Focused Freelancing: The Importance of Setting Goals

Time flies. We're already a few weeks into the new year, but that doesn't mean it's too late to reflect on what you learned in 2013 – and set strategic goals for the rest of 2014.

I think the acts of looking back and setting goals go hand in hand. As the great poet David Coverdale of Whitesnake once put it, "No, I don't know where I'm going, but I sure know where I've been."

As freelancers, we're smart to use the first month of the year to review what happened in our businesses in 2013 and set goals for 2014 – and even now, in mid-January, there's still time to do so.

Let's start with the look back. For a recent blog post on my copywriting website and in my client newsletter, I shared a recap of my business year by the numbers; simply charting my work was a revelation. And I bet quantifying your efforts will be equally enlightening for you.

On the face of it, 2013 was a banner year, my most profitable ever. I added clients. I tackled larger, more strategic projects. I signed a book deal. I published more than 30 articles in national and local media, developed about 80 pieces of online content for clients, created more than two dozen original recipes for a client and about 110 more for my recipe website,

But if I'm honest with myself (and here's where looking back helps us prepare for the future), I have to admit a few hiccups: I slacked off on my newsletter for a couple of months. I didn't faithfully follow up with contacts. I continue to lack confidence when pricing big jobs.

Here are a few tips for looking strategically at your business ­– both backward and forward:

Take time to take stock. Have you jumped right into your work this month without standing on the edge of the pool for a moment? Clear your calendar for about two hours in the next week, head to your favorite coffee shop or out-of-office workspace of choice, and take the time to review and analyze 2013.

Develop a list of questions, and interview yourself: 

  • What were your highlights?
  • Your favorite, soul- and pocket-enriching projects?
  • Jobs you wish you had not taken?
  • What marketing tools worked for you?
  • Where do you feel you dropped the ball?
  • If you could keep one thing the same, what would it be?
  • If you had a do-over, what would it be? How would you do things differently?

Recognize what works, and stick with it. 2013 confirmed one thing: Content is my single best marketing tool. Not cold-calling. Not in-person networking. For me, sharing content ­– whether it's an insight on communication or creativity – is the biggest business driver for me. The form of the content ­– speaking engagements, my client newsletter, a blog post – doesn't matter. A speaking gig last March led to an assignment from a national magazine. Interviews with marketing guru Ilise Benun for her Marketing Mentor podcast created great relationships with a designer who created my websites and a new client (who, in turn, led to another). Several newsletter mailings prompted prospects to get in touch. A feel-good project on my recipe blog generated social media buzz, a mention on Yahoo! and inquiries from literary agents.

For 2014, content will remain my main marketing activity. With two blogs and a newsletter to maintain, however, I've recognized that I need to shift my plans and refocus. Because I have a cookbook in the works, my recipe website will be key to generating buzz about that project, so I'll focus on posting one to two times per week. My business blog doesn't drive a ton of traffic, so I'll scale back my attention to that and redouble my commitment to a monthly business newsletter.

What's working well for you? How can you build on that? How can you make the most of your time?

Make commitments you can keep. This relates to understanding what's working for you. Content creation is a smart marketing tool for me, but I realized I have too many outlets to manage. Rather than trying to do everything, I'm giving myself permission to spend less time on my business blog, posting just one to two times per month. I'll schedule social media posts when I have snippets of downtime.

There are so many marketing channels and tactics available to us. Rather than trying to juggle all of them, focus on two or three outlets that you know work to your advantage, and let everything else go. Don't set yourself up for failure by committing to activities just because you think you should. What can you truly commit to in 2014?

Make a list of people to follow up with. If you had conversations with prospects in the last few months of 2013, chances are you haven't followed up because of the holidays. I have at least six hot prospects that I need to reconnect with by the end of this month. Who do you need to reach out to?

Identify your dream project. Look at the work you did in 2013: Is there one standout project that had you firing on all cylinders? One that presented a creative hurdle that you surmounted, or that allowed you to do your best, fullest work? Is there a project or client that you're longing to take on? What will it take to land them?

Setting goals and making plans for 2014 without a good sense of how 2013 panned out for you is a futile exercise, almost guaranteeing that you'll repeat your mistakes and fail to see growth.

What were your 2013 high points? Where are you going in 2014?

Related post: If Your New Year's Resolution is to Land a New Creative Job, Start Here