The Bird Illusion

(Listen to this post, here.)

Once again, the birds have tricked me.

We have been living in this house for three years, and this is the third consecutive September in which they have faked me out in precisely the same way.

Here’s how it goes…

All summer long, I fill the birdfeeder in our back yard.

Our arrangement is simple, if unspoken: They eat for free and I get to look at them all I want. It’s like being a rock star with a much younger wife.

Other than that, we live our separate lives and more or less leave each other alone.

But then, beginning in early August, the consumption rate starts to rise. Slowly at first, but after a week or two, I can barely keep up as dozens of birds arrive, vying for space at the feeder, all day long.

So I start buying big bags and stocking up, to make sure I don’t run out.

And then, just as I’m beginning to think that Alfred Hitchcock himself is about to show up at my front door, it stops.

Not fades to a graceful trailing off, either. I’m talking shut-the-faucet-off, on-a-dime, who-stole-all-the birds, stops. In one day.

I don’t know why it works that way in this house, but I can tell you this: From now until next April, there won’t be a single bird at my feeder, leaving me with 15 pounds of seed in the garage and no option but to sit on it until spring.

Of course, I should know better by now. I should recognize this pattern and start cutting back on the seed-buying in late summer.

But every year, when my yard is overrun with birds, I forget and assume it will go on like this forever.

Your Workflow Is Like a Flock of Birds

When you work as a solo or small professional service firm, it’s hard to predict the peaks and valleys of your own busyness.

The work arrives mostly at random, through word of mouth and referral. And, since it’s just you and maybe a handful of others, just a couple of additional projects can suddenly make you very, very busy.

That’s great news, of course. The work is happening, the money is flowing, life is good.

And you, my birdfeeder-filling friend, make the same, erroneous assumption I make every August: You believe that things will go on like this forever.

So you stop marketing.

You no longer attend networking events (virtual or otherwise).

You stop connecting with colleagues or even replying to nonessential emails.

You keep pushing your newsletter to the back of the line.

And then, one day, without warning and for no apparent reason, the birds stop showing up.

It’s hard to know why, they just do. And since you haven’t been marketing for months, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get things moving again.

Never Stop Marketing

For a solo or small firm, marketing is like exercise: It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time or effort, but you have to keep doing it, even when – especially when – it seems like you don’t need to.

And, as with exercise, it’s way easier and faster to get out of shape than to get in. Turning things back on is hard.

So, you have two options:

Assume that when you are busy it will last forever and take your foot off the marketing gas.

Assume that the peaks are always followed by valleys and stay active and visible.

Let me know if you want to buy some slightly handled bird seed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever sat on something until spring? Explain.
  2. Do you have a birdfeeder at your house?
  3. What marketing activity do you keep doing, no matter what?

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12 thoughts on “The Bird Illusion

  1. Carole Seawert

    Strange birds in your neck of the woods. They usually would scoff bird seed like there’s no tomorrow once signs of winter start to appear. And yours disappear off the face of the earth until spring. You haven’t relocated to Australia, have you?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      They come in such numbers at the end of the summer and we are high on a hill. I wonder if we are in some kind of migration path or something.

  2. Brigitte

    Thank you for the therapeutic laugh that seized my body!

    1) Yes except for last year I finally made it out the door before the end of January! I had a win. And I’m keeping my successful actions this year to make the same this coming year. I hate the line at the post office in April!

    2) I don’t have a bird feeder, but I let some weeds that were willing to grow in my back yard where no other plants were. As they were looking aesthetics, I decided to let them in peace and watch. These small weeds have developed almost in a rain forest. I’m waiting for a warning from the Home Owner Association to please cut them down to authorized height. Meanwhile, a couple of mornings ago, all of sudden I had about 10-12 sparrows swinging while having breakfast on my weeds. It was worth all the hard work I did to keep them up!

    3) I put the same ad on Craigslist at least once a week. Except for when my inflow gets diverted by competition telling prospects I’m no longer practicing or my email filter decides to route new reaches to my spam folder, this is what has worked the best for years.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I like your weed idea. I’ve often thought I should just grow weeds and feed squirrels and it would be pretty easy!

  3. Mark

    [1] Every year, I buy the wrong amount of fertilizer. So, I keep the partially empty bags in the garage until next year, when I either can’t find them, am convinced I used them up, or I forget altogether. And the cycle repeats.

    [2] In the summer, we have many hummingbird feeders and flowering perennials that attracts the birds. Towards late summer, the birds turn on each other, performing aerial combat to control a given feeder. We are also privy to their pendulum flight patterns to attract a mate. Apparently, if hummingbirds were people, they would spend much of their time on the pirate ship ride at an amusement park.

    Unfortunately, we can only put out seed feeders in the winter. Otherwise, the bears tear them down, eat the seed, and as a thank you for the free seed, they smash the feeders into splinters. With a single paw, they bend the steel shepherds hooks that the feeders hang from. So, from April 1st through December, we are not able to put out seed. While seeing the bears is exciting, attracting them is suboptimal.

    [3] Sadly, none. I need to get better about that.

  4. Stacey

    1. Hmmm…nothing comes to mind.

    2. Yes! And bird houses. So we have TONS of birds (and different varieties), all year long. Bordering on crazy bird lady over here. Yet I love watching them and listening to them sing and watching the babies learn to fly. Bird watching is not a midlife activity I expected to enjoy!

    3. Networking (one-to-one’s, Zoom) and newsletter.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I like the idea of houses. We don’t have enough woods yet (new construction) but I hope to have that in the future too!

  5. Debra Brown

    Michael, This was one of the best articles you have ever written. And, it hits the mark. How many times have I marketed my head off and then stopped when business–like it is right now–takes off. Then, I’ll be left with a big gap when this work stops. I fall for it everytime.
    Thanks for sharing.


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