Have a plan, but know that your biggest opportunities will likely be unplanned and unexpected.

unexpected opportunitiesAs a coach I encourage my clients to look a few years into the future, decide on where they want their business to go, and then figure out how to get there.

Set the goal, figure out some way-points  and then work steadily until you have achieved the outcome you want.

It’s good advice, because most small businesses and freelancers don’t plan enough. They stumble forward, month by month, hoping things will work out.

So yes, I think every freelancer and entrepreneur should have a plan and stick to it.

Now for the kicker – Your biggest successes probably won’t be part of your plan at all.

Viagra was not the result of a plan to create the world’s greatest erectile dysfunction drug. Researchers were actually working on a blood pressure pill when they came across a rather interesting side-effect. Viagra’s discovery was accidental.

Alexander Fleming didn’t discover penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, by spending years looking for a drug that killed bacteria. He discovered it because of an accidental cross-contamination between two petri dishes in his laboratory. He screwed up, and found penicillin as a result.

In my own life as a freelancer, pretty much every major advance in my career has come about as a result of something I couldn’t possibly have foreseen or planned for.

The first time I spoke at a major marketing conference was in 1998,and it led to a huge lift in my business. But at the time I wasn’t planning to speak at that conference. What happened was that one of the founders of a site I used to write for was booked for that speaking slot, got cold feet, and asked if I could do it for him. I said yes.

Another event that gave my career a big lift was when I got my book, Net Words, published by the world’s largest business publisher, McGraw-Hill.

I didn’t plan that either. I was having dinner with someone who just happened to mention that he was on a deadline to get a draft of his new book to his publisher. I simply asked him who the publisher was, got his editor’s email address, and then wrote an email suggesting I write her a book about writing for the web. Incredibly, she said yes.

And so on.

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

That’s a quote from Louis Pasteur. And he was absolutely right.

You have to be prepared because opportunities will come to you from unexpected directions, at unexpected times.

First, you have to understand that the biggest opportunities often come out of left field.

Second, you have to prepare your mind to be on the lookout for these opportunities, so you don’t let them pass by.

No, this doesn’t mean you can just sit back and wait to get “lucky”.

Fortune doesn’t favor the lucky few. It favors the few who are prepared.

Yes, it was lucky for me that I got that first speaking gig. But it wasn’t all luck, because I had let that guy know I was interested in speaking. So when he wanted to back out, it was me he called.

Yes, it was lucky for me that I had dinner with someone who wanted to talk about the book he was writing. But I said yes to having dinner with him, or maybe suggested it myself. And I didn’t just listen and then move on to the next subject. I asked him who his editor was, and asked for her email address.

My mind was and still is on the lookout for unexpected opportunities. You have to be listening carefully, and watching carefully, or these opportunities will pass you by, unnoticed.

You also have to seed your work environment to encourage the appearance of these opportunities. For example, neither of those big events in my career as a freelancer would have occurred if I hadn’t taken the trouble to get to know those two people.

Wrapping it up…

Have a plan. You need to know where you are headed.

Build some flexibility into your plan, because the future never works out exactly as expected.

And then prepare your mind to be highly tuned to pick up on unexpected opportunities.

It’s the unexpected opportunities that will drive your greatest successes.

NOTE: I went on to develop the theme in this post with two more posts. Post 2. Post 3.


Related Resources:

My coaching service for freelancers…

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

5 thoughts on “Have a plan, but know that your biggest opportunities will likely be unplanned and unexpected.”

  1. You are absolutely right, Nick. Things seem to come out of nowhere, but really they aren’t. I’m in the middle of giving 4 webinars on content development to an organization with 40 content editors. It’s kind of scary to tell the truth, but it could definitely be a nice new area for me. Thanks for the great coaching many moons ago …

  2. This is a great inspiration! Thank you very much for this post. To be honest you’ve been Obe-Wan Kenobi for me for quite some time. So thank you for being there, for your newsletters and for those great support.
    Marina Kamal (Bellamare)


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