Self-employed professionals often tell me they find marketing to be a struggle. They can’t seem to get enough clients to pay the bills, or they are spending more money to land each client than the sale is worth. Too many of their efforts seem to fail. “There must be an easier way,” they say.

I think there is. But making the transition from the hard way to the easy way can be pretty difficult in itself. That’s because it requires the toughest kind of change — a change in thinking.

It Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard

First of all, you have to acknowledge that there’s nothing noble about working too hard. Working too hard comes in many forms. You may be putting in too many hours, or spending too much to get clients, or trying a dozen different marketing strategies all at once, or simply sounding too desperate when asking for the business.

To leave struggle behind, you must choose to give it up. This may sound odd, because of course you don’t like struggling. But old habits die hard. If you’re used to solving problems by throwing more effort at them, it’s often quite challenging to instead stop, analyze what’s not working, and ask if there is a smarter answer.

If you find that clients don’t want to pay what you’re asking, instead of trying harder to convince those clients of your worth, you may need to look for different clients who have more to spend. If the places you are networking don’t seem to connect you with enough prospects, instead of networking there more often, consider looking for new places to network.

Let the Numbers Guide You

You also have to give up magical thinking. No matter how wonderful your workshop is, you won’t get twenty people to sign up just by mailing postcards to a list of 200. You may be the world’s greatest consultant, but you can’t expect to land a major contract just by placing a phone call to three companies.

Marketing, like much of business, is often a numbers game. If you want to stop struggling, you have to do the math. The average rate of return for a good direct mail piece is 1-2%. So to fill a twenty-person workshop using direct mail alone, you would need to mail 1000-2000 people.

The average consultant can usually make one sale from every thirty contacts made in his or her target market. One out of ten contacts eventually results in a sales presentation of some kind; one out of three presentations typically leads to an assignment. Ten times three equals thirty. If you want to get two assignments this quarter, you should plan to make about sixty contacts.

Rely on the Power of Trust

To move from struggle-based marketing to productive marketing, you have to be able to trust. Trust that if you choose two or three solid marketing strategies and employ them diligently, clients will result. If you keep changing your plan, or piling new activities on the plate, the result is more struggle.

Trust that if you spend a bit of time and money on an attractive direct mail piece and acquire a targeted list with a sufficient number of names on it, you will be much more likely to fill your workshop. And trust enough to spend that time and money up front instead of struggling by with a homemade flyer and just asking your friends to pass it around.

Trust that building relationships really is the key to getting in the door with corporate clients, and be willing to go to meetings, make calls, and do lunch. If instead, you hide out behind an expensive website, social media posts, and promotional emails, you are dooming yourself to struggle with a potentially high price tag.

Smarter is Almost Always Easier

Yes, there is work to be done if you want your marketing to be successful, but you need to work smarter, not harder. There is money to be spent, but you must spend it on the essentials first and save the bells and whistles for later. And there is magic to be had, but it’s the magic that comes from making a plan and working it, instead of hoping that somehow you can beat the odds.

The path to struggle-free marketing really boils down to this. How many new clients do you need each year to earn a comfortable living? How many prospects should be in your marketing pipeline to result in that number of clients? How much time and money can you afford to spend to bring in each client? Now… which marketing strategies will bring in the number of prospects you need within your available budget of time and money?

If you’re not sure how to answer some of these questions, ask a successful colleague, read a book, take a class, hire a consultant or coach. But once you think you have the right answers, stick with them, no matter how tempting it is to buy an ad instead of making calls, or try a new idea instead of finishing what you started, or rely on wishful thinking instead of crunching some numbers.

To end the struggle, try taking the easy way out. Find an established person in your profession who makes marketing look easy. Ask that person how he or she did it. Then do what the successful person did.