We all have some kind of goal, right? Maybe the goal is to make more money (yes!) or to get more clients or to have enough work to keep us busy for at least 40 hours a week. But while these are certainly all things to strive for, they aren't actually goals, and they aren't necessarily achievable.
Let me start off by saying--you can make your goals whatever you want, and no one has the right to tell you you're crazy or wrong (except possibly your professional mentor or spouse). But setting goals that aren't achievable or that aren't measurable don't really do you a whole lot of good - otherwise, you won't be able to tell whether or not you've actually achieved them.
So, when you're thinking about what goals you might set as a freelancer, the first thing you need to consider is:
Think about where you want to be in 5 years or in 10. Do you want to have hired employees to work for you? Do you still want to be on your own, but making a certain amount of money or have a certain number of contracts? Do you want to be doing the same things you are doing now, or do you want to transition into a different area of expertise?
While you may not be entirely certain about what you want to do, think about what makes you the happiest. Is it a particular type of work? Is it making more money? Is it having freedom and control over your life? Whatever it is that makes you happy, focus on that and make your goals relevant.
For example, I am a writer. The thing that makes me happiest is when I'm actually writing, and more specifically, creatively writing. So my freelancing goals are going to be to generate higher rates of pay so I can spend less time working for clients and more time focused on creative writing, while simultaneously trying to generate more income from creative writing than contract work.
If you are a landscaper, will learning how to build websites help get you where you want to be in ten years? Probably not. You're better off learning how to do home construction or a related skill.
If you are a writer, does it make sense to learn how to code? You might learn the basics to expand your scope of work, but spending all of your time learning C++ or Python probably won't help you build a writing career.
If you are a software developer, you may want to become a better writer--but is that really what you want to be doing in ten years? Will it help you get where you want to be? Maybe, maybe not.
But if you're any kind of freelancer, and you want to focus on learning to communicate better, or get more contracts, or raise your rates--all of those things could help you get wherever you are going. Here are some starting example goals--but keep reading! We can make them even better.
It's great to write a goal that says, "I will have four long-standing, well-paying contracts by the end of October, that will keep me paid until at least next February," but honestly, can you really control that? What if you don't find any clients that are offering long-term contracts? What if the long-term contracts that you find are so big, that you can only manage to juggle 2 at a time? Or so small that you need twice that to support yourself financially?
Try switching your thinking--don't think of goals as something that will happen to you, or a state of being you'd like to be in, or as a lucky windfall. Winning the lottery is a bad goal. Think of goals as something that you have control over, that you can actively work to make happen. Then write the goal so that no one else can prevent you from achieving it.
A goal doesn't do a lot of good if you can't measure it--otherwise, how will you know when you've completed it? All you need to measure it is a number. If your goal is to submit proposals for new contracts, then ask yourself: how many contracts? Ten? Twenty? If your goal is to raise your rates, then ask yourself: by how much? 10%? 20%?
That number not only gives you a specific target to work towards, but it gives you something to celebrate when you've reached it.
It's all well and good to say, "I'm going to do this," or "I'm going to do that," but if you don't set timelines on your goals, you don't ever fail. Now, this might sound nice--I'm never going to fail! But at the same time, when you succeed, it might not truly be a success.
Consider this goal: "I will submit proposals for twenty new contracts." That's great, but, if you only submit one proposal per year, it will take you 20 years to just to submit those proposals and there's not guarantee you'll win the work, and if you don't, you'll never grow. On the other hand, if your goal is, "I will submit 20 proposals for new contracts by the end of the month," then you will know how much time and effort you will need to put in to make that happen, and you might actually grow your business as a result.
Setting a timeframe and making your goals measurable is an excellent way to begin making your goals more specific, but you can do a lot more that that. Let's look at this goal again: "I will submit proposals for twenty new contracts." Twenty proposals is great, but the proposals won't do any good if they are submitted to the wrong client, or are a proposal for something you aren't really good at. As a writer, I wouldn't submit a proposal to build a website, even though I do know something about building websites. Why? I'm a writer, not a developer, and even if they decided to hire me, I wouldn't know how to charge, I wouldn't know how to do half the things they might want, and I couldn't guarantee that I could deliver the product that they needed.
So add a little specificity to your goals.
Now you have a goal that you can actively work towards achieving. Whether you want to become a monster truck driver or a landscaper or a writer or a software engineer, setting goals and achieving them will help you fast track your career until you're exactly where you want to be.