Juggling Act

(Listen to this post, here.)

When I was 13, I taught myself how to juggle three tennis balls.

At the time, I was operating under the mistaken assumption that 13-year-old girls would be awestruck by those in possession of this ancient and mystical skill.

They weren’t (surprise!). Nevertheless, it’s an activity I’ve enjoyed for several decades.

Which is why when my son Evan returned home for the holidays showing off his ability to juggle not three, but five ballsmy first thought was, “Maybe this will work with the 13-year-old girls.” (Don’t write to me; I’m kidding.)

No, my first thought was, “I need to learn how to do this.”

And so, over the past couple of weeks, I have been working on it. 

Along the way, I’ve noticed that learning to juggle, and learning to market your small or solo professional service business, have a lot in common…

#1. In the beginning, it’s very confusing.

As recently as one week ago, it all just felt like a big, panicky jumble. The balls went up in the air, but I had little sense of the speed, height or throwing pattern required.

Today, while I still can’t do it, I understand what needs to happen to make it work.

Marketing operates the same way. At first, particularly if this is not your area of expertise, it’s also a big jumble. Lots of things flying around and no sense of what matters and what doesn’t.

Don’t worry. As Evan advised: “Just keep doing it and it will become second nature.” 

#2. The things that matter most are not always obvious.

When you watch someone juggling, it may look like the catching part is the hard part. And while catching is certainly not easy (at first), the difference between success and failure is mostly a function of how well the ball is thrown.

In marketing, if selling is “the catch,” strong relationships are “the throw.”

Here as well, and while you don’t need strong relationships in order to sell, the sturdier these are, the easier and more effective the selling process will be.

As with juggling, if you focus on the throwing, the catching will take care of itself.

#3. Progress is not linear.

Here’s my experience over the last couple of weeks:

Juggle for a while … no progress.

Juggle for a while … no progress.

Juggle for a while … BIG progress!

There are long periods of time where it feels like nothing is happening. But then, suddenly, there is a breakthrough and you move to the next level.

Marketing in nonlinear, too. As long as you keep putting in the time and effort, you will also experience “magical,” sudden breakthroughs in client acquisition and growth. 

#4. Tools and conditions can make a big difference.

The first time I learned to juggle I used tennis balls and I practiced outside. Big mistake.

First, because tennis balls are too light.

Second, because when you drop them (which you do, constantly), they bounce and roll a loooooooong way. I spent most of my time just chasing them.

Now, I practice with heavier, less bouncy balls. And I stand over a bed, so that when I drop them, they don’t roll, and they land within reach.

The work conditions you set up for yourself matter, too.

Where you work, when you work, the technology you use, the professionals you hire or don’t hire to assist you … all of these are choices you get to make.

Unfortunately, many people – particularly those who are newly in business for themselves – skimp on these kinds of things. They work at the kitchen table, they buy a slow computer, they refuse to pay for quality design, etc.

I’m all for being frugal. Just keep in mind that a certain amount of investment is required and each of these decisions represents a tradeoff.

If spending money on quality juggling balls cuts my learning time in half, maybe it’s worth it. Likewise, if hiring a virtual assistant (for example) frees you up to do more, faster, that may be worth it too.

Here’s the bottom line.

Having learned to juggle once before, I know that as confusing, difficult and occasionally frustrating as the process may be, if I just keep at it, I will get there.

Your business is no different. Just keep throwing the balls in the air and, if Evan is to be believed, before you know it, it will become second nature.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What ancient and mystical skill are you in possession of?
  2. Are 13-year-old humans awestruck by it?
  3. What business task do you now outsource that you wish you had begun doing much sooner?

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12 thoughts on “Juggling Act

  1. Dianna Huff

    1. What ancient and mystical skill are you in possession of?

    Guessing the correct combination of an old lock. Ha!

    2. Are 13-year-old humans awestruck by it?

    I think if I still had a 13-year old boy in the house, he would have loved the Penguin hat prize.

    3. What business task do you now outsource that you wish you had begun doing much sooner?

    Seriously, not so much outsourcing as a paring down. Keeping my services menu lean. Saying no to things not in my wheelhouse. Focusing on what I do best.

  2. Beverly

    Skills: I, too, juggle. No, no one is impressed, not then, not now. Better skill: master cat-whisperer. Everyone is impressed. (heh. not)

    I want to outsource things, but I’m not sure which tennis balls to pass along.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      The outsource question is a tough one! Look for things you do over and over again to start. Those tend to be “cut-out-able” from your routine.

      1. Dianna Huff

        But you also gave me really good advice once — “don’t outsource what makes you, you.”

        You said, “It’s like Tom Cruise outsourcing his acting.” He can “outsource” tricky or dangerous stunts but he can’t outsource his actual acting ability.

        Anyway, that piece of advice has stuck with me all these years.

    2. Alison

      I’m a cat-whisperer too 🙂 When I was working at an animal clinic, the other teenagers working there were grateful I could get into the “mean” cat cages for feeding without getting scratched.
      I’ve been debating about outsourcing my website…probably should.

  3. Gina

    1) I don’t know if these qualify as either ancient or mystical, but I can (usually) look at a satellite photo of a place and picture it as if I’m looking at it from the ground, and I can (usually) look at a ground-level photo and picture it as if from above. I think I must have been a WWII Photo Interpreter in a previous life. I can also look at a 3-D stereogram and make the 3-D image pop out immediately. Ancient/mystical? Probably not. Weird? Very possibly.

    2) I confess I don’t know any 13-year-olds.

    3) I hate, despise, loathe, detest, and revile Facebook (and most social media, if I’m honest), so I finally bit the bullet and started outsourcing dealing with Facebook nonsense.

  4. Diane Spadola

    1) I can teach a dog to pray in a couple of hours.
    2) 13 yr olds are not easily impressed, by adults with dogs think that I am “amaze balls!”
    3) managing my mailing database, recently given to a nearby assistant… who types at the speed of light!!!


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