Want to make progress? Stop planning.

So many freelance medical writers get hung up on knowing exactly what the process will look like. Instead of just getting started, and figuring it out as we go along, we want the blueprint for how to succeed...but it doesn’t exist.

Photo by  Alexandra Gorn  on  Unsplash

We’ve all seen the stats - 8 out of 10 startups fail within the first 18 months. It’s enough to scare the bejeezus out of you if you want to start your own business.

Those are the kind of numbers that make us freeze. We don’t want to be that person who failed.

So we search online, we learn, we take courses, and we wait for that “perfect” time to launch our business.

You know what? It’s all just procrastination. And paradoxically, I’d bet at least a few of those 80% of failures are due to not taking any meaningful action.

We procrastinate because we’re scared. We’re afraid to put ourselves out there and see what happens.

So we fiddle with this business plan or that, toil away at creating some perfect website, and think about what our email outreach should look like. And it gets us nowhere.

Have you ever bought an online course only to have it collect dust (virtually) on your hard drive?

That’s what my business partner and I were experiencing when we started Write & Prosper. Despite already being out on our own individually as freelancers, we thought we needed more courses, more podcasts, launch this new business.

We both had forgotten the lessons we learned in building our freelance businesses - you gotta DO stuff in order to make a go of it.

So despite having all of those courses at our fingertips, they never actually moved the needle. Simply learning for the sake of learning never helped us to implement any of the strategies taught.

We were stuck.

The ideas were there, but nothing was ever put in motion. We were in an endless cycle of planning.

But endless planning is simply a distraction and an avoidance. How are you ever going to figure out what works and what doesn’t if you never even put it out there?

“Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.”

- Jason Fried, Rework

The reality is that we are all looking for that silver bullet. Some magical solution that will just pop up and tell us, “If you do THIS, you will find steady clients and steady work!

The harder work is figuring that out ourselves based on trial and error. And sometimes that means without a plan and by the seat of your pants. If you are looking to start any kind of freelance business, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

You will not have everything figured out. And you do not have to have everything figured out and perfect before you get started. Perfection will only happen after you’ve exhausted your mistakes.

Get focused

So how did we get unstuck? Serendipitously, we met someone earlier this year at a live conference who ended up being a fantastic business coach. He helped to massively shovel away all of the noise and distraction that we had let creep in. He simply had us focus on 1 or 2 steps each week to move the business forward. It worked.

Within a few short months, we launched W&P, built a small audience, and launched a course to help other freelance writers. Boom!

If you don’t have access to a coach, then consider a mastermind group or an accountability partner. The long and short of it is that you need to be held accountable and you need focus. Period.

But the awesome part of working with a business coach is that it usually pays for itself many times over.

Use just-in-time learning vs just-in-case learning

This is not a new concept, and many others have talked about it extensively. In a nutshell, just-in-time learning is geared toward learning on the spot and immediately as you need it to make progress, instead of learning with the slim hope that you might need that information in the future.

Many new freelance medical writers are scared stiff when asked to write about new topics. But don’t be! Clients prefer to work with someone that they know, like, and trust. So, if approached to write about something new, view it as an opportunity to shine for that client. And if it’s a new client, an opportunity to turn them into a repeat, sticky client (which equates to less marketing for you).

Many seasoned freelance medical writers develop content about new and unknown topics ALL THE TIME. Trust me, no one is an expert about all topics. So the next time a client asks you to write about something new spout out a confident, “Yes, I can do it. I usually can get up to speed on new topics pretty quickly.”

Once you get going in your business, you’ll also likely start to develop some systems for projects that you frequently develop (i.e., needs assessments, sales training materials, etc). Systems will make your life easier and take a lot of anxiety out of tackling new concepts. And they will ultimately boost your efficiency (think better hourly rates when working by project fee).

Stop making excuses

We’ve all been there.

I’ll launch my business when my website and logo are perfect. I’ll launch when I have two or three clients lined up. I’ll launch when I have six months of savings in the bank.

These are all excuses that we tell ourselves.

Stop making things complicated. It’s very simple - you need to know who your target clients are and how you can  solve their specific problem. That’s it.

The fancy website, logo, and business cards can all come later. (Although it does help to have some savings in the bank.)

Focus on getting a few relevant samples together, developing an email script, and networking in places where the clients are (not just with your colleagues). So, if you’re a freelance medical writer specializing in CME, then it’s probably a good idea to check out something like the ACEHP Annual Conference.  

There will likely never be a “perfect” time to launch your business. Just take the leap.

Get clear on your end goal

Alice, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The Cheshire Cat, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Alice, “I don't much care where.”

The Cheshire Cat, “Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”

- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

No, this is not some strange literary metaphor. But the Cheshire Cat is right, it doesn’t matter which way you go if you don’t care where you are going.

Do you know where you are going in your business? You have to start with the destination in mind. If you’re not clear on that, then your path is going to be a jumbled mess.

Have you been putting off your business launch? If so, set a deadline and stick to it. Work backwards to figure out what you need to do and set small, achievable milestones along the way.

Maybe you just need a change in direction, a pivot from what you’ve been doing. First, keep in mind that you need to create some space in your schedule to allow this to happen. And that you might need to say “no” to certain clients in order to make room for the new ones.

But saying no will create that opportunity to say yes to new things. Again, break down the larger task into smaller ones so that the end goal is more doable (and doesn’t feel like some huge unwieldy goal to accomplish).

Need to get unstuck (or just get moving) in your business?

Come join us in our new group coaching program. We’ve both found that nothing moves the needle more than some guided focus, direction, and accountability. We’d love to have you ;)

Jennifer Gregg