Two years ago, I decided to focus exclusively on keynote speaking. That meant saying NO to prospective coaching clients and consulting opportunities. It also meant saying NO to potential “platform speaking” opportunities. And as a result of saying NO far more often than I ever had before, my career immediately started taking off.
I wrote a series of posts about becoming a keynote speaker on my own blog and encourage you to read them if you’re curious about speaking.
My point is that my career only started accelerating when I started focusing on one thing, rather than chasing every shiny thing that crossed my path. There are two reasons. First, I concentrated all my energy on tackling one objective. Second, it became much easier for others to understand who I am and what I do.
Concentrate on one thing
Becoming successful isn’t easy. Even with all their energy directed at one outcome, many still fail. So how can you expect to be successful if you’re devoting anything less than 100% to any particular task? By chasing multiple targets, you’re immediately reducing the odds that you’ll succeed at any one of them. Not only that but there’s something magical that happens when you’re truly focused on one objective.
A number of studies have been done in recent years that attempt to quantify the enormous power of the subconscious mind. Have you ever been in a familiar situation and just had a feeling that something wasn’t right? In most cases, you may not even know what it is that’s making you feel uneasy. You just know. It isn’t your conscious mind that comes to that conclusion. It’s your subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind makes millions of observations in any given situation. When you spend more time doing one set of tasks, you’re fine tuning your subconscious mind for that specific process. It’s a form of immersion. After a while, you can look at a set of related circumstances and immediately get an idea of the various possible outcomes and the best course of action. You develop an intuition for it. A gut feeling.
In his book entitled “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell introduces “the 10,000 hour rule” which suggests that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a true expert at a given task. After that amount of time devoted to a single objective, you finally settle into your rhythm and have it ‘all figured out.’ You’ve developed your skills and have an intuition for the process.
The same is true for your career. If you continue to pursue different directions, you reduce the odds of succeeding at any of them. Select your primary objective and start saying NO to everything else, and watch the magic happen.
Present a focused brand
The first reason above impacts you. The second impacts everyone else. By embracing a narrow focus and concentrating your efforts towards that end, it becomes much easier for others to understand your business model and your value proposition. It also implies that you’re serious about your chosen field and that inspires confidence from those around you.
When I began saying NO to platform speaking opportunities, everyone immediately took notice. All of the other local speakers believed that selling stuff from the stage was the fastest way to make money. My decision to pursue keynote instead immediately raised me up the food chain. I didn’t want the business which implied that I didn’t need the money.
The truth was that I needed the money badly but that’s beside the point. Saying NO puts you in a powerful position. It commands attention.
My narrow focus also implied that I was taking my career seriously. It implied I was studying the field and committed to mastering the modality. It’s interesting how this works. Nobody took my career seriously until I took it seriously myself. But as soon as I staked my claim, everyone assumed that it was justified. They assumed that I must be good at it.
Within the population of self-employed professionals, those who thrive generally attribute their success to referrals. But nobody will pass your name along unless they’re confident you’ll deliver great results. One of your most important tasks is to earn and cultivate that trust. There are many ways to do this but one of the best is to be 100% focused on your specific professional objective.
Pick your expertise. Select your niche. Write it down. Embrace it. Devote all of your energy to the goal you select and start saying NO to everything else. It might reduce your income in the short-term but it will explode your potential in the long-term!
Author: Patrick Schwerdtfeger is the author of Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, Wiley) and a regular speaker for Bloomberg TV. He has spoken about modern entrepreneurship and the social media revolution at conferences and conventions around the world.