One of the pieces of advice that I heard most frequently when I started my business was “be consistent!”. While “consistent” doesn’t mean “constant” (as in, be online all the time), this advice often made me feel as if I was falling short. It also stifled my creativity, and my attempts to be consistent led me to push through more than once even though I was tired.
Four years on, I know that consistency is a myth—in business and in life. What’s more, we feel so much unnecessary shame and inadequacy about not being able to be as consistent as we feel we should be. In this post, I explain why consistency is a myth, and suggest a slower, gentler and in the long run, much more effective way of doing things in our life and business.
New to Substack? Once you click the button below you’ll be prompted to enter your email address (but you will not be paying anything yet). Next you’ll be directed to a page where you can select the subscription you’d like to have, including sticking with the free one. Find more info and an image of this in my blogpost. A paid subscription costs €5 a month.
Stop hustling and join me as you grow a slow, gentle and profitable business.
The myth of consistency
I always assume that when people give advice, they do so with the best of intentions. So when people suggest that we should be consistent with our marketing, with our newsletters, with our daily habits and more, I believe that they mean well.
But any advice is rooted in our own experience and values: some people might say that you need to be consistent because that’s what they’ve heard other people say; others tell you to be consistent because it’s what’s worked for them.
What if it doesn’t work for you?
Over the past two years, I’ve been very inconsistent with marketing my business. I experimented with social media, scaled down, took breaks and then left altogether. I wrote a monthly newsletter that I didn’t send on the same day every month, and for two months in the depths of depression, didn’t send it at all. I set up a Pinterest account and pinned to it frequently, really making it grow and driving people to my website—and since this past summer have barely spent any time on it.
Yes, certain platforms—including Instagram and Pinterest—reward consistency. But does that mean that you have to keep on feeding them just like that—consistently—even though it doesn’t fit with your life, your energy, your needs?
My business hasn’t collapsed. In fact, my business is doing really well in terms of my own standards of success. Might it have done even better had I been more “consistent”? Perhaps. Might I have been feeling exhausted and burnt-out? Very likely.
Only until March 15th 2023
I’m phasing out my focus-and-follow-through sessions (1 hr followed by a 30 minute follow-up at £150/ €170), and won’t be offering them from March 15th onwards.
Eager to work together? I’d love to support you to create the slow, gentle and profitable business you crave, market in a way that feels good (with or without social media) or use Substack for your business. Find out more on my website, or send me message to work together.
But what will people think?
One of the topics that comes up often in my conversations with small business owners is whether or not they should apologize, acknowledge that they’ve been off social media, or haven’t sent a newsletter in a while. Just beginning again after a break can be challenging enough, and especially so if we feel like we need to apologize for being absent.
My advice usually is not to acknowledge it (and it always is to definitely not apologize). There’s no point in acknowledging that you’ve been gone, other than trying to assuage your own guilt. But why are you feeling guilty? It’s your business and your life, and you get to set the rules.
It’s your business and your life, and you get set the rules.
I often invite small business owners and freelancers to ask themselves how often they wonder, “Hmmm… I haven’t seen a newsletter by X in a while, I wonder how they’re doing?”. Chances are that if that person isn’t already their friend, this question doesn’t pop up in their mind.
We’re simply too self-involved—and I say this lovingly. We’re self-involved because this body and this mind is what we spend most of our time with. Even though we can be paralyzed by the thought “but what will other people think!?!?” most of the time we’re still primarily focused on our own business and own lives.
I’ve recently done a couple of podcasts interviews that reminded me how much I love doing them. 🎙️
Do you host a podcast? And would you like to have a conversation about slow, gentle + profitable business, marketing in a way that feels good (with or without social media) and using Substack as a small business owner or freelancer?
I’d love to chat! Listen to previous podcasts I did here, and contact me here.
Adopting a more often than not approach
Just as consistency is often touted as the thing in marketing and business, we’re also frequently told that we need to be consistent with our personal habits. A habit doesn’t count if you don’t do it every day.
For some people, doing something every day is the only way in which they are motivated to do something at all. If that’s you, then please go ahead and enjoy what works for you.
But increasingly I’m learning that the “do it every day”-mentality is something we adopt because we’ve so internalized that we need it. Back in the day when I still wore a Fitbit, I couldn’t stand it if I didn’t reach 10,000 steps a day. I turned into one of those people who’d be walking up and down stairs in the evening because I wanted to reach my goal. Did I still enjoy it by that time? No, but I felt I had to reach that goal anyway (an interesting read about our contemporary obsession with streaks right here).
The thing is, I’m really good at habits. If I decide to do something every day, I can do it every day, to the complete detriment of my own sanity. It’s taken me a long time to recognize this and let it go.
A definite turning point was returning to my yoga practice three years ago. For the first time in ages (ever?) I was able to do yoga because I wanted to do it. Not because I wanted to complete a habit tracker, or because something inside of me told me I had to do it, or I wouldn’t be serious, or I would fall out of the habit if I skipped a day.
When it comes to habits that genuinely make us feel good, a “most days”-approach might be far more achievable, and joyful, than forcing yourself to do something every day.
The case for loose consistency
Nowadays I prefer loose consistency—or actually, outside of this newsletter, I try to avoid the word altogether. I do yoga many days of the week, but not because I have to, but because how it makes me feel.
