How to set freelance goals you'll stick to

Forget OKRs and SMART goals and focus on what you actually want from 2020

Happy January!

Let's talk about goals, because what else is there to talk about in January? 

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with professional goals. When I used to work in-house, I hated setting goals. I found the process arbitrary because I felt like I was sidelining my own ambitions in favour of my company imposing its goals on me.

Now I work for myself, I can set whatever goal I want and love the freedom of being able to do so. But of course, without the structure of an organisation and the eyes of a boss, setting goals becomes a whole different minefield. So here are some things I’ve learned about goal setting as a freelancer. 

Why are you setting the goal in the first place?

First off, let’s call bullshit on “new year, new me”. That’s only going to set you up for failure. Sure, the beginning of the year is naturally a good time to start something new, but it’s also not the only time of year to set goals. For instance, I don’t set my money goals in January because I find it easier to set them according to the financial year. 

Everyone loves a new year because it symbolises hope, a fresh start and a clean slate. There’s also an unspoken amnesty on January 1st, the date we’re all allowed to reset. But we also run the risk of putting too much pressure on what a new year can really bring us. Seeking self-improvement is admirable, but offloading the weight of our troubles onto a new year isn’t going to bring about real change if you aren’t prepared to do the work yourself.  

Instead, ask yourself why are you really setting your goals, what is driving you to do it? Is it because you truly want to achieve, change or improve something? Or is it because you feel should do? Does it even make sense for you to set goals right now?

Think about what kind of goal you want to set

There are so many different ways to actually set goals. If you’ve worked in-house before, you’ll likely already be familiar with some of the most popular ones, like SMART goals or OKRs. 

When you work for yourself, you have your pick of whatever goal-setting method you want. You can actually choose one that suits you and that you’ll have more chance of sticking to. I think it’s a good idea to just keep things really simple. While OKRs and SMART goals are helpful frameworks, let’s be real, once you start using acronyms in a professional capacity it sucks the fun out of it.  

That being said, of all the reading I’ve done about goals, what’s really stuck with me is the importance of distinguishing between an outcome goal and a process goal. An outcome goal is something that you don’t have control over whether you reach it. For example, “get a book deal”, “write for the New Yorker”, “lose 10lbs” are all outcome goals. Whereas, “email ten book agents”, “send five magazine pitches a week”, “go to the gym three times a week” are all process goals. It’s fine to set outcome goals, but make sure you also set process goals that you actually have control over.  

I’ve also found that setting goals in tune with my personality and working style has made the biggest difference in whether I actually follow through on them. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Four Tendencies, I discovered I’m a questioner which means I meet inner expectations but resist outer ones. When it comes to setting goals, this means that if I think the goal is worth setting, I will stick to it but if I don’t see the value in it then I won’t do it. (We interviewed Gretchen on the podcast if you want to find out how you respond to expectations and what this means for how you work). 

Set a goal you actually want, not one you think you should do

I truly believe that the real reason why people don’t meet their goals is that they set the wrong ones. Or, at least, were motivated by the wrong things. Comparison culture has led many of us to think we want certain professional achievements because we should be doing them. As writers, there’s an assumption that we “should” want to write a book or get bylines in certain publications but that’s not the case the for everyone.

If you’re struggling to figure out whether you actually want the goal you think you do, ask yourself these questions first: 

  • What is one big professional goal you want to accomplish by the end of the year? 

  • Does the thought of achieving this goal excite you? Does the thought of doing the work necessary to complete it excite you?

  • What is motivating you to achieve this goal? Is it that it’s important to you or do you think it would impress other people?

How are you going to stay accountable? 

When you don’t have the threat of an annual review and a boss asking you why you didn’t meet the target you said you would, setting a self-employed goal can be really hard to keep. There’s little point of going to the trouble of setting a goal if you don’t find a way to stay accountable for it.

The best place to start is by first figuring what the best way of hold yourself to account actual is. Going back to the Four Tendencies, depending on how you respond to expectations you will need a different system for keeping yourself in check. If like me, you find it easier to meet inner expectations then writing down your goal somewhere you will regularly refer back to will keep you stay on track. If, by contrast, you readily meet outer expectations then finding an accountability buddy will work better for you. 

Happy goal setting!


The 5x5 Pitch Challenge  

If one of your goals for 2020 is to get better at pitching, then I’ve got something for you.

Do you struggle to pitch? Need new, better clients? Want to break out of the feast and famine of freelancing? 

On Wednesday 8 January, I’m kicking off a pitch challenge just for subscribers. 

The challenge is to send five pitches a week for five weeks. By the end of the 5x5 Pitch Challenge, you’ll improve your pitches, get more work and have developed a solid pitching habit. 

Each week, I will be sending resources to help you along the way and I’ll be holding a weekly Q&A for us to all hold each other accountable, get support and to celebrate our successes.

If you’re already a subscriber, you don’t have to do anything, the first email officially kicking off the challenge will arrive on Wednesday. If you’re not a subscriber and want to take part in the challenge, subscribe now and also get access to the full members’ archive which includes a four-part pitching guide.


The list


Calls for pitches


The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
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