Long before there was Animal Crossing, I started playing a very silly and gently addictive game called Merge Dragons. But it actually taught me a lot about managing resources in my business.
Merge Dragons is a puzzle game that involves merging like objects to form other objects and gain rewards. Like all addictive mobile games, there is no end point. There are always more types of dragons to hatch, bigger coins to merge, fancier structures to build, and different resources to acquire. (I am clearly VERY vulnerable to this sort of thing, which is the main reason I have not started playing Animal Crossing, heh.)
The most dangerous part of the game for me are the “special events.” I get to go to a special magical land and must harvest my way to the promised rewards. (Wow, does that sound like a certain segment of organized religion, yikes.)
There’s always one type of item that earns the rewards. All I have to do is merge and harvest a bunch of these, right?
Wrong. I mean, I could, but it would take longer than the duration of the event to get any of the rewards. And most of the map is frozen so I have to clear space to drop harvested items anyway.
Enter the life flowers.
Life flowers produce little hearts called life essence, which can be used to unfreeze parts of the map, including bigger, better sources of the reward items, as well as special keys that unlock SUPER FROZEN parts of the map that have their own pile of goodies on them.
And then there’s also a bunch of other items that these little dragons can harvest, some of which will help earn rewards, many of which will not. The dragons CAN work on autopilot if I leave my tablet on, but they’ll just harvest random stuff that’s around. It seems like they default to harvesting from lower level items, which of course takes longer to accumulate the rewards.
So the first few times I played one of these events, I ended up with small piles of ten different types of items, not enough to earn any of the higher level rewards, and definitely not enough to complete some of the bigger quests. (Did I mention there are also separate quests within the game that involve harvesting and merging large quantities of items to earn extra bigly special rewards? I told you this is why I should not play Animal Crossing.)
I eventually learned to focus on one resource: the life flowers.
By providing life essence, life flowers unlock more efficient sources of reward items, the special keys, and even sources of more life flowers. They offer the biggest bang for the buck and are semi-self renewing.
But wait, there’s more!
In order to maximize the life flower harvests, I had to do two things.
- Get rid of distractions for my dragons. There’s another type of plant that the dragons can directly harvest reward items from, but that harvest rate is much slower than harvesting from life flowers. I actually trash those plants so that my dragons can focus on the life flowers.
- Wait to merge lower-level life flowers until I have enough to make one heckin chonker life flower that yields higher-level life essences. Because again, the dragons will default to harvesting from whatever is most common, so if I leave a bunch of lower-level flowers around, I’ll end up with a bunch of lower-level essences. The life essence power increases exponentially by level. It’s worth it to have my dragons only harvest from ONE level 6 plant instead of 14 level 2 plants.
There are clear parallels to the world of freelancing and self-employment. Here’s what I’ve learned about business from Merge Dragons.
1. Pick the most rewarding resource to harvest.
There are so many ways to grow a business: social media marketing, referrals, advertising, finding investors, scaling through products, scaling through team growth. So many freelancers seem to be chasing all of them, and we end up exhausted and frustrated as a result. Find the most rewarding and renewable source of work and money, and cultivate that source. It took me a few years and several existential meltdowns over bUiLdInG mY [nonexistent] pLaTfOrm to realize this, but my business has always thrived on referrals from other business owners. I plow the most energy into building relationships in professional communities. And that’s where I get basically all of my projects.
2. Prune the less productive resources.
It can be really hard to get rid of marketing/prospecting channels, particularly if they do yield some rewards. You might need to eep some smaller ones in order to keep your calendar and bank account full. That’s okay. But just take an honest look at everything on a regular basis. Are those Instagram ads gaining you any actual sales or bookings? Is the time you spend in all those Facebook groups leading to new clients? Are these things leading to enough sales and clients to make them worth the time you put in? If not, give yourself permission to stop or slow down.
3. Concentrate your efforts to make a bigger impact.
I’m not saying wait until things are perfect. There’s certainly a time and place for small, consistent steps. But if you are going to invest a significant amount of time and resources into a business growth plan, it makes sense to wait and do it well. You might even hire an expert to help you, rather than crash through a little bit, get tired, recover, crash through more, get tired, rinse and repeat until you’re thoroughly burnt out. What this looks like practically will depend on your situation, but when I was launching my podcast last fall, taking the time to carefully plan out the production process turned out to be rocket fuel when it was actually time to record. I had all the moving parts ready to go and could focus on having good conversations with guests instead of fussing with technology.
Think, Feel, Do Section
1. What is the life essence of your business? What source of sales or clients gives you the most ROI, frees up time and other resources, and/or is at least somewhat self-perpetuating?
2. What’s distracting you from pursuing your business life essence?
3. What are you nibbling away at in an effort to stay “productive” that might be better saved for when you have a big chunk of time and energy to knock it out of the park? Is it your marketing? Your finances? Improving your onboarding? “Rebranding”?
4. How would it feel to have one thing to focus on?
5. What work can you modify, reduce, or eliminate in order to concentrate on your life essence?
Let me know what you think, feel, and do differently this week!