Did you know that Benjamin Franklin’s biggest passion was playing chess? A chess-player for 50 years, he practiced even more as he grew older. And although his chess skills were way above average, he never truly became a chess master, comparable to the best European players.
Anders Ericsson, the author of Peak – New Secrets from the new Science of Expertise, explains why: “He never pushed himself, never got out of his comfort zone, never put in the hours of purposeful practice it would take to improve.”
I believe Ericsson’s book is one of the very few that scientifically proves exactly what it takes to succeed and achieve at extraordinarily high levels.
The truth is, very few of us are interested or motivated enough to develop our expertise and skills to those levels.
Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps, 31 or Simone Biles, 19, have put in more hours of training and practice at their young ages than most of us will put into anything in our lifetimes.
But the most important message I took from Peak is that all of us can improve our levels of performance far beyond what we think is possible.
The question for me, of course, is what does it take to improve our skills in the area of successfully marketing our services?
It’s certainly not a matter of our innate skills or talent. Our background and upbringing can help us to some degree, but one thing top researchers agree on is what most of us intuitively know about success:
It takes practice.
But what kind of practice, does it take to reach these levels of success? We can practice effectively or ineffectively. We can put a lot of time into practice or a little time. We can practice with motivation or without motivation.
Ericsson calls the most effective practice “Purposeful Practice.” He says it consists of five specific characteristics. I’ll outline them below and then share my experience of how this relates to improving your marketing skills.
1. Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals
When you want to become a better marketer of your services, are you goal-oriented or vague about your direction?
For instance, if you want to write an article for an eZine or a blog, you can’t just try, you need to have a clear outcome in mind. For me; it was pretty simple; I wanted to write an eZine/blog article every Monday. And I’ve done that now for almost 20 years.
So if you want to become a better writer, don’t just write – write with a clear aim in mind. For instance, with this kind of clear goal I’ve seen clients write all the content for their website in a couple of weeks instead of the usual three or four months.
2. Purposeful practice is about taking a series of baby steps on the way to your goal
In working with thousands of people over the years, I’ve discovered that people are generally not very patient.
In marketing, patience is a trait you need to develop because skill improvement doesn’t come instantly. You learn one simple thing and then another and another. Sooner or later you’ll get better at something and start to see the success you’ve long desired.
I remember it was much like that when I wanted to give talks and presentations to get the word out about my business. Public speaking didn’t require me to learn just one skill but about a dozen. They included:
Writing a promotional blurb for the talk; developing the talk outline; practicing the talk out loud; contacting organizations who might be interested in hosting the talk; following up to get the talk booked; delivering the talk many times until it got prospects interested in my services; collecting cards from participants at the end of the talk, offering a free marketing strategy session; following up with those who had given me cards; having a conversation with those prospects by phone; setting up appointments with them, and, ultimately, converting prospects into paying clients. Whew!
Every one of those skills took knowledge and practice to do effectively in order to achieve the goal of my presentation, which was to attract more of my ideal clients.
3. Purposeful practice is focused
The enemy of focus is randomness. You get up in the morning thinking you need to do some marketing. But is it based on a goal, a plan or even a clear direction?
When you know where you’re going and what you’re attempting to accomplish, you’ll have many wins along the way to your goals. And with every win, your confidence increases.
Yesterday, I looked at all the revisions I’d made over the years to my online information page about the More Clients Club. I’d rewritten that page 21 times! I was focused on making it better and better each time. In fact, I wrote it again today!
A waste of time? Hardly. Over a period of 7 1/2 years I’ve had a total of 4,583 people join the Club, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. That’s what focus can do.
4. Purposeful practice involves feedback
Do you love to get input and feedback from other people? I don’t know about you, but I hate it. Yet it’s such a powerful thing as I’ll demonstrate below.
One of my greatest strengths and also my greatest weaknesses is my sense of independence. I like to do things my way. But ultimately insisting that my way is the right way only makes me stupid. How can I know the right way to do everything? I can’t.
About 16 years ago, after writing the InfoGuru Marketing Manual, I knew I had to write an “online sales letter” to encourage people to order it online. That isn’t the easiest thing to do.
I was lucky enough to have a friend, David Garfinkel, who was an expert copywriter. He agreed to give me a hand and provided feedback, ideas, suggestions, and support. Eventually, after many revisions, we got it done and put it out there.
If I hadn’t had David’s feedback, I know the results wouldn’t have been what they were. That online letter generated over $600,000 in sales of the manual.
5. Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone
There’s a saying, “If you want to be comfortable, don’t start your own business.” I started my business in 1984 and have been uncomfortable ever since!
But being uncomfortable in pressing past your limits has benefits that far outweigh the discomforts. You’ll produce results at a higher level than average and be in a continual state of exploration and discovery.
Nobody would ever call Benjamin Franklin a failure. In fact, he was America’s first success guru. And he was most definitely an adherent of these five purposeful practice characteristics (before scientific studies on the topic). As Ericsson said, however, “In chess, he never really went outside of his comfort zone.”
In my experience, achieving certain marketing and business goals can bring great rewards. But it’s ultimately up to you to decide what’s important to you, what you want to achieve and how far you want to go.
Make no mistake, though, – there are ways to achieve the things that are important to you. And purposeful practice is the royal road to getting there.
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