Instigate – or work for someone who does
Seth Godin, in his course on Freelancing talks about being an instigator, making a ruckus, being the one who acts instead of the one who reacts. As an approach to life it puts you in the driver’s seat and casts your life not as a series of events that happen to you, but a set of experiences you engineer and curate to add purposefulness to everything you do. As a freelancer, it represents the choice between going out after business and letting (hoping) it comes to you.
To instigate doesn’t have to mean you are going to run a start-up, or lead a million person march (though of course, it can). It is fundamentally taking a stance. An attitude. Embodying the belief that you will take, provoke and be the cause of action instead of the acted upon. Instigating can be writing a blog post with a call to action that requires that the reader either do something, or willfully ignore you.
And ignore you many will. Because that is almost always the easier path for most people. Ignoring something is how people insulate themselves from change. Ignore, deny, avoid, and ultimately defend against.
Luckily, these people are not your customers. They may one day become your customers, when the tide of inevitability has washed completely over them, but for the time it matters, your task is not to seek to convert those who ignore, but spark reactions and enlist the support of the change makers. The ones who will try out something new if it holds the promise of being an improvement on the old way of doing things. The ones who are actively looking for solutions, who know they have a problem – and who are willing and able to pay to have the problem solved. These are your customers.
If you choose not to instigate you are effectively choosing to follow those who do. In the beginning you may tell yourself you don’t have anything to instigate, you are too inexperienced, too shy, too uncertain. How you feel may matter a lot to you, but the audiences you are trying to reach don’t care how you feel. What they care about – what all customers care about – is their problem, their want, their need. Your feelings never enter the picture.
A successful freelancer is one who has customers. Once that trust is earned, that customer will probably return. As an instigator, that presents an opportunity to you to enlarge the relationship. What else does the customer need? Does your customer have colleagues in other departments who might also need what you have to offer? Do you, as a freelancer, know other freelancers who sell what your customer needs? If you look for opportunities, you may well find them right where you already are. The trick, of course, is to look. And keep looking.
Ask questions, listen, pay attention. Seek to understand the business your customer is in. Anticipate changes or problems they may face. Apply proven solutions you’ve learned from other customers like them. Probe. That’s what the instigator does. That’s what an instigator strategy looks like. Waiting for the phone to ring is also a strategy – just not a very good one.
(An excerpt from a book I am writing on how to thrive as a freelancer – your comments are welcome!)