When I moved my newsletter to Substack, one of the pieces of advice I read most frequently was “be consistent!”. People will be expecting your email at certain points in the week or month, I was told.
That thought, of having to post at the same time every month or every week, made me feel cramped and stifled. And when it comes to my business I want to feel spacious and creative.
I asked myself the same question I ask others, “how often does a certain day roll around and I wonder, ‘where is Y’s newsletter?’”. The answer for me is, never. I read many Substack newsletters with a very consistent schedule, especially those that appear more than once a week—but I really never wonder about a post not appearing.
Having a set day on which you post something can be very freeing: you needn’t think of three posts to write each week because you have a set topic or type of post for Monday, a different one for Wednesday, and yet a different one for Friday (see Culture Study and Burnt Toast for examples).
Loose consistency for me means that I usually send out my newsletters on Thursdays. The reason for that is, first of all, that picking a set day excuses me from having to think every time about when to send it. And secondly, I chose Thursday because that is always my business day, no matter what my week looks like—so I have time to respond to comments and engage with people.
Take a moment to think or journal about these questions:
How do you feel about consistency? Is it freeing or constricting to you?
Where in your life or business are you expecting yourself to be consistent without it actually feeling good?
Where in your life or business can you adopt a practice of loose consistency and trust that things will be fine?
How do you feel about consistency? Do you try to be consistent with aspects of your business or personal habits? And do you find consistency freeing or stifling? Leave a comment to join the conversation!
cake | I’m not a big baker but over the weekend baked the German marble cake I’ve been baking since I was a child. It never disappoints, and makes everyday tea just a little more fancy.
an interview| I really enjoyed reading Rachael Chrystal’s answers to my questions on how she runs a slow, gentle and profitable business. She gave some great tips on slowing down and creating more space, especially as someone with a portfolio or multi-hyphened career. Read the entire interview on my blog here.
things from the month |does a run-down of her favourite things of each month, and there is so much goodness is this issue (incl. some lovely words by Maya Angelou, interesting things to read and a mention of a project by my partner!).
the doorstep mile | In her recent newsletter, Anna Dunleavy wrote about the concept of "the doorstep mile", or why taking the first step is often so scary.
What’s on your lists of favourites this month? What did you read, see, hear, drink, eat, observe that made your day?
Things I wrote over the past month:
One year later: reflections on 16 months without social media (this is a bonus post of the kind only paid subscribers will receive from March 1st onwards);
Opening up paid subscriptions and dealing with my inner critic;
Over at A Houseplant Journal, a thread on houseplant first aid.
Do you wonder whether there’s a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running a business, without the hustle, hacks or burnout?*
I’d love to support you to create a business away from the norm that supports all parts of your humanness, whether that means starting or building a business alongside a family, another job, (chronic) illness or any other needs and desires.
There is a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running a business, and I’m here to help you achieve it.
Send me a message or check out my website for ways of working together: from one-off sessions to flexible packages. I’d love to be by your side in 2023.
* the answer to this question is YES!
I hope you’re enjoying the signs of early Spring as much as I am: I love seeing the gentle awaking of nature and the excitement of the birds.
I’ll be back in your inbox next week with the final free thread. From March 1st onwards, only paid subscribers will be receiving behind-the-scenes posts, monthly threads and quarterly guides, at €5: the cost of less than a cup of tea + a slice of cake a month.
As a free subscriber, you’ll continue to get my twice a month newsletter, like the one you’re reading now. If you enjoy reading these, I’d love it if you’d consider becoming a paid subscriber and supporting my work. You can upgrade by clicking the button below. 💌
In the meantime, I wish you a calm and restful week, filled with nourishment and joy. x
P.S. New to Substack? Once you click the button above to upgrade your subscription you’ll be prompted to enter your email address (but you will not be paying anything yet). Once you’ve entered your address, you’ll be directed to a page where you can select the subscription you’d like to have, including sticking with the free one. Find more info and an image of this in my blogpost.
Thank you so much for the mention Astrid, that’s so kind. I have many feelings around consistency - and I think a lot of it is rooted in the performance world. ‘You must work hard, otherwise you don’t want it enough.’ I also agree with the fact that, for me personally at least, it can feel really restrictive to know I have to follow a certain schedule. Writing is a creative pursuit of sorts, and creativity doesn’t always work well when it’s so regimented. As I say - many thoughts are coming up!
Another great newsletter Astrid! I hear the word consistency around it a lot too, and the shame behind it for the 99.9% of people who cannot remain consistent. It's interesting that we're ashamed we're not robots. Only programmed bots can remain consistent over time (and even those break). Our greatest gift is our humanity, and being human means having the freedom to be inconsistent, changing our minds, having sick days, vacation days, grieving days, mental health days.
On most days, I meditate, reflect, and read first thing in the morning. But this morning, I woke up to find that some clients had fires I needed to put out first. A meeting needed to be rescheduled, a booking link was wrong on cart close, a webinar needed to be prepped. And I was okay with doing it, because I'm not a robot. I can be agile and flexible, and most days there are no "fires."
I started doing a Substack writing power hour most evenings, and I'm really enjoying that. For years I tried to wake up early to write, only to find it impossible to get enough sleep to do that. I've finally embraced that I have a really clear head for an hour or two in the evenings, and it's better for me than a 5 a.m. or 6. a.m. start.
Thanks for challenging premises like consistency. It feels very freeing to read your thoughts.