On Not Being Attached To The Outcome

One of the more dispiriting aspects of being a freelancer is waiting for our marketing efforts to pay off in the form of paid work. But there is a secret to not going off the deep end if no one seems to be returning your phone calls, answering your emails, or responding to your blog.

The rule is this. Simply don’t be attached to the outcome of your marketing efforts.

Now you probably have heard this one before, but perhaps not in the context of drumming up new work. Don’t Be Attached to the Outcome is a favourite of life coaches, new age gurus, and other conveyors of truth, beauty and wisdom.

At its essence it suggests that whatever you engage in life, enjoy the process, and don’t be so fixated on the end game. Go for a run, not to win the race, but to enjoy the exercise. Eat well. Be nice. Hold hands. Practice the golden rule. Do all these things not because of an expectation of a particular outcome, but because they are worthy in and of themselves.

The same applies for networking. I know it sounds almost like a contradiction in terms. You network with the expected outcome of getting work. You chat up others at “an event”, you send out scads of brochures (well you shouldn’t do that, but let’s say you do), you put an ad in the paper, and do all those other things that you are told to do to make yourself, your business, and your availability known. And you sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Up to that last bit, you were doing fine. But the minute you sit back in anxious anticipation, that’s getting attached to the outcome, and that’s where you make your big mistake. It’s bound to lead to disappointment, fear, loathing, depression, and needless anxiety.

I can hear you sputtering already – it is impossible to send out a resumé, and undergo the torture of an interview and not be attached to the outcome. And why network if you don’t have an expectation of a successful outcome in the form of work? The fact is networking is a process, not an end in and of itself. It is about forming relationships. It is not about landing a sale.

There is a way out of the difficulty. It’s called the Rule of Twelve. It gets us around the need to be directly attached to the outcome of any one networking effort.

The Rule of Twelve suggests that for any 12 proactive networking/marketing efforts you have out in the cosmos, one of them will pay off, usually indirectly. The two key words here are proactive, and indirectly. Let me explain.

Passive efforts don’t count. Handing out your business card at an IABC event doesn’t. Sending out unsolicited resumes doesn’t. Putting an advertisement in the paper doesn’t. Nor does Internet or newspaper research count. It is not that these aren’t things you shouldn’t do. You should make that part of your daily, weekly, or monthly marketing efforts. But I classify them all as passive because they require no response from a third party.

Proactive efforts include cold calls, following up on a contact you made at a networking event, writing an article for a business magazine, volunteering to work for your local IABC/STC/PRSA chapter, mentoring a colleague, taking a former client to lunch, and so on. The point is, all these efforts are much more likely to elicit a response and perhaps prompt a dialogue with some of the the recipients of your efforts.

The second key to the rule is that the payoff for those efforts may well come indirectly. Think of it as six degrees of separation. The potential client you take to lunch may not have any work for you. But he suggests that you contact his colleague down the street, who in turn has nothing for you, but knows that his boss down the hall needs some help with a communications plan. You of course jump at the opportunity, and they are so pleased with your efforts, that they give you a contract to produce all their communication documents for the next two years.

Another example. You volunteer to write a monthly column for a networking newsletter. It’s a job that no one wants to do. But you agree to do it. The neat thing about this sort of effort is that you just never know who might be reading that newsletter, who might like your ideas, and think they might have some applicability for their enterprise.

With consistent application of the Rule of 12 you can’t help but get work. You have to have 12 active networking/marketing efforts out there in the universe at the same time. When one turns out to be a dead end, then you must put another one out there immediately. And of course, the more you exceed the minimum twelve, the more likely you are to find more work.

You may be asking how long you would have to wait before you get any hits. Well, that’s “an attached to the outcome” sort of question. But I will answer it anyway. Anywhere from six weeks to six months. If you aren’t getting inquiries for your services within six months then you will have to take a serious look at whether your efforts are truly proactive, and whether you have a minimum of 12 initiatives out there working for you.

This is not rocket surgery. It works. It’s just a matter of how busy you really want to be.