I was recently in a Mastermind group run by the amazing Devon Bandison. One of our assignments was to read “Plant Your Garden”, a chapter in Keep Going – 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon. It really got my attention. The chapter talked about learning to be patient in the “off” seasons as entrepreneurs, allowing ourselves time for reflection (if you haven’t read this book, it’s well worth it – it’s a relatively short read too). Anyway, being that it was springtime and the chapter kept referring to plants, my mind shifted in a very literal sense to my backyard. So, I decided to get out there and plant some veggies.

You may be wondering what gardening has to do with signing on clients. Bear with me for a moment and I promise you’ll see the relevance…

A couple of years ago, we installed an automated watering system for the garden and I thought it was pretty awesome – I could put the plants in and since the system did all the watering, there wasn’t much that I had to do. But, since we didn’t maintain the system, this year, I had to resort to watering them by hand. Ironically, watering by hand allowed me to apply some of what I had just learned in the mastermind.  Austin Kleon’s book is all about slowing down and getting conscious, so I figured hand watering my garden would allow me the time to think and do some deep breathing while I was at it.

Well, I just went to inspect my homegrown veggies and I was surprised by what I found. My plants have grown bigger and better than they ever have in the past. All things considered, the weather isn’t any different this year, so I wondered what contributed in such a magnificent way to my green thumb.

Then I had a realization – because I’m watering by hand, I’m paying closer attention to which plants need more water. With the automated system, chances are, the tomatoes were getting just enough water, while the rosemary was getting too much and the cucumbers were sometimes getting skipped over altogether. Despite the ease of the system, it was no match for my keen observation; the simple act of standing there and observing the plants while I water them has made all the difference in how they’re growing. I’m also more attentive to removing dead leaves and to retrieving the veggies when they’re ripe which further contributes to the growth.

So, how does all this translate to business?

The online marketing world will tell you that automated systems are the best thing you could possibly do for your business. They’ll tell you they’re essential to the success of your business. I was at an event just this past weekend and listened to a one hour rah-rah upsell about Clickfunnels, only to see around 100 people, who had no real business using the software (because most didn’t even have a solid piece of content to offer yet), rush to the front in a mad frenzy to sign up. In fact, I have several people that reach out to me every week asking for my expertise on what automated systems they could use in order to get to the “next level”.

The biggest mistake new business owners make when it comes to signing on new clients? Attempting to automate everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against automated systems. I love to automate certain things and I most certainly love systems, but when someone tells you to totally automate your sales process (a.k.a. relationships), think twice. There’s a time and a place for everything, including scaling and automation, but if you’re starting out and haven’t yet filled all of your available client slots, automating your business with a piece of software or some other online tool (particularly if you’re in a relationship-based business such as coaching, finance or health and wellness), is not going to fix that. There isn’t a system that can replace the time and attention that you give to developing your relationships.

Don’t lose sight of building and nurturing genuine relationships.

Just because you can automate something doesn’t mean you should.

Automation can be amazing at helping a business be more productive (and that’s another blog post for another time). However, it can also remove a layer of trust and relationship-building that is essential to building your personal brand. Think about how you feel when you call the telephone company and get put into the classic voicemail loop. Do you feel like the phone company cares about you? Do you feel special or important? Does it make you trust and love your phone company more? Probably not (which, if you think about it is pretty funny, because they’re a communications company). And have you been on the other side of a chat bot conversation recently? You know, where you start the conversation by thinking that it’s a real person asking real questions and pretty soon you realize that no one is actually there?

So, if you’re not signing as many clients as you’d like to sign, count how many meaningful conversations you’ve had with people in your network in the past seven days. If your mind is drawing a blank, consider spending more time “watering your garden”. Give more than the usual personal attention to your connections. Write them a personal note, send them a DM or an email. Even better, call them and have a real conversation. You may find that as you take this part of your business out of autopilot, you end up bearing more fruit (or veggies as the case may be), signing more clients and in turn, generating the resources you need in order to automate the processes that truly make sense for your business.