‘Lottery Numbers’ for Freelance Writers

Big wins with 80/20, 30–40, and 3-to-1

Bring the power of numbers to your words.

We’re writers and creators and make much of our living on the way we sling words around and use them to share ideas and stories. But our writing and creating with words and content is a business — and with that comes a role for numbers and some measure of quantitative mastery.

That includes basics around money: what to charge; when and how to increase our income; when and how to collect; filing and paying taxes; what to spend on which expenses; how much to save for a cushion, etc.

It also includes working with important metrics that contribute to overall success: number of social media followers and level of engagement; the size of our email list and customer base; how often our customers purchase from us; and how to grow these numbers and more. And it includes knowing about and working with certain “lottery numbers” — numerical concepts that can deliver big wins when you use them habitually to your advantage.


80/20 You’ve likely heard about the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle: 80% of consequences or results come from the top 20% of causes, inputs, effort. If you’re not working with this idea now and again, give it a try and work on incorporating it into you regular practice for amped up results. For starters, consider:

  • 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers — which customers are they?

  • 80% of your income derives from 20% of your offerings — which products or services are these?

  • 80% of your leads come from 20% of your marketing — which marketing efforts are these?

How do you apply this?

  • Prioritize the 20% in each category you’ve evaluated.

  • Find new and better ways to serve that 20% of customers.

  • Find more ways to promote your top 20% of products and services.

  • Create more products and services similar to your most popular products and services, particularly if they meet the needs of your top customers.

  • Consider how anything that falls in the 80% might bolster your 20% categories and if they should stay for their support functions.

  • Consider what falls in the 80% should be downsized, eliminated, or perhaps passed off to a colleague and take the needed steps to do so.

  • Once you’ve gone through this process fully, try another pass with what remains: What is the most valuable 20% now?


30–40 30–40 is the tough-love powerball number that keeps you hustling and your expectations realistic. It comes from the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, which presents many thought-provoking, unexpected, and tested ideas on what actually influences the outcomes we desire in ourselves, our families, our communities, and our businesses.

One of their powerful observations is that we often try to make changes in our various realms with one, two, or a small handful of methods — and often fail again and again to meet our objectives. What the authors discovered, however, is that the most successful change agents employ as many strategies as possible to produce a desired result. They say that can mean implementing 30, 40, or more ideas in the service of a goal. How do you apply this?

  • Keep running lists of ideas.

  • Add to these lists with regularly scheduled brainstorming sessions — preferably every workday, preferably either first thing in the morning or the last thing before your day ends (each has its advantages).

  • It’s useful to keep all lists in one spot, such as a notebook or binder.

  • Start a new list for every change you want to make.

  • Start a new list for every goal you’re working on.

  • Have a system for selecting items from each list and implementing them on behalf of your desired outcome.


3-to-1 3-to-1 reminds me of a good chef’s knife. It’s one simple, but all-purpose tool that can be wielded in almost any business circumstance to good ends. It is truly simple: For every activity, client, product, service, performance, vendor relationship — whatever business thing — you want to evaluate, name three strengths, upsides, or triumphs and one weakness, downside, or thing that needs work.

How does this work?

  • It’s as easy as it sounds. To move yourself forward, do frequent assessments of any and every area of your business.

  • Name three positives and one negative. Appreciate what you’ve identified and let it sink in. Move on.

  • 3-to-1: No more, no less. This scraps the overwhelm and analysis paralysis and disarms our inner faultfinder at the same time.

  • Tripling the positive helps by cultivating awareness and boosting your mood; understanding the value you offer, your competitive advantages, your market differentiation, and how that supports business development; and solidifying learning by recognizing it and maintaining a growth mindset.

  • Limiting yourself to one area for work helps by homing in on what most needs improvement; keeping your weaknesses in perspective relative to your strengths; building and focusing on your strengths, which are more energizing and more conducive to business development; and sustaining learning, growth, and results in a way needed for long-term business stability and success.

  • This all adds up over time to easy continuous improvement and performance gains with fewer struggles and anxieties, and less self-criticism and self-sabotage.


80/20 + 30–40 Now we bump it up a notch and move this numerical advantage to another level. How do we combine 80/20 with 30–40?

  • Return to the running lists you’re keeping of goals or things you want to change about your business.

  • When it’s time to pick an item from any given list to work on, first identify which items on the list are most valuable (either overall or on whatever metric you’re using), most likely to yield the results you want? If you have 40 ideas on the list, the top 20% are your best 8.

  • Select any in the top 20% — or, work on the items in the list based on the likely magnitude of their effect.

  • As you’ll be continually adding new ideas to each list as you think of them, keep re-prioritizing the list in terms of value. Which ones fall into the latest 20%?


80/20 + 30–40 + 3-to-1 Finally, we bring this quantitative wizardry to the next logical place.


  • As you work from running lists of 30–40 (and growing) items in any key area of your business, selecting your next to-do from a list’s top 20% (going for the best available in that 20% for bonus advantages), evaluate each as you go in terms of 3-to-1.

  • For that high-value item you selected and are implementing, evaluate it at every stage. What are three positives? What three things are working well? What three things make this item so effective? And, on the flip side: What’s one downside to this? What’s one thing that’s not working? What one thing can be fixed to make this better?


It seems logical but it’s not easy without appreciating the value of these tools and committing to using them habitually. We may underestimate what a difference their strategies make if we’ve never tried them or seen them in action. We’re so used to practices that are not these things! For instance, not selecting what to work on from a strategic perspective, picking a thing to do and not the best or most important thing, doing busy work or the easiest work over focusing on the most valuable work.

Even small choices with these “lottery” numbers will yield big wins and keep you coming back for more!

Make your own luck now.