If you struggle to clearly set and achieve your goals — whether personally or professionally — you’re not alone. You’re human.
I used to think “setting goals” meant imagining something I wanted to do and eventually doing it. (Sometimes I even followed up my good intentions with action.)
But the truth is I’m not very disciplined or good at keeping myself accountable.
It wasn’t until my first job out of college that I learned the real value of setting strategic goals. My career success depended on me achieving them. I learned to embrace their purpose within the broader vision of our organization.
But honestly, it wasn’t until I studied business that I learned there’s a proven process for designing goals that are clear and actionable.
Now as a creative entrepreneur, I’ve realized how important it is to use this process when setting goals. I no longer have supervisors and coworkers checking in to see if I’m hitting my sales numbers or marketing KPIs, so this gives me the structure I need.
I’ve put together a combination of what I’ve learned from business coaching, professional development, and my experience in an office job and as a freelancer. Thankfully, these methods weren’t designed for the perfectly disciplined, articulate, productive, or focused person.
This is for all humans — especially those of us creatives who love big ideas and goals.
Here is a breakdown for how to set killer goals as a freelancer and actually achieve them.
1. Envision your ideal business and life.
For some people, generating ideas and talking about the bigger vision comes naturally. For others, it’s easy to get lost in the details and forget to take a step back.
But that’s exactly what you need to do first. Take a step back and remove yourself from the daily grind. Get your head out of the weeds so you can envision the entire forest.
What do you see? Where are you going? What is your purpose? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Is this really what you want, or have you been building a business that you don’t really love?
As freelancers, we can spend so much time hustling to get new clients (or taking care of the ones we have) that we lose sight of why we started working for ourselves in the first place.
Envisioning your ideal business and life is important before coming up with your actual goals. Otherwise you could waste time moving in the wrong direction and working towards something that feels empty and inauthentic.
2. Break your vision down into long term and short term goals.
Once you’ve figured out a clear idea of where you’re going, you need to break it down into long and short term goals. Short term goals refer to ones you want or need to accomplish within the next year. Long terms goals are ones you’re planning for more than a year out. I suggest using 3-year and 5-year goal markers to start.
This process helps you determine your priorities and take an honest look at your goals. Are you trying to do too much within the next year? Are you focusing on what’s most important? Do you need to adjust how you spend your time in order to achieve your goals?
I also recommend reviewing these goals annually. This gives you an opportunity to move up timelines, push projects back, or shift direction and drop items off the list.
3. Make sure they’re SMART.
Just having short and long terms goals doesn’t make them good ones, and it certainly doesn’t mean you will achieve them. (I know this from personal experience as I used to have countless unfinished goals each year...)
What people don’t realize — myself included — is that the way you write your goals can have a huge impact on whether or not you successfully achieve them. Though there are several variations and alternatives, the concept of writing “SMART” goals works with our psychology so we have the best chance of understanding, remembering, and achieving our goals.
Writing SMART goals is a process for clarifying your goals so you can stay accountable and actually achieve them. It’s taught in business schools (and other areas) around the world. If you’ve never done this before, it might feel awkward and difficult. But as you spend time in this process, the results are awesome goals that you can actually accomplish.
How to Write Smart Goals
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Each goal you write should match every one of these criteria to maximize its effectiveness.
For example, if your goal is to “Get more clients,” there is very little chance you will be successful. It doesn’t have much power and clarity to it. Here’s how you would use the SMART process to make it a killer goal.
Be specific about what you’re trying to do.
Old: Get more clients
New: Get more branding clients
Make sure it’s measurable, so you can know definitively if you’ve been successful in reaching your goal.
Old: Get more branding clients
New: Get five more branding clients
Consider whether your goal is actually achievable. Is it reasonable to try and get five new branding clients?
Old: Get five more branding clients
New: Get two new branding clients
Make sure the goal is relevant in the larger vision of your business. Are you trying to expand your branding services, or do you really want to grow your social media management services?
Old: Get two new branding clients
New: Get two new long-term social media clients
Give yourself a real deadline. Then you will know exactly what you need to accomplish by when.
Old: Get two new long-term social media clients
New: Get two new long-term social media clients by March 1.
You’ve now clarified your original goal, “Get more clients,” and turned it into a specific, clear goal:
Get two new long-term social media clients by March 1.
See the difference? Now you can start taking smart actions towards your goal, and you have the added accountability of knowing exactly when you’ve achieved it.