If you're going to be a successful freelance writer, you need to set goals. And not just any type of goals: realistic, achievable ones.
But what exactly are achievable goals? And how do you go about setting and meeting them?
Let's delve into the process of goal-setting for freelance writers, why it's so important, and how it can help you achieve success in your career.
Why is setting goals so important for freelance writers?
One of the best things about being a freelance writer is the self-directed nature of such a career. You can pursue work that you enjoy and specialise in any area you wish. You can shape your working life as you see fit; you can freelance from home or a co-working space – whatever works best for you.
And best of all: the sky's the limit when it comes to what you can achieve.
However, this freedom can be a bit of a double-edged sword. The lack of direction, set structure and guidance can be difficult for some people, at least in the beginning. If you're not incredibly motivated, savvy and self-disciplined, freelancing can soon seem to be more trouble than it's worth.
That's where goals come in. Setting your own goals is a rewarding and refreshing process, and it's essential if you want your freelance career to get off the ground.
Here are a few reasons why goal-setting is so important.
Goals provide direction, focus and motivation
There are many challenging aspects to being a freelance writer, but perhaps none so challenging as finding direction and focus in your career – and having the motivation to follow. Goals are absolutely vital in this regard.
Without goals, you have nothing to work towards and no way of ensuring your career goes the way you want it to. Without goals, it can be hard to find the motivation to keep working hard and following your dreams. Plus, there are so many types of freelance writing jobs that it can be hard to decide which area you want to focus on.
But when you make a point of setting (and striving to achieve) goals, you are providing yourself with much-needed focus and holding yourself accountable for pursuing success.
It can be easy to coast along without having a clear direction as a freelancer, but when you set specific goals, you're much more likely to be constantly progressing in your career.
Goals foster constant improvement
As we just mentioned, goals can help you progress in your freelance career. If you set targets for constant improvement, you're ensuring that you keep growing as a writer, and that your career is always moving forward towards bigger and better things.
There are two key areas in which you can aim for constant improvement: earnings and skills. You might set yourself the goal of increasing your income by a certain amount each year, or you may prefer to concentrate on setting performance improvement targets.
If you're really savvy, you'll probably do both!
Goals are the difference between writing as a hobby and writing as a career
If you're serious about pursuing a career as a freelance writer, you need to treat your writing as such.
Being an on-again-off-again freelancer and treating your freelance writing casually is all well and good if it's simply a hobby or side project. But if you want it to be a proper career, there are certain practices you need to put in place – and one of the most important of those is goal-setting.
So if you're ready to get serious, read on for more on how exactly to set (and achieve) your goals.
How do I set realistic freelance writing goals?
The process of setting your freelance goals might seem a little overwhelming at first. Where do you start? How can you tell if your goals are effective, realistic and achievable?
Let's break the process down step-by-step.
1. Think about what you want to achieve
This may sound obvious, but the first thing you need to do is have a good, long think about exactly what you want to achieve.
Don't restrict yourself to one area when it comes to goal-setting. For a broader outlook, you might want to create separate lists of goals under different headings such as 'Financial', 'Skills/Personal Improvement' etc.
Sometimes, it helps to start by thinking big and work your way back.
Brainstorm your 'end-game'-type goals first – the sort of lofty ambitions you might not think are even possible (trust us, they are!). Then, work out what steps you need to take and what smaller goals you need to achieve in order to progress to your bigger goals.
This might sound like it goes against what we recommend about setting achievable goals. But bear with us!
There's an easy way to tell if your big end-game goals actually are achievable. If you can work out a clear path or set of smaller goals that will lead directly to your big goals, they are achievable.
If there's no clear or realistic path that will lead you to your big goals, you may need to rethink the specifics of those goals.
Which brings us to our next point...
2. Refine and prioritise your goals
Once you've brainstormed your various larger and smaller goals, it's time to refine and prioritise them.
The first thing you want to do is make sure all of your goals are 'SMART' (see outline below). Once you've refined your goals using this method, prioritise them from most to least important, or order them using the deadlines and time frames you've set.
Make your goals as clear, concise and specific as possible. For example: 'Earn $x per month from freelance writing' or 'Send x article pitches per week'.
Try to ensure that you can easily measure the success and achievement of your goals. For example, don't set a goal like 'Improve my skills in copywriting'; set something measurable, such as 'Undertake x hours of copywriting skills development/training'.
This comes back to what we've been saying about setting achievable goals. They must be realistically attainable, otherwise you're setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.
For example, we'd advise against setting goals like 'Earn $100,000 in my first year of freelancing', as this isn't very realistic for a brand-new freelancer.
When considering each goal, ask yourself, 'Will this directly help me to get what I want out of my freelance career?' This might help you weed out any extraneous goals, or at least narrow down and clarify the ones you have.
Introduce deadlines or specific time frames to your goals. This will add structure, focus and an extra level of motivation. Try to set a mixture of short-term and long-term goals.
3. Track your goals and hold yourself accountable
Once you've refined and prioritised all your goals, it's time to set about achieving them! But there's one important thing to remember to do along the way: track your progress.
There are many different ways you can do this. At the bare minimum, we advise listing all your goals in writing and keeping them somewhere you can easily refer to them.
You might also like to note on a calendar the dates by which you want to achieve certain goals. Refer to your list and calendar periodically throughout the year and review your progress.
Other methods you might like to try include bullet journaling, or goal-tracking apps such as Strides or GoalsOnTrack. Writer's Digest also has some handy examples of mathematical formulas you can use to help track your goals (and set new ones).
Don't just rely on your own tracking to hold yourself accountable, though. Share your goals with friends or family. If you tell others what you're aiming to achieve, you'll be more likely to stay on track. Just imagine how good it will feel to tell people when you've knocked over a big career goal!
It helps, too, if you have some freelance writer friends to discuss your goals with. We've delved before into the importance of being part of a literary community as a creative writer; it's much the same with freelance writing.
If you have freelancer friends to talk things over with, you'll be held more accountable for your goals – and sometimes, there's no better person than a fellow freelancer to give you the inspiration, encouragement or advice you need to succeed.
4. Reward yourself and celebrate success
This may not seem like an important step, but we truly believe it's one of the best things you can do for yourself as a freelance writer.
It's so vital to reward yourself when you achieve your goals. When you've worked hard and you've succeeded at something, you deserve to celebrate.
Try to keep your rewards in line with the size of your goals. If you achieve a smaller goal, for example, maybe treat yourself to a new book, a movie or a nice meal. Bigger goals can garner bigger rewards, such as taking a holiday when you achieve a certain milestone in your freelance income.
Even if you don't reward yourself for every little thing you accomplish, you should still celebrate each one – even if that just means giving yourself a pat on the back and recognising your own accomplishment.
Progress can feel slow in a freelance career, and sometimes, moments of success can seem few and far between.. So we're big advocates of celebrating each little win. Smile, recognise your achievement, then move on to the next goal!
Writers, what freelance goals have you set for yourself? Which ones have you achieved so far, and which are you still working towards?
Share your goal-setting experiences in the comments below!