Do you set freelance goals? How do you create those goals, and how do you know if your goals are any good?
This month, I ask freelancer — and freelancing expert — Gina Horkey how to set smart goals for 2017, as well as how to take those first steps towards achieving them.
First, the numbers for September:
Completed pieces: 65
Work billed: $9,751.83
Income received: $9,628.65
This is the highest income I’ve ever billed or received as a freelancer. I’m still putting in roughly the same hours, writing (and revising) a relatively steady 40,000-50,000 words every month, but I’m earning twice as much as I was when I started tracking my income on The Write Life two years ago.
How did this income boost happen?
Part of it was luck — one of my clients was able to offer me a large, high-paying project — and part of it came from consistent work, strong client relationships and steadily increasing rates.
In my very first income report, I set myself the goal of earning $5,000 per month. Now that I’ve more than achieved that milestone, it’s time to think about my next big goals — and seek advice from an expert who knows a thing or two about setting goals.
Talking to Gina Horkey about developing smart goals
Last month, I wrote about planning for 2017, including preparing my finances for a potential drop in income and transferring my freelance tracking system to a software program like , or QuickBooks (which my CPA recommends). Since I’m in the middle of a large project right now, I haven’t had time to test out any of these new programs yet. I don’t expect to get to spend time with them until December.
However, thinking about what I want to do in 2017 is the first step in figuring out how to get there, and “test small business software” is on my to-do list.
One of my 2016 goals, as you might remember, was to turn this column into a collaboration — so I reached out to , a freelance writer and webpreneur who has developed many courses and resources for freelancers, including the Write Life-recommended .
I wanted to talk to Horkey about how she develops business goals, and what advice she has for freelancers who are planning for 2017.
“I’m of similar belief that you should get started before the actual year starts, ,” Horkey told me. “Even though I’m not ignoring the rest of 2016, we need to get started on 2017.”
Like me, Horkey often focuses her goals on metrics.
“I’m a fan of minimum and stretch goals,” she said. ” Horkey looks at the money she’s earned in the previous year, calculates where she thinks her business might go in the next year and asks herself, “Do I want to do the bare minimum and work less, or do I want to grow?”
A successful business, as Horkey told me, isn’t always about the money. Having financial security is important, but so is having a solid work-life balance.
Freelancers who are thinking about how they want to grow their business in 2017 should ask themselves what financial goal they hope to achieve: “Is it to leave work behind and replace their salary, or is it just to add some extra income to the household so things aren’t as tight or maybe [to] pay off debt?”
You can ask that question at every stage of your freelancing career, whether you’re just getting started or whether you’re in your fourth year as a full-time freelancer (like me!).
Understanding what you hope to achieve as a freelancer can help you set goals that will help you get there.
Measurable milestones and simple steps
For me, a minimum goal for 2017 might be to continue earning $5,000 per month, since that’s an income level I’ve proven I can consistently achieve — and an income that comfortably covers my expenses.
A stretch goal for 2017 would be to earn $100,000 for the year, or a little over $8,300 every month. Since I’ve increased my income by about $20,000 every year for the past two years, this goal feels reasonable — but it will also take work, good client relationships and a little bit of luck to get there.
“I try to follow the SMART goal philosophy,” Horkey explained. “Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive.” She asks herself what end result she wants to achieve, and starts breaking that result down into measurable milestones and simple steps.
“Every goal has multiple steps. I’m a fan of breaking things down into their simplest form: what’s that first, smallest action I can take right now to get me closer to that bigger goal?”
For me, the first, smallest action I can take to get me to next year’s income goal is to renegotiate my current rates. I can’t control whether or not an individual client will be able to do a rate increase for 2017, but I do know that having this conversation with all of my clients is likely to increase my overall income — without increasing my workload. Renegotiating my rates will also help buffer against the potential drop in income after my large project ends.
Horkey also stressed the importance of flexibility: “If I’m trying something and it’s not working, I need to shift my plan. I don’t usually get too disheartened, I just try something different in order to make progress.”
I don’t know yet what will happen in 2017, but I know that if I want to both increase my income and streamline my small business tracking and accounting, I need to start with small steps and be ready to make changes if the steps I take don’t actually lead me to my goal.
In both cases, I can get started on my 2017 goals in 2016 by testing software programs and setting up rate negotiation conversations. Once I’ve completed those tasks, I’ll be ready to take the next small steps — and be one step closer to achieving my goals.
Are you ready to set some smart freelancing goals? Share your goals and the next steps you can take to achieve them!
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