How to create and meet (realistic) goals as a freelancer

Setting goals as a freelancer has been one of the most important aspects of developing my journalism business.

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I’m a very goal-oriented person. I like knowing what needs accomplished, when it needs done, if there’s a specific process or room for creativity, etc. While I like the ability to find creative solutions, setting goals gives me a map.

Building a small business of any kind is hard. You have to learn how to market yourself, find and maintain clients, hone your craft/service, keep up your knowledge and certifications, and more. It’s a lot to keep up with.

Setting goals helps me know WHAT needs to be done WHEN. Doing it for each step of your business doesn’t have to stifle your creativity but can help you grow your business.

Two men and two women are seated at a table talking in business attire.
When I speak with a client, I like to hear their vision for the project, then be creative within those parameters.

Setting goals as a freelancer

In my experience, setting goals as a freelancer has been even more important than setting goals in traditional office settings.

There, I had tasks to do and often had bosses telling me when and how they should be done. These jobs provided some great opportunities for me to learn my craft, what tools are available and the best ways to get things done.

As a freelancer, I have to be responsible for my own time management. I have to market my own business. I have to decide what work I can and can’t take on.

I’ve found that a variety of digital tools help. (I wrote about some of the tools I use here.)

Soon after I began freelancing, I created a simple business plan. There are a lot of great templates online.

I set financial goals and various ways of meeting those goals. Try and picture what your dream salary is. Look at where you are now. If you’re just starting, try and set a reasonable number. If you’ve been freelancing for awhile, try and push yourself a little harder to reach the next level. Break it down: to make $XXXXX in a year, you need to make $XXXX per month. How many projects do you have to take on? Do you need to increase your rates?

Set a marketing plan. I’m still getting better at this myself, but I use Canva to create simple graphics to use on my blog and social media. They can help promote my posts. I also use them for another website I own. I use the Brand Colors function to save time and keep my graphics relatively consistent.

Find out how and where you can get clients. Content mills offer a lot of work, but for a low price. Some people find that this works for them, but I recommend setting the goal of finding higher clients.

My first freelance project paid $25.

Ouch.

Now, I make a lot more than that per project. I’m definitely not rich, but I’ve gradually increased my rates and reached for higher-paying clients. I’ve also tried to work on speeding up my writing while maintaining quality. This allows me to finish projects faster. With flat-rate projects, the fewer hours I spend on them, the higher my ‘hourly salary’ goes up. It also frees me up to take on more projects.

I still take on a few lower-paying assignments that I know I can knock out of the way quickly and that are important to me, but most work I do has to fit within my salary goals. Knowing my financial goals helps me to know what clients to approach and what to ask for. It’s also helped me to know when to step away from a project.

Set time goals. This goes back to time management. If you want to work a full workday, make sure you don’t take on more work than you can reasonably fit within that time frame. Want to work four hours a day? Great. The same thing applies. Set up processes for managing your time. Maybe time management apps help, maybe you take a 15 minute break every hour, maybe you set a reward for yourself… find what works for you.

I try to also be aware of how much time off I want. As a freelancer, it’s easy to always say, ‘yes’ when a client approaches you. Learn that it’s okay to say, ‘no.’ You don’t get paid for vacation time, sick time or days for professional development, so factor those into your financial goals. Make sure that you make yourself a priority, and don’t overwork.

A hand holding a pen is over a page displaying graphs.
Setting goals for your business helps create order and expectations. You can visualize a plan for success.

Sticking to your goals

Again, when you’re setting goals as a freelancer, it’s easy to overshoot. You can set up goals that are way too high for where you are. Shoot high, but take it gradually at a pace that works for you. This is work, but try and keep it fun– no one wants to be miserable!

I was spending way too much time creating invoices. It was taking away from my time and financial goals. I finally broke down and got Freshbooks (affiliate link), and I’m so. glad. I. did.

Now, I set up my clients and now quickly fill in the info. Once I hit ‘send,’ it will deliver the invoices for me. There’s also an option to download them as a PDF and send them myself. The extra time and consistency have been lifesavers, and the accounting feature has saved me from having to constantly track business expenses in a spreadsheet.

I recognized a problem (lost time and, thus, lost money). I searched for a reasonably-priced solution that met my needs and made a decision.

If the decision was wrong, no problem. I can always go back to making invoices myself (please, no) or switch to another service. I researched several programs and determined which was the best for my business needs. This effectively outsources a bit of the work, but it’s been helpful for meeting my goals. Now I can have more time to myself or to write, making money to pay for the subscription and then some.

Finding effective tools like Canva and Freshbooks (affiliate link), plus a lot of others I use, has helped me meet my goals. They may help you, or you may find something completely different. Examine what your individual needs are and how others in your industry are meeting their freelance goals. Consider what tools you can use to make your work more efficient.

Close-up of a frame of a building under construction.
Even a simple business plan and known goals can help provide a framework for your business. Know WHAT you want, then look for HOW to do it.

Getting advice

The internet is a big place. There’s a LOT of advice out there. Not all of it is great, but I’ve found some wonderful resources that have really helped me as I’ve grown my business.

Look around for advice related to the business side of things, but allow time for looking at more industry-specific goals, too. You may have a small business counseling office in your area. Sometimes, these centers will set up a live or online appointment to help you set goals as a freelancer and find resources that can help.

Going to a co-working space can get pricey, but sometimes it’s worth it. Some people work well alone while others thrive in a more social environment. Try to find like-minded people and brainstorm ideas together.

How do you set goals as a freelancer, and what methods do you use to reach them?

Disclaimer: I am a journalist and small business owner, but I am not a business expert. I have stated my opinions above, but recommend seeking professional advice for beginning or operating a business of any size. The information above is accurate to the best of my knowledge, but mistakes or omissions may occur. This blog is intended for informational purposes only and may be modified at any time.

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