Business habits have changed my trajectory of success over the last five years and it can completely revitalize and infuse your freelance business with growth if you do it right.
Probably like you, I used to be way into setting new goals in January. Did you set some this year?
Well, I didn’t.
I have found that business habits—instead of business goals—are what really move the needle in my own small business.
While setting goals in your business can be a very powerful tool, I’ve found business habits are infinitely more powerful.
I’ve used these non-goals to not only grow my own side-hustle into a full-time business supporting me, my family, and a small team, but also to lose 70 lbs and keep off for over a year.
In my opinion, if you want to experience real, lasting change in your life or in your business this year, there’s something you should focus on way more than goals:
Business habits include setting daily routines, schedules, or tasks that MUST be completed no matter how “into them” you feel on a given day.
After a while these business habits become so ingrained in your schedule, they almost happen automatically.
And automatic growth and progress is simply magical.
In this article, I’ll explain a few things I’ve learned (through study and personal application) about the power of habits to change your life and your business.
Why business habits are more powerful than business goals
Goal/habit expert and author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, explains:
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
While seemingly cynical at the outset, James’ observation makes a lot of sense.
In January, we begin the year with lofty resolutions to double our revenue or get more clients. But by mid-January (or even for the best of us, before the end of the first quarter) we find ourselves back in our old business habits—doing work the same way we always have.
So why do new years resolutions fade so quickly?
James suggests they may just be too big. Instead, he recommends focusing on small, consistent business habits that can make a big impact in the long-term.
“We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment.”
How might this look for a freelance or creative entrepreneur?
Let’s say your goal is to find 2 new clients each month in order to keep your client pool fresh and thriving.
Instead of simply setting the goal with no real consistent, easy-to-follow habitual plan to get you there, try setting a weekly (or daily) business habit by creating a calendar event for yourself in which, no matter what you’re doing, you’ll stop and search freelance job boards, send email pitches, follow-up with in-person connections, and more.
By converting your goal of finding 2 new clients a month into regular business habits, you almost guarantee the outcome you desire.
Allow me to share two real-world experiences of my own to further illustrate the point:
How I used business habits to increase revenue by 87%
My own personal small business relies a lot on web traffic for success. Freelancers visit my blog where we help them as much as possible and then some readers join our paid membership program.
But none of this works if new people aren’t regularly finding our blog.
So instead of setting a goal to do more guest-posting, I brainstormed a few business habits. Here’s what I landed on:
I dedicated an entire half-day almost every Wednesday last year to writing guest-post articles (you’re reading one of them right now).
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At the end of last year, I realized I had written over 50 guest posts (two years ago, that number was zero) and 46 of them were published before year-end.
This business habit has provided a steady new stream of readers to my blog which, in turn, brought new customers to our membership site.
Overall, this small business habit has played a major role in our 87% revenue growth last year. That’s almost 2x as much revenue year-over-year.
Not bad for one little business habit.
How I used habits to lose 70 lbs, keep it off, and run a 10k
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg wrote a book titled The Power of Habit. In his book, he explains the power of habits to improve our willpower.
“The best way to strengthen willpower … studies indicate, is to make … a habit. As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives—in the gym, or a money management program—that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.”
This proved true for me. As I developed more will-power at work through business habits, I found I was able to do the same for my health and fitness.
So with no actual goals (only habits) to fuel me, I set out to get healthier.
You might have heard about the cliche S.M.A.R.T goals. And the goal to “get healthier” certainly wasn’t specific, measurable, or time-based.
But since I had tried to lose weight and get more fit using S.M.A.R.T goals in the past, I thought I’d give habits a try instead.
And the results have been amazing.
Nearly two years later, I have lost over 70 lbs (and maintained that weight-loss for an entire year) and I just ran my first 10k a few months ago.
Just like my company grew using business habits, my fitness has completely changed thanks to a few critical health habits:
- Walking/Running almost every weekday morning.
- Skipping high-preservative foods; going easy on cheese/bread; and limiting sugar to 1 day/week (most weeks).
I’ve done all kinds of “diets” and tried just about everything. But it wasn’t until I let the power of habits take over that I have seen real, lasting results.
This is the power of habits.
3 Reasons You Should Set Business Habits (Not Goals or Resolutions) This Year
To wrap everything up here, I want to share 3 reasons I believe you should try focusing on your business habits this year instead of setting lofty goals or resolutions.
(PS: If you insist on setting goals and resolutions, that’s fine. But you should take it one step further by identifying the business habits that will help you achieve your goal.)
1. Business habits take the stress/failure out of improvement
Have you ever set a really big goal only to fall short of it and feel like a complete failure?
The nice thing about a business habit is: you can’t really fail at it.
With business habits, your progress is less of a sprint (running a race in a matter of minutes) and more of a marathon (running a race in a matter of hours).
That means if one Wednesday (using my example above) I had family plans and missed out on writing, it was no big deal. I made up the work on Thursday or—worst case scenario—I picked up the business habit again the next Wednesday.
In terms of healthy eating, it meant that I could have a bowl of ice cream or a slice of pizza every now and again—as long as it didn’t become a habit. The daily observance of my healthy habits made up for any small moments of indulgence I experienced.
With business habits, you never fail. You just keep developing and improving on your business habits and the results follow.
2. Business habits can free up mind-space for what’s really important
Sticking with my examples from above, I always knew what I’d be working on each Wednesday afternoon (writing guest posts for quality sites) and what I’d be having for lunch (a nice salad on a warm day; chicken stir-fry on a cold day).
That removed at least 2 decisions out of my day, freeing up my mind for more important tasks.
James Clear explains: “It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity.”
The good news is: your mind and body are naturally looking for ways to save themselves added work.
Charles Duhigg explains: “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”
So lean into your mind and body’s natural desire to develop positive business habits. And once you’ve got them rolling along, enjoy the extra headspace to help you grow your business, spend time with loved ones, or make progress on other important elements of your life.
3. Developing business habits conserves your willpower for when it matters most
To quote Charles Duhigg one last time: “If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day.”
Charles explains that willpower, just like any other muscle in the body can be exhausted and require rest before it can be used again.
By determining your business habits ahead of time (like knowing you’ll write on Wednesdays or that you’ll have a salad for lunch), you conserve willpower for the moments that matter the most.
As a freelancer or creative entrepreneur, that could mean having the willpower you need to finish out an important client project on a Friday afternoon when you’re already tired of working for the week—which, over time, could make all the difference.
Which business habits will you work on this year?
Thanks for taking the time to read my experience with business habits. I hope it’s been helpful as you consider ways to grow your business this year.
I’m curious: what business habits do you think could help you make real progress on tough objectives this year? Share them with me in the comments.
Good luck and Happy New Year!