Why you should embrace #goals as a freelancer.

goal setting melinda ninja

Last weekend, I found myself in discussion with my husband (no news there). We were talking about goals, both personal and careerwise, and just so you don't think us very boring and aloof, we were actually debating the teams on the current season of The Amazing Race prior to that. During our talk, I realized that while I tend to get lost in the routine of every day life, I find it easier to focus on long-term goals and find motivation through those, while he actually prefers to focus on his next few important steps in the shorter term, giving himself space and time to figure out what exactly they should lead to. Both approaches seem to work for us, respectively - which obviously is the main point.

I was always raised with the importance of having a very clear purpose in life, meaning that (if you're lucky) you get to create one for yourself, whatever it is, and follow it. Obviously, people change, and so do goals. But it was instilled in me at a very young age that working towards or for something makes a lot of things much easier. Having the luxury of actually being able to decide what it is you are working towards is something I'm definitely thankful for.

On the other hand, I am definitely not a big fan of constant self-improvement; to me, all the "be better, do better, do more of this, do less of that" noise sounds more like "you are not good enough". Whether it's called fitspiration or #squadgoals, sometimes it's just being obsessed with something unattainable, and instead of getting motivated by it, it will actually just drain your energy and leave you exhausted and frustrated.

When you're starting out as a freelancer, your first goals are mostly very clear: You want to be your own boss, you want to decide when to work, you want to decide what to do. Very quickly, though, these things are pushed to the back of your mind. You are caught up in the hustle of your freelance work, and while you love it, you are somewhat starting to feel like you lack direction of what you are doing and why you are doing it. In addition to that, there's often a lacking sense of achievement because there's no one to tell you you've done a great job (apart from your clients, obviously, but that's not always as often as you need it to be). I often felt like the element of appreciation was missing from my freelance life, because, well, I was the one who had to to both the work and the appreciating. And while having supportive family members and friends is awesome, it's even better to be recognized by your peers; which is why ever since I reached out to fellow freelancers and shared my ups & downs with them, I definitely got a lot of positive vibes back in return. Nevertheless, developing ways of self-motivation is critical if you are in this freelancing business for the long haul.

This is where goal setting comes in handy: It makes you take yourself seriously and strategically manage your work, it motivates you and it also helps you finding out more about your business.

Whether you want to set a certain amount of revenue at the beginning of the year or simply want to make more money than in the year before, monetary goals are definitely a good way of measuring up. Numbers don't lie - they tell the cold hard truth. But also non-monetary goals, such as booking at least 5 new clients or managing to get at least 3 retainers in the next 6 months, are just as valuable.

Here are the 3 simple yet effective steps of successful goal setting:

  1. Write down 3-5 things you want to achieve in a specific time frame. If you're a little lost when it comes to creating goals for your business, a great way to find goals is to have an honest conversation about this with other freelancers, be it in your field or in a different one. Find out what their goals are, compare them with your own and exchange experiences.
  2. "Promptly forget about the list and never look at it again." is what most of us do as step #2, right? So here's the key: Print out your goal sheet, frame it, use it as a wallpaper on your laptop or phone, tattoo it on the back of your hand - just make sure it's somewhere visible and present. You need to know what you are working your ass off for - that's what this is about.
  3. Evaluate. I can't stress this point enough; step #1 and #2 are completely worthless if you don't sit yourself down and face the facts. Also, this evaluation should happen at least twice a year. I even started calling them "appraisal interviews", even though I'm both the appraiser and the appraisee. Take an hour to check in with your goals and your results: Did you reach your goals? Why? What did you like about working towards your goals in the past 6 months? Has something changed? 

This truly easy exercise will not only give you real, valuable insights into your work - it will also make sure you are still very much excited about what you are doing. And if you're not - that's OK too. One of the best things about being self-employed is having the freedom to exchange elements of your work you are not happy with with other aspects.* Or, as all those startups and the one and only Ross Geller call it: PIVOT.

*Not saying this is easy, but it can definitely be done. More on this soon.