Things you can control… and things you can’t

I was chatting with a client the other day and he asked me how I go about winning new business. How, he wanted to know, do I secure a steady stream of projects to keep me busy and to help me pay the bills? A fairly simple question, surely. But my answer was most definitely not the one that he was expecting. And, to be honest, it wasn’t the one I was expecting, either.

The standard answer to questions like this is that winning work is a complex mix of client relationships, business development, networking, word of mouth and being in the right place at the right time. With a touch of genius thrown in. And that’s about the size of it, apart from the last bit. But it ignores one key, undeniable fact:

I have no control whatsoever over the work that I get asked to do.

And it’s true. Winning new work is completely out of my hands. I can prepare all the budgets and develop all the income projections I like, but I have no say at all in whether someone chooses to approach me to help them with a particular project or whether they go somewhere else.

So if I decide that I’m not earning enough or that my pipeline of work is looking a little weak, there’s really no point in fretting about it. Because it’s not something I can do anything about.

This is not to say that it’s OK to sit around doing nothing, though. Because while I can’t control which potential clients might on any given day decide to pick up the phone and call Sockmonkey HQ, there are most definitely things I can do to make it more likely that they will (a) pick up the phone and (b) call me rather than someone else.

And these are the things that I can control.

I can, for example, control the number of new people I meet and talk to about what I do. I can control the number of events I go to. I can control the number of people I follow up with afterwards. I can control the number of people I call or email to have a chat and see how they’re doing. I can control the number of articles I write for professional publications. I can control the number of projects I do for small charities for free because, well, it’s just the right thing to do.

And here’s my (until now) very closely guarded secret:

The more I do of the things that I can control, the more people get in touch to ask me to work with them.

I know. It must be magic or something. But it’s works every time. The more people I talk to, the more events I attend, the more nice things I do for others… the more successful I become at finding new people to work with and interesting new projects to work on.

There is, of course, a lesson here for all of us.

There will always be things that we cannot control. That’s just how life is. But there will invariably be something that we can do that will impact on these other things. Our task is to find out what these things are that we can control… and to get working on them. Which is far more productive, and ultimately far more likely to succeed, than just sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring.

2 thoughts on “Things you can control… and things you can’t

  1. That is so true, Simon. And having the wisdom to recognise those things we can control saves a lot of stress!

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