Getting it Done: A Guide to Productive Goal-Setting for Freelancers

Are you setting goals for your freelance writing business?

I strongly recommend you do. But more than that, you need to set good goals.

What makes a good goal for a freelance writer?

This question recently came up when I got this posting in late July, in the Share Your Goals accountability forum in Freelance Writers Den:

“I will land and complete my first paid freelance writing gig by August 31, 2012.”

Now, that is certainly a great thing to aspire to — to break in and get that first clip all in about 5 weeks flat.


This is not a good goal


This goal is not within the writer’s control.

You might wish it, but you cannot make it happen.

You can market your little fanny off — send queries, letters of introduction, network like mad, tap your social-media connections — and it might take 60 or 120 days to start paying off.

What if this writer got an assignment, but the deadline is Sept. 15. Is she now a failure because she did not meet her goal? I would want her to feel totally victorious, but setting this bad goal would steal that victory away and make her feel “behind” in her timetable.

What makes a good goal? Here are my requirements:

  • Realistic. You want to get at least most of your goals accomplished, not hit the end of the month and have nothing you can check off. That’s depressing. You want to build a sense of accomplishment here. So the first step in goal-setting is to look at the month ahead and what is planned. Are you going on vacation? Will relatives be visiting? Kids still on vacation? Get real about what you can get done in this specific month, given your life circumstances.
  • Well-prioritized. When you look at your wish list of what you might do to market your business, which items have the most potential to bring you the best-paying sort of clients? Those are the ones to put at the top of your list…not the ones that seem easiest. That’s why checking Craigslist ads should be on the bottom, if it appears at all.
  • Simple. Keep it uncomplicated and straightforward. “I will send 10 letters of introduction” is good. “I will send 10 unique marketing emails to prospects with income over $500 million” has too many rules. What if you see a prospect that’s a perfect fit for your interests, but only $100 million in revenue and you want to email them? You should, but detailed rules like these might discourage you from pitching that prospect. What if you find another prospect where a virtually identical letter might work? Don’t talk yourself out of doing marketing that might pay off in a perfectly nice client by throwing up too many parameters.
  • In your control. Focus your goals on what you can do to forward your career, not what you’d like the universe to give you back. All we can do as businesspeople and writers is put it out there, and keep trying different approaches until we see what hits. But I can tell you, I know few writers who actively market their business who don’t see results fairly soon. So focus on your actions — they will pay off.

After talking about my philosophy of goal-setting with this writer, here is the revised goal list she set:

1. Get my writer website/blog up and running.

2. Make contact (either by email, LOI, phone or in person) with 50 potential clients.

3. Write every day.

You can see that these are all achievable goals that should move the writer closer to her dream of getting a paying assignment and turning it in. I love that her list isn’t too long.

At the end of the month, hopefully she can check them all off, feel like she’s making progress, and move on to new marketing goals.

Keep that up, and your end goal of finding more and better-paying work is going to happen.

What are your goals for September 2012? Leave a comment and create some accountability by sharing them. (Feel free to come back in a month and tell us how you did, too.)



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