Lesson from 2021: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems
Happy end of 2021! What a year (again)! When I was thinking about what to put in this month's newsletter a couple of themes sprang to mind so I just decided to riff on them and see what happened. Enjoy my Christmas essay!
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I've become a big podcast listener. One of my favorites is Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. One of the questions that she asks guests in her rapid-fire section at the end of each show is: "What is the lesson that you have to learn over and over again?" I like the idea of lessons not necessarily being something we learn once, but sometimes the universe has to whack us in the face with a few times before we get the message. It makes me feel better about being a slow learner sometimes.
The lesson I think that the past year has pummeled into me, and will be really influencing how I work with clients over the next year is this: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. This, of course, is straight from the great Atomic Habits by James Clear. My understanding of this phrase is that goals are great and all, but if you don't have a systematic and consistent approach to achieving them, you're probably going to fail. You might be able to run that half marathon with no training (and good for you), but you're probably not going to be able to go on to bigger and better things afterward without some training!
Why can't I just have goals?
What's this got to do with marketing you might be thinking? Everything. Often, if we've been practicing scattergun marketing, or just flying by the seat of our pants, we're encouraged to set some goals. And that's great, don't get me wrong, goals are really important, but you can't stop there. To my mind, the process of setting a goal can be more important than what it is, or even reaching it. Putting a goal in place means you have to work out what direction you want to head in and what success looks like to you. And that's really important because your version of success will be individual to your business. You might want to attach some specific numbers to those goals to give your team something to aim for, or because you need to hit certain targets - great! So now you have your goals, and you can pat yourself on the back, what next?
This is where companies can get lost. They have their lofty goals at one end and they have the things they do at the other end. And the secret sauce that links the two ends together - strategy! But I'm not here to talk about strategy today (I have blogs and webinars about that already), I'm here to talk about systems! Yeah! Because once you have your goals and strategy worked out, and you've identified what marketing activities you're going to do and how - you need to put some systems in place if they're going to be effective.
Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of habits to get you there
There are lots of definitions of systems, but I'm going to use James Clear's above. In marketing, this means the activities you start doing and KEEP DOING because over time it will pay off. Sometimes I think of marketing as an act of faith - you start doing something because you believe it will work over time. And this is why it is an investment for companies - some things take longer than others to pay off.
What do I mean by habits in marketing?
Starting a social media page and posting three times a week, to a schedule that makes sense for you
Starting a weekly newsletter and putting it out consistently, no matter how hard it is to make time to pull together content
Starting a blog and regularly posting, once a month
Consistency does not mean flogging a dead horse
"But what if those things aren't working?" I hear you cry. If they're not working, then you should stop doing those things - close down your social media page, delete your blog, announce that you're moving your newsletter content to some other platform. But don't just abandon them. And before you do stop doing whatever it is, please consider if you need to reset your expectations for what that medium will accomplish. Often, social media isn't a lead generator for sales - but it might be doing a great job at engaging your customers or raising general brand awareness. Equally, someone might read your newsletter for a couple of years before doing business with you - but when they do, they'll know you and want to work with you.
How to put systems in place?
Systems are not a quick win. If you're serious then you need to commit - time, money, or effort (or all three). Here are some of my thoughts on building long-term systems:
Start small (there's a reason James Clear called his book Atomic Habits). If you start with something manageable, you won't become as discouraged as fast.
Choose things you'll enjoy doing. If you choose something you hate, you probably won't stick it out. I enjoy writing (if you couldn't tell), so I do things that involve that. I hate filming myself, so I do very little of that!
One thing at a time. Biting off more than you can chew is a classic recipe for failure. Start with a single thing and do it really well, before you add anything else.
Regular is more important than lots. Doing a single monthly blog for 12 months is better than doing four blogs a month for three months and then giving up.
Ramp up over time. Starting small will enable you to get used to doing whatever it is on a regular basis and then, if you want, you can grow it.
I'll hold my hands up and admit I don't always practice what I preach (my blog, cough, cough) but I try. And hopefully, I will be able to take the lesson from this year and apply it better in 2022, not have to relearn it. If this struck a chord with you - good luck with your system-building!