The truly awesome power of the spider diagram
Last week, I was having one of those days that are a kind of freelancer luxury – the kind where you stick the kettle on, pop on some music and get accountable. I’d got my sugar paper and felt-tip pens, and I had my best spider diagram-drawing skills at the ready (shout out to All Saints Junior school, where my unwavering belief in the power of the spider diagram began). I was setting GOALS.
Setting goals is one of those things that can feel less like a freelance luxury and more like a freelance piss-take. The fearful half of your mind can often take the opportunity to shout things like, “SHOULDN’T YOU BE WORKING?” at you, but I actually think it’s a vital activity for any successful freelancer. And I don’t use words like “vital” lightly – if you know me, you’ll know I’m never light on words – goal-setting is integral to the ongoing success of my business. Let’s look at why.
Setting goals helps you get to know your business
When you sit down to set goals for yourself – let’s say for the next 12 months – you’re forced to consider the state of your business, past, present and future. You think about how you’ve been doing, you look at what you want to do better, and you weigh up how attainable the things you want to achieve really are.
As a freelancer, it’s all too easy to get swept along in project after little project, keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone. Taking a day to assess your business and set or adjust your goals, financial and otherwise, clears away all the little things and forces you to take an honest look at the big picture.
Setting goals improves your focus
As I mentioned in this week’s episode of the One Hack Away From Wonder Woman podcast, it’s easy to lose your freelance focus. One little burst of panic (usually of the “I have no clients and no money!” kind) and you find yourself taking on projects that are way outside your remit, then trying to adapt your service offerings and marketing to encompass them.
Before you know it, you’re a copywriter-cum-editor-cum-proofreader-cum-personal valet, saying yes to anything that looks like it’ll pay the bills for a month, and floundering around with no direction, no clarity and no idea what you’re doing next. And that’s the kind of thing that spills over into your marketing, your social media interactions, your brand and – most importantly – your head-space.
Setting specific goals keeps you on track and improves your focus. If you know where you’re headed, you’re more likely to take on jobs that will get you there with as few detours as possible.
Setting goals stops you working for pennies
Financial goals can be an intimidating thing, but they’re not something to shy away from. Committing to earn a specific sum every year or month, and using a spreadsheet to keep track of your progress, can give you the confidence to turn down poorly-paid work, even if your assertiveness has taken a battering and the other party is negotiating hard.
Set a goal that’s realistic, taking into account your skills and experience. Shop around to see what other people are charging for similar services (steer clear of the content mills!). Set a goal that’s a challenge but a realistic one. Whether you’re full-time or part-time, don’t be afraid to increase your goals, increase your fees and set your sights on better work all-round.
Setting goals means you’re taking it seriously
A lot of freelancers find that transitioning gradually into freelancing, be it from salaried employment, full-time parenting or something else, is more manageable than diving in head-first. One of the big problems I see with people who do this, though, is the temptation to take it easy and then go, “Ah well, never mind, it didn’t work out.”
It’s a kind of self-sabotage that’s all too understandable – you look for clients in the easy places, send out a couple of tentative tweets, do a bit of freebie work for a relative or friend, then decide it’s all a bit too embarrassing/difficult/scary to do properly. I get it. But while that’s understandable, it’s not in any way conducive to a successful freelance career. Whether you work five hours a week or 20, setting goals means you’re taking this shit seriously.
Marketing goals, financial goals – you need goals that will stop you chickening out of the hard stuff, like pitching repeatedly for hours on end, cold-calling, networking, asking for decent fees. It’s vital if you’re ever going to make some money.
Setting goals boosts your measurability
One of the hard things about being a freelancer is the tendency towards isolation. If, like many of us, you’ve gone from salaried employment to working from home, you’ll notice a massive difference between the camaraderie of an office environment and the echoing silence of a home work-space. There’s no one there to pat you on the back for a job well done, or nudge you into action on a slow day, or give you an annual review and notes on what you Must Do Better.
Setting SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-specific goals – offers you that level of accountability. I set aside a day every month to check in with my goals, to see what needs a bit more work, and to see where I can take a virtual pat-on-the-back for a job well done.
Setting goals empowers you to take back
Building on that last section, keeping a close eye on your goals is a great opportunity for self-care and congratulations. Humans are pretty delicate creatures when it comes down to it – we need time off, an opportunity for a breather and a mental break.
If I come to my goals and find that I’m ahead on work completed, money earned, whatever, it’s a great chance to mindfully schedule in some holidays – actual holidays, lazy days off, social engagements with friends. Without my goals, the temptation to just keep working and keep earning that little bit more might well prove too hard to resist.
One of the big things about freelancing is the fear – and I’m not sure it ever really leaves you. There’s always that voice in the back of your head (and often the front, as well) hissing, “When are you going to stop messing about and get a proper job?”
Setting goals is about getting to know your business – and yourself. It’s about pushing yourself to achieve more, plugging the gaps when you fall short and celebrating when you excel. It’s about having a framework in place to make better decisions, and to have the confidence – right there on paper – to turn down the stuff that’s just not right.
Taking a regular day out to set, assess and adjust your freelance goals is a vital investment in your business – and yourself.