Why Freelancers Don't Set Goals (And 10 Great Reasons Why They Should)

If you’re a freelancer like me, it’s a good bet that you’re not in the habit of setting clear-sighted goals for your business on a regular basis.

Even freelancers should set goals

Since 53 million Americans work as freelancers, potentially a huge percentage of the workforce doesn’t know which direction they’re going in!

I will admit that I used to be pretty hopeless in setting goals. I sort of stumbled along with vague ideas of ‘finding more clients’ or ‘doing a bit of professional development’.

The problem with not setting goals, though, is that I had no clear idea of what I wanted to achieve from my working life.

Okay, I knew I had to earn enough to pay the mortgage, etc. and I wanted to enjoy all the benefits of being a freelance copywriter, but I had few concrete aims in mind (let alone in writing)

And so I put up with clients that caused me more hassle than they were worth, and I missed opportunities to find projects that I enjoy and excel at.

I certainly didn’t set aside nearly enough time to market my services or develop new skills.

As a result, I found myself working too many evenings and weekends meeting deadlines for projects that didn’t really excite me and weren’t always the most profitable.

Sound familiar?

Well, you’re not alone. So, if you don’t want avoid spending all your time working hard but ultimately not achieving what you really want, read on to discover how setting some clear-sighted goals could bring you the change you’re looking for.

Why freelancers don't set goals

Freelancers don’t understand how clear goals can help improve their business

Many freelancers think they’re setting goals when in fact they’re wishing for outcomes. A bit like writing affirmations: “I will make a profit this year” or “I will get some new customers”. Sorry. That’s just wishful thinking.

You need to take a leaf out of Stephen R Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 2 states: Begin with the end in mind. In other words, you’ve got to know where you want to be in order to get there. As Covey says, “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”

The whole process of setting goals forces you to visualize what you want. It not only motivates you but also shows you how to achieve your aspirations.

What’s more, your goals (which you will, of course, write out and hang in a prominent place) serve as a constant reminder of what it is you want to accomplish.

"Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination."

Fitzhugh Dodson

Freelancers think only ‘proper’ companies need to set goals

So, just because you’re not the CEO of Microsoft you think you don’t need to set specific goals? Wrong. Totally wrong. You think top athletes don’t set goals? What about well-known business people?

Every successful person will have visualized their overall goal and made lots of smaller explicit goals to help them achieve the big one.

You may be ‘just’ a freelancer, but you still have a responsibility to yourself to ensure you get what you want out of your business (and life in general).

"People with goals succeed because they know where they're going."

Earl Nightingale

Freelancers don’t have time (they’re too busy doing ‘real’ work for clients)

Okay. This is a bit like saying “I don’t have time to eat properly or exercise” and then complaining you’re overweight. Not setting goals doesn’t save time – it simply wastes time. Why? Because you’re channeling your time, energy and efforts into the very tasks that won’t get where you want to be.

Andrew Blackman has written an excellent tutorial that shows you why you need to set clear, effective goals for your freelance business, and how to go about doing so. Blackman suspects most freelancers give priority to the urgent stuff (client emails, meeting deadlines, drawing up quotes) by neglecting those things that could have a significant impact on our business. So we end up hitting a ceiling in terms of earnings and working hard just to stand still.

"If I've got correct goals, and if I keep pursuing them the best way I know how, everything falls into line. If I do the right thing right, I'm going to succeed."

Dan Dierdorf

Freelancers don’t know how to go about setting business goals

Do you feel intimidated by the whole process of setting goals? Not sure how to start or what to focus on? I get it. It can be a daunting prospect.

Fortunately, the For Dummies brand has a great article on how to set goals and objectives for your business (by the way, goals tell you where you want to go; objectives tell you exactly how to get there). It shows you how to set goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound), and how you can set objectives to avoid pitfalls and eliminate weaknesses. It even gives you a checklist of common business goals.

Make your goals SMART goals

Freelancers are happy with what they’re earning (and they can’t handle any more business)

Andrew Blackman points out in his tutorial that goals don’t have to be all about growth in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. bigger client base, more profit).

Maybe you decide you want to outsource an aspect of your business that you dislike, or develop a more efficient admin and invoicing system so that filing your tax return becomes a breeze, or even create more time to spend with the family.

Goals are simply a way of making sure you have the life that you want – at work and at home.

Finally, here are the 10 compelling reasons why freelancers should set concrete goals:

1. You’ll be working hard to achieve what you really want (i.e. your ladder won’t be up against the wrong wall)

2. You’ll be able to measure your achievements, which will boost your self-confidence

3. You’ll become more positive because you’ll be visualizing the route to success

4. You’ll develop ways to improve your product or service because you’ll have observed what works and what doesn’t

5. You’ll separate out irrelevant tasks from those that’ll make a big impact on your business (i.e. you’ll stop wasting time)

6. You’ll be propelled forward (especially on days when you’re lacking energy or inspiration)

7. You’ll be forced to address your poor habits and you’ll develop better habits

8. You’ll be able to stay focused on the ‘real’ priorities

9. You’ll be able to persist (develop grit) because you’ve committed yourself

10. You’ll be more likely to be successful (because you know what is is you want!)

So now you know why many freelancers don’t set goals and objectives, you’ve read a list of great reasons why freelancers should set goals and objectives, and you’ve been given a couple of great resources to get you started. So what are you waiting for?



Helen McCrone is a British copywriter who has set up home in sunny Florida, USA. She's been helping businesses communicate effectively in writing since 2004. She relies on yoga, her faith, her American husband and her English sense of humor to keep her sane. :-)

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