Now this might be another unpopular opinion, but I want you to hear me out because I have my reasons: stop being so obsessed with your numbers.
Before I go any further, a short disclaimer…
I’m mainly talking to service providers here, be it coaches, consultants, virtual assistants, accountants and so on. My focus is working with freelancers, solopreneurs or small and micro-business owners who provide a service, and their businesses are lifestyle businesses heavily driven by their personal brand.
If you work with other businesses and are selling your time in exchange for money, your business might not be as scalable as a customer-facing product or e-commerce business.
So, this post is predominantly for service providers, specifically those looking to build a lifestyle business and not chasing a scalable business.
Another quick disclaimer to make sure that you’re aware of the difference between growth and scale. If you’re not sure what it is, make sure to check out and have a chat with Dan Holloway, who can perfectly explain the difference and advise which one you should be aiming for with your business.
Your numbers are irrelevant if they don’t achieve your goals
Okay, so back to my point about “not obsessing about your numbers”.
Now you might be wondering what numbers I’m referring to? I’m talking about how many social media followers you’ve got, how many views your last video garnered and the number of likes and comments you get on a regular basis.
In fact, don’t even worry about how many posts you’re publishing and sharing every day/week.
That’s because all of these numbers are pretty much irrelevant (shock horror!) if what you’re doing isn’t high quality, meaningful, and strategically aimed. This is especially true if you have a small lifestyle business; you don’t need a high volume of clients and you probably want to get a handful of higher-value clients, which means that you only need a few of them at any time.
With this in mind, you don’t need to have millions or hundreds of thousands of social media followers. And you don’t need to get thousands or even hundreds of likes and comments on your posts.
However, you do need to create very specific and carefully tailored posts. And you also need to strive to get high-quality engagement from a handful of the right people.
Because even if your posts get hundreds or thousands of comments and likes, but they’re not from the people who matter to your business (those who would purchase your products/services and/or want to work with you), then it’s useless!
You could spend tons of time engaging with these people, sending comments back and forth with them and building relationships, but when you go for the sale, very few will resonate with your product or your offering. These people are not the clients/customers you’re looking for and so you shouldn’t be wasting your time focussing on them.
Quality over quantity!
Instead, focus more on improving the quality of your content, the quality of your content target and the quality of the engagement you’re nurturing. Make sure that you’re connecting and building relationships with the right kind of people and that you’re clear on who these people are — you’d be amazed how many business owners don’t even know who their ideal customer/client is!
If you stop obsessing about the numbers and instead focus more on the quality and meaning of each interaction, you’ll not only get much better results from your efforts, but you’ll feel a lot better mentally too.
I know it’s not easy. I still often catch myself looking at the analytics and feeling devastated because a post I put so much effort into didn’t perform as well as I hoped. But that’s how it goes.
We are so used to comparing our numbers to other people’s and constantly chasing bigger and better results. We’re programmed to want exponential results without any dips, but that’s not how marketing works! Not every post will perform the same or even better than the last one. After all, there are too many external factors that play a role in deciding how much reach, interest and engagement each post will get.
It’s easy to feel frustrated when a post gets “only” 30 comments because the last one got 60 — especially when you’re hoping and expecting hundreds! This is only one step away from worrying why your posts aren’t going viral (which, let’s face it, is rare).
Marketing is not about the absolute numbers, it’s about understanding your numbers, what stories they are telling you about the success of your campaigns and how these numbers link to your bottom line.
It’s about the quality and correct targeting of each of your activities to nurture meaningful engagements that build new relationships with the right kind of people/businesses.
The biological reasons behind our thoughts
Those of you who know me will know that I’m fascinated by neuroscience and how our biology affects our thoughts, feelings and actions.
The sad thing is worrying about your numbers to the point of being obsessed with each like, comment and follow can have a hugely negative impact on your mental wellbeing.
We’ve got these dopamine cells in our brain which “fire” in anticipation of a reward. They are in control of the release of… you guessed it… dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s involved in controlling our motivation, arousal and reward (aside from other pretty amazing functions).
What’s relevant to us right now is the dopamine reward prediction error theory. According to this model, our brain predicts how good or bad we’ll feel in a certain situation — in our case when we get X amount of likes or comments — and how much dopamine should be released as a reward for achieving this goal. A little bit of dopamine is released in anticipation of the reward, which keeps us motivated to keep going, but if there’s a miscalculation of the actual outcome, we won’t get as much dopamine as expected.
As the name suggests, our brain often makes an error in predicting (it’s not our brain’s fault, it’s impossible to correctly calculate all the variables in our lives and predict based on incomplete data), which can have quite negative effects on our mental state.
There can be 3 different outcomes from the prediction. The reward is better than expected – something unexpected happened, we’re positively surprised, which means that there’s a positive error. Or the reward is as predicted and our estimation was correct, therefore we get the expected dopamine ‘hit’. In the worst-case scenario, the reward is lower than predicted, we don’t get the results we expected and that creates a negative error and a lower dose of dopamine.
Can you see how potentially dangerous this can be if we’re obsessing about our numbers too much!?
If our brain predicted that we’ll get 100s of likes, but we only get 30 likes, that’s a negative prediction error and the release of dopamine will be much lower than the prediction. And because we were already getting ready for this dopamine high as a reward, we feel much worse when we don’t get the expected ‘hit’.
There’s a lot more cool neuroscience related to the impact of social media on our mental health, but I wanted to highlight this one annoying, yet a fascinating feature of our brain that might be causing a lot of harm if you’re not aware of it.
So what’s my point?
Be aware of your numbers, be strategic with your activities, measure and analyse your results regularly, but be careful NOT to get too obsessed with your numbers.
There’s another danger of focusing too much on all your numbers and that’s the infamous comparisonitis. Our human nature is to be comparative, to compare ourselves to others, that’s the main way we relate to one another. But we also compare ourselves with an ideal version of ourselves, with our higher expectations and sometimes almost perfection. And that can be causing us a lot of harm.
Now I say YES to a strategic approach to numbers. Regularly monitoring, analysing and using your numbers to guide your plan of action. But I say NO to obsessively checking your stats, having unrealistic expectations and comparing yourself to others!
You don’t need to take my word for it. To support this quality over quantity approach, we don’t need to look any further than the father of modern marketing: Seth Godin. In his, now over 10 years old blog post, he explained why your “First, ten” customers matter the most!
He explains that you can’t be marketing to millions of anonymous people hidden behind their TV or reading your ad in their daily paper. With the increasing popularity of digital marketing, and social media marketing especially, we had to switch our thinking and approach. Broadcasting no longer works. You need to build relationships and encourage back and forth communication with your prospects. And with the right kind of prospects!