Paralysis of Analysis: What it Is and How to Avoid it

I’m going to tell you a story about what happened to me relatively recently in my freelance career. As I was seeking to understand more about this business – how it works, what to do, what not to do – I realized that marketing was going to be really crucial. So I started a marketing campaign. But then I wondered – what if it doesn’t work? So I thought well perhaps it will be safer to just stick with content mills. The good ol’ “Well hey at least it’s guaranteed weekly pay,” mentality. And then I thought no, I really need to make real money with real companies so I can earn a real living. But hmm…what if I just focused on Constant Content for a month. Of course they pay out monthly and…


I had fallen into the trap and come down with a serious illness that plagues all freelancers and entrepreneurs at some point. This syndrome is called POA – the Paralysis of Analysis. Okay it’s not a real illness, but it sure feels like one and it has the same effect on your career and income flow that an illness would have on your body. You become stuck. You can’t do much of anything. And you either stay where you are or even regress. 

What is the Paralysis of Analysis?

The paralysis of analysis is a sales term, but it applies to freelancing. It happens when you have so many ideas and so many things to do that you spend so much time trying to figure out the best way to approach it that you actually end up really doing nothing. It’s that feeling of thinking you were really busy that day, only to realize you didn’t write – anything. You made no money. You sent no queries. But boy you sure were busy. 

Why Does it Happen?

In my opinion, and from my experience, the paralysis of analysis happens because it’s the equivalent of being stuck in the middle. On one extreme is repeating the same penny-per-word work over and over again and expecting different results. It’s scraping the Craigslist ads, the bidding sites, and the content mills for work, never marketing or even considering marketing, and being stuck barely able to pay the bills. On the other extreme are the people who do so much marketing that they pile up clients faster than they can deliver work because they didn’t stop to realize how long certain things would really take, and their businesses suffer or fail because they end up with a bad rep – they grew too quickly. 

The paralysis of analysis is right in the middle. It’s at the intersection of “I know I need to market and get past this crappy work” and “Which direction should I take to market?” You end up spending so much time trying to analyze what the best option would be, that you do nothing but analyze. 

Business tanks. Income dries up. Collection agencies come after you. *shrug* It happens. 

How to Avoid It

Don’t think too hard about it. I know this sounds really crazy, but at the end of the day you’re a writer – so darlin’ if you ain’t writin’, you ain’t earnin’. Think also about the fact that getting clients is a numbers game. It’s business. It’s not personal. You will be rejected. Expect it. But don’t let that stop you. The more people you contact, the more work you’ll get. 

So where does that leave you? How do you avoid the paralysis of analysis? 

This is what I do. My cure for POA is to simply come up with three or four ideas about how to market. 

Right now, my ideas are: 

  • Send a mass email campaign to 300 businesses with a standard “do you have a need for a freelance writer” line and elevator pitch. 
  • Send targeted emails to the top companies with customized pitches, like a query letter or proposal. 
  • Upload a ***load of articles to Constant Content. 
  • Cold call like a mad woman. 
  • Inbound content marketing on my website. 

Now what I did originally that led me to fall into the trap was go “Ahh I have so much to do!” so I’d start on one thing and go hmm, maybe I should do this other thing. And then I did a little bit of a lot of things and got nothing done. 

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to get your entire business up, running, growing, grown, and uber successful all in one day. You’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll end up with POA. Instead, decide on a few things you want to try and give them a go in a systematic fashion. 

You should really only spend about an hour or two coming up with your marketing ideas. It’s relatively simple – figure out what you write, who needs it, and make a list of those people. Done. Then decide who to call, who to email en masse, and who to send targeted emails to. (Hint: the more money the company makes, the more targeted and outstanding your email should be.) 

Once you have that figured out, break it down. For instance, my schedule looks like this: 

  • Wednesday – compile mass email marketing list. 
  • Thursday – send mass emails, and create targeted list. 
  • Send 10-20 targeted emails per day in the morning. 
  • Write 10 articles per day for Constant Content. 
  • Make 25 cold calls per day minimum. 
  • Keep on-site blog updated weekly. 

It might change slightly, but in all reality that’s what I’m doing. Any time you start hearing that voice in your head say words like “what if”, “might not”, “no guarantee”, and the like, tell it to shut up. If it isn’t going to work, you’ll find out pretty quickly. A certain plan not working isn’t going to kill your career. You trying to make that plan work will. 

For me, my plan was Textbroker, Elance, and other sites like that. For months I’ve made pennies and couldn’t figure out why I was constantly falling behind. But then I realized that my idea of what “good” rates are was grossly off – and far lower than it should be. It took me about 2 hours of research to figure that out. But I didn’t immediately change my business plan. Dumb! 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein 

It’s so very true. 

Let me take the guess work out of it for you. A tip from the corporate sales world. If something isn’t working in corporate sales, you figure it out quickly, and you waste no further time on it. My managers would often say “fail fast” – meaning figure out that something isn’t working very quickly and then change it. 

You’ll likely have to try several marketing systems before you find one that works. But you don’t have to spend a year on each one. 

My recommendation? No more than 30 days. The only possible exception to this is magazine querying, because they take quite some time to get back to you – and there’s really only one main way to market to them. But as far as corporate prospecting goes, pick a system, go for it, and if you aren’t seeing results in 30 days, can it and move on. 

Essentially my 30-day plan right now is mass emails, targeted emails, and cold calls. Constant Content is just there because I know about 50% of what I post will sell, as I indicated in an earlier post today, and I can count on making SOMEthing that way. 

If in 30 days I’m getting a great return on the targeted emails, no return on the mass emails, and a halfway decent return on cold calls, you can bet I’m going to can the mass emails, focus on targeted and cold calls, and maybe add direct mailers to see if it ups the response rate. 

Do not tarry in failure. 

Avoiding POA in 3 Easy Steps

  • Decide on what you’re going to do quickly – a few ideas is fine – and sketch a brief outline of how you’ll do it. (Emails – mass; emails – targeted; cold calling is what my list looks like. Simple. Quick. Don’t waste time.) 
  • Do it. Don’t think about it, don’t question it, don’t wonder about it, just do it. Whatever you said you were going to focus on as far as marketing or work that month, just do it full force. 
  • Evaluate it. In 30 days if you’re seeing results from one thing and not the other, cut what’s not working, try something new, and move on. Keep what works, can what doesn’t, fast. 

Decide what to do, do it, evaluate it and cut what doesn’t work. I’ve wasted more time wondering if something was going to work, or thinking it takes too long to see results, or coming up with some other analytic reason that I should change my mind before I ever tried it, and then wasted weeks and months doing nothing. 

Challenge: Come up with 3 ways you’re going to market your business over the next 30 days. Then, set up weekly goals (call 100 people, send 200 mass emails, send 50 targeted emails, etc.). Then, go for it. Keep in mind sales is a numbers game. More contacts in less time = more money, quickly. 

Good luck! I hope this helps some of you get going on your marketing plans. Let me know in the comments if you’d like some tips on any certain method of marketing. I’m considering a “how to get over your fear of cold calling” blog. Thoughts? 

Until next time – happy writing!


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