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One of the most important considerations for a science experiment is how easy it is to reproduce: can someone take your write up of your experiment, do it again and get the same results? Heck, can you do it again and get the same results? In science the answer can be no — multiple researchers doing the same experiment several times over is the best way to make sure that results weren’t a fluke and that we should really change how we treat a certain disease or whatever else the experiment might have focused on. If an experiment isn’t repeatable, a researcher will eventually move on.

In business, being able replicate your own success is far more important than in science. The best businesses can please clients or customers over and over again — they can go through the same process repeatedly and get the same results.

We’re Not Talking Boring Here

Especially with creativity-based businesses, ‘repeatable’ sounds like a dirty word, along the lines of ‘boring’ and ‘uninspired.’ But that doesn’t actually have to be the case. Rather, as we’re taking about replication, focus on the bits of work involved in any project. If you’re creating a new product, you’re always going to have to decide on a price. If you’re creating a new website, you’re going to have to buy a domain name. If you’re working with a client, you’re going to have issue invoices. Those are the obvious opportunities to build a system.

But we can go beyond it. To be more than an artist who occasionally sells a piece of work, you’ve got to think about what parts of your work are successful and figure out how reproduce that success on a regular basis. As a for instance, a writer may offer an ebook for sale, targeting a specific audience of buyers. She needs to be able to replicate certain factors throughout any other ebooks she offers to the same audience:

  • The format and arrangement of information
  • Making the materials easy to connect with for readers
  • The way she informs readers that there’s a new ebook

Of course, there are plenty of other moving parts that go into creating an ebook, but these are a few points that can be replicated across a series.

Businesses Can’t Do One Offs

The major difference between a business and some guy who happens to work on creative projects on the side is being able to repeat success. Even the most casual of freelancers take on a specific type of project more often than anything else. It’s an incredibly rare business that sells only one product or services only one client.

As you think in the plural, rather than the singular, you need a way to tie everything together — to move smoothly from one project to the next. A key starting point is identifying how a new idea or opportunity lines up with everything you’ve seen before. If there’s no clear connection and no foundation that will allow you to transition over to that new opportunity, it may not be the right one for your business.

From there, it’s necessary to reflect on your options for replication and systematization. You don’t want to stifle your creativity, but if you can identify the parts that work from past projects, you can move faster now. Furthermore, creative entrepreneurs are particularly prone to getting sucked into the administrative side of running a business. You certainly need to pay attention to the numbers, but you don’t need to start over from scratch every month. You can make processes like writing contracts or bringing in new clients very repeatable: a few templates alone can be enough to dramatically reduce the time you spend on such work.

But you have to think big. You need to be thinking about what’s next in the pipeline, and even what’s after that, even as you’re finishing what’s in front of you. You need to know how you’re going to make your ideas a reality, without rediscovering fire each time you start something new. Creating something that you can repeat isn’t easy, but it is a necessity.

A Note on Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

It is possible to go too far when it comes to creating perfectly replicable success. That’s exactly what every get-rich-quick scheme promises, after all: Joe Schmoe got rich doing a particular thing and now you can do exactly the same thing. You just have to buy the system and go! Yeah, right.

Of course, it’s too good to be true. When serious entrepreneurs are talking about creating a system that they can use over and over again, it’s understood that there are limitations on this approach. If you really do the exact same thing again, you’re get the exact same result — and it’s very difficult to sell most people two copies of the exact same book or two prints of the exact same photograph. And if you’re using someone else’s system, you may very well wind up with a case of copyright infringement on your hands.

At the end of the day, the question is one of balance: how do you approach your work in such a way that you can take successful qualities from one project and apply them to the rest, without doing the same damn thing over and over again?

It’s not a simple question and it’s one that even brilliant entrepreneurs struggle with. But by knowing that you need to think about this question, you’re already ahead of the game.

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