Especially when you work on your own, incentives can be an important part of succeeding in business (and in life, for that matter!). It’s important to figure out what kinds of incentives work for you, so that you can use them to advantage. For example, you might encounter some of the following types of incentives in your business (and, disclaimer, I’m not a social scientist, so I’m sort of making up names for these!):
- The appeal of getting something you want once you reach a goal. This kind of incentive could be intrinsic; for example the feeling of accomplishment and success that you have when you finish a big project. Or it could be extrinsic; for example you might create small rewards for yourself like taking the evening off if you finish work early or large rewards such as taking 50% of the money from a large project and spending it on a weekend away.
- The fear of losing something you already have if you don’t reach a goal. I recently read an interview with “Four Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferriss about his new book The Four Hour Body. Although I’m a bit skeptical about the book’s claims (and as someone who loves to sleep, I’m not even trying the two hours of sleep a night plan!), I thought that Ferriss had an interesting point about “Puritanical” (as he calls them) incentives. For example, Ferriss ponders why more health clubs don’t operate on a payback plan, where you pay a certain amount of money at the start of the month and then every time you work out, you get some money back. So if you don’t work out at all, you lose $400 a month; but if you work out 16 times or more, your membership becomes free. In the business world, you could put this into action by taking a chunk of money and putting it into an escrow account (which could be a separate bank account or an envelope in your desk drawer). If you achieve a certain goal by the deadline you’ve set, you get to spend the money on whatever you want. But if you don’t reach the goal, you have to scatter the money in a park near your house, donate it to charity, etc.
- Public humiliation or social pressure. Ferriss also talks about this type of incentive, and suggests that the money-back health club could take photos of its clients in their underwear, and if they don’t work out often enough, post the photos on the health club website (!). I doubt that many people are dying to see photos of scantily clad translators, but public humiliation is a really good incentive. When I delayed and delayed in finishing the second edition of my book, I was so mortified by the number of people who kept asking about it (including in public forums) that the social pressure was a really good incentive to finish!
I think that the key here is figuring out what types of incentives or reward systems work well for you. For example I’m not very materialistic or very competitive, but I am very motivated to follow rules and to feel good about myself. When I’ve tried to come up with something to buy myself if I achieve a certain goal, I have a hard time even thinking of anything I want that much. But (and I admit that this sounds kind of juvenile!) when I did the Get Clients Now program, I found that just the thrill of completing all 10 of my daily marketing actions and checking them off on a goal sheet was a huge incentive. Also, I find that feeling a certain way (less stressed, more productive, etc.) is a big incentive for me, whereas getting a physical item is not so tempting. I’ve been able to use these observations to help design incentives that really mean something for me! Any other thoughts on incentives for freelancers?