpful for you. I hope it's been maybe a little kick up the butt, maybe a little reassurance that if your motivation is dipping, then you're not the only one. We do all go through periods like that. Celebrate how far you've come. And if you're feeling a little bit dippy right now, maybe put the sail up, enjoy the view and refuel, so you're ready to get the oars out again when the time comes. Okay, that's enough of mixing metaphors, sorry. If you’ve found this useful, please do leave a review. And if you listen regularly, perhaps you might like to head to ko-fi.com/15minutefreelancer and send a little picnic money my way which helps keep the 15 Minute Freelancer crew feeling motivated. Okay, thank you so much for listening. I will see you next time, and until then, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.