As a freelancer, you may not get yearly performance reviews, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take some time to reflect and ensure your business is going the way that you want it to.
Everyone has different goals. Some people want (or need) to make more money, others want to get away from their high-paying careers and spend some time with their kids.
No two life situations are the same—and the same goes for freelancers who are thinking about their career goals. Perhaps you need to find a way to pick up more and better clients or increase your income, or maybe you’re looking to learn to focus better and increase your efficiency.
Maybe it’s just as simple as setting the goal of waking up earlier and getting more done in those quiet morning hours.
No matter your goals, it’s important to have a clear path for achieving them if you’re serious about them becoming a reality. Use these three steps to bring your goals to life.
3 Steps to Achieving Your Freelance Goals
Step One: Determine what you really want
It’s impossible to set goals if you don’t know what you really want.
The answer to what you want may, at first, seem obvious: Maybe you want to make enough money to pay off your student loans, for example. But what cost are you willing to pay? Are you happy to work 12 hours every day to achieve that goal as soon as possible?
Maybe, after reflection, you realize that your true goal is to work toward paying off your student loans while also taking ample time to enjoy yourself and spend time with loved ones. In this way, it can be useful to consider your life goals as a whole, rather than taking career goals in isolation.
Only you can know what you really want—and only if you actually take the time to explore your perspectives.
Related: Setting Your Business Goals as a Digital Nomad
Some good freelance goals to think about
Try to think about both short-term and long-term goals, so that you have enough to keep you motivated day-to-day, while also thinking about sustaining your business for years to come.
You might have goals about:
- Income – Such as reaching a certain level of annual revenue
- Work/Life Balance – Like number of hours spent working (or not) each day or number of vacation days taken
- Client Ratios – Never having one client account for too much of your business’s revenue, or not having more than x clients overall
- New Business – Getting x new clients per month, spending x hours per week promoting yourself, getting x new business inquiries per month, working with particular companies that you admire
- Organization – Sending invoices on time, keeping track of your ‘to do’s
- Business Processes – Like never working without a signed contract
- Business Growth – Automating parts of your business that don’t need your input so you can scale
- Productivity – Having a morning routine that sets you up for a productive day, or using a time tracker to increase your efficiency
- Networking – Building alliances with other freelancers or new relationships with professionals in your industry niche
“When setting goals, people often shoot for the moon and then become discouraged,” he said. “I want to lose 30 lbs this year. That’s intimidating, so I’ve made my resolution to lose 10 lbs three times. The same works in your business. I want to earn an extra $50K this year, so my goal is to sell an extra $920 per week.”
Step Two: Imagine how you’ll feel when you achieve it
Wharton School of Business Professor Andrew Carton says it’s important to not only set clear goals, but also to imagine how you will feel when you achieve those goals.
“…people who think about the future in concrete rather than abstract terms are less likely to procrastinate. By making the future more vivid, it becomes very real to us and we prioritize it more,” said Carton.
For a freelancer, this might mean imagining how you will feel walking to the bank to deposit that big check from a project you wanted to land, or imagining yourself taking the trip you never had the time or the money to take.
Step Three: Go get ’em
Once your goals are set, Kurt Elster emphasizes that maintaining momentum and having people hold you accountable are also important.
“Make your goal part of your daily routine and don’t break it,” he said. “Many people are too hard on themselves, no need to punish yourself. If you miss a goal, don’t wait until tomorrow to get back on track. Start that second.”
That’s the way to hold yourself accountable—don’t beat yourself up, don’t allow yourself to be consumed by negativity, but instead just move on and work on the next task that needs to be completed. And then the next task after that, and so on—one step at a time.
Often I find that the simple act of moving on to the next task after a momentary pause in momentum can be all it takes to remind yourself that you can do it, you are capable, and it isn’t a hopeless pursuit.
This is especially important for the self-employed, because you don’t have a boss to motivate you if you’re falling behind. You not only have to run your business, but also motivate yourself on a daily basis to sit down and do the work.
“Freelancers have total agency over their lives,” said Elster. “They’re solely responsible for their condition. That’s a beautiful thing. Your goals can be anything. Want to make six figures? Work three days a week? Fire someone? You can do whatever you need to live the life you want.”
What Elster is describing is the freelancer’s dream—that “total agency” over your life. But you have to have control over yourself and you have to achieve your goals in order to earn that freedom.
New Year, New You: Set boundaries to be a more efficient freelancer
As we are thinking about goals, we should also think about some of the things that can bog us down, and work to remove those obstacles.
Elster uses the example of setting boundaries with people: “If you don’t tell people how to treat you, they’ll decide. It’s why many freelancers are busy and stressed instead of productive and profitable. As an example of firm boundary setting, I have this in my email signature: ‘To stay 100% productive for my clients, I can’t take unscheduled phone calls, and I check my email twice a day.’”
He uses Inbox Pause to make sure he sticks to this self-imposed boundary.
Everyone’s boundaries are going to be different, so this element of changing the way you approach your freelance business is wholly dependent on you and your lifestyle. You have to take some time for self-examination, and be honest in determining the issues you might be facing as a freelancer. Do you check Facebook every twenty minutes, each time allowing yourself to be distracted and lose focus?
Do you pick up your phone every time someone texts you, and then find yourself checking Instagram for half an hour?
Do you spend so much time staring at your computer screen that your physical and mental health are suffering? Would taking a walk or going for a jog not only make you healthier, but also make you come back to your work with a renewed focus and increased creativity?
Setting your goals, including those self-imposed limits, can help you to not only increase your bottom line, but also improve the quality of your life.
Your only goal in 2019 could be something relatively small, like becoming more efficient by disabling internet browsing for certain periods of time while you focus on a project. But if you reach the goal of developing that useful habit, how much of a positive impact could a small change like that have on your life?
The only way to know is to give it a shot, and then move on to tackling the next goal on your list.