The Ultimate Guide to Goals for Freelance Success

How to develop a stable, successful freelance business

Doing everything you need to do as a freelancer is hard. Work for clients always comes first. But you also have to find time for administrative work, like answering emails, accounting, marketing your business, and lots of other tasks.

With so many things that you need to do now or soon, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture: your freelance future.

Plan the Future You Want

goals for freelance successBut if you don’t think about the future you want—and make a plan to get there— you’ll probably flounder around, struggling to build a stable, successful freelance business.

Goals help you focus on what’s most important and get past the many distractions all freelancers face. The right type of goals become your plan for freelance success.

With the right type of goals, you’ll keep making progress toward the future you want—even if you fall behind sometimes. And it’s okay to fall behind, or to change your goals if you need to.

Get Started on Your Goals for Freelance Success

This ultimate guide to setting and achieving goals for freelance success will show you how to:

Set Your SMART Goals

Set you goals for freelance successWhether you set one goal or several goals, the right type of goal to create the future you want is always SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound.

Specific: Setting a specific and attainable goal is really important. It’s easier to stick with and achieve a goal that’s specific because you have something concrete to work towards.

Measurable: If you don’t measure what you’re doing, you don’t know if you’re making any progress. Measure whether you’re spending your time doing things that are important to your freelance business.

Attainable: And if your goal is too big, you’ll get discouraged and stop trying. So it has to be attainable.

Relevant: Your goal also needs to matter to you (be relevant). If it doesn’t, you won’t want to work to achieve it.

Time bound: Just like you have deadlines for your client work, you need a deadline for your goal. Otherwise, working on your goal will get lost behind everyday tasks.

These are NOT SMART goals for freelancers:

“Make more money.”

“Get more clients.”

These are SMART goals for freelancers:

Make $20,000 more in [YEAR] than in [YEAR] by getting 3-4 new clients.”

“Make $20,000 more in [YEAR] than in [YEAR] by getting more business from current clients.”

“Diversify my business by getting 4 to 6 different types of clients by December 31, [YEAR].” 


Annual goals work best for most freelancers. Some experts recommend 100-day goals. If you need to build your business fast and are motivated and ready to work hard, try 100-day goals.

If you’re setting annual goals, set 1 to 3 goals.


FREE SMART GOAL WORKSHEET

Use the SMART goal worksheet to set and achieve goals for freelance success.

Download your free SMART goal worksheet


Break Your Goals Down into Small Pieces

Set you goals for freelance successAn annual goal, even when it’s SMART, can be scary and overwhelming.

So break your annual goal(s) down into:

  • Small, easily achievable mini-goals
  • The actions you’ll take to achieve each mini-goal.

Set mini-goals for each quarter of the year. If you’re using 100-day goals, set monthly or 10-day mini goals, depending on how hard you’re willing to work.

Your SMART goal(s), mini-goals, and actions are your plan for achieving your goal(s). And having a plan makes you 2 to 3 times more likely to stick to your goal(s).

Examples of Mini-Goals and Actions

Here’s an example of mini-goals and actions for a freelancer who is working on building a stable, successful business. Say that the annual goal is:

“Make $20,000 more in [YEAR] than in [YEAR] by getting 2-4 new clients by year-end.”

So here’s what the mini-goals and actions might look like for the first quarter of the year.

First quarter [YEAR]:

 Quarterly mini-goal:

  • Join 1 or 2 professional associations and start networking OR get more involved in professional association(s). Volunteer.
  • Research 100-150 new prospects, with a focus on [TYPE OF CLIENTS YOU WANT TO WORK WITH] in the [INDUSTRY] and start direct email campaign.

 Actions to achieve the quarterly mini-goal:

JANUARY:

  • Join and volunteer for at least 1 professional association
  • Research about 35-50 prospects

FEBRUARY:

  • Participate in professional associations (continue to volunteer and network online)
  • Research about 35-50 prospects
  • Send about 5 direct emails per week

MARCH:

  • Participate in professional associations (continue to volunteer, attend meetings, and network online)
  • Send about 5 direct emails per week
  • Late March: Review and assess progress toward goal

Attracting High-Paying Clients Using Direct Email

Researching prospects is the first step in using direct email to attract high-paying clients, instead of taking whatever work comes along. Direct email works because it focuses on helping prospective clients solve their problems, not trying to sell your services.

Finding the right prospective clients and attracting them with direct email are 2 of the 7 steps to high-income freelancing.


Learn How to Use Direct Email to Get the Clients You Deserve

Direct Email Swipe File, with templates, examples, and tips 

Why You Need to Use Direct Email: What 4 Freelancers Say


8 Ways to Achieve Your Goals for Freelance Success

Set you goals for freelance successHere are 8 ways to work towards achieving your goals for freelance success. These tips come from James Clear, Daniel Pink, Jerry Seinfeld, and me.

1. Get Started

This may seem obvious, but getting started is the hardest part of doing anything that’s new or difficult. We’re wired for immediate gratification, says James Clear, an author and entrepreneur who writes about habits and human potential. Since goals focus on future rewards, it’s really hard to work on them.

2. Build the Habits of Success

But if you build the habits of success, it will be much easier to work on your goals.

Habits, the decisions you make and the actions you take every day, account for about 40% of our behaviors, say researchers at Duke University. A new behavior, like working on your goals, becomes automatic when you make it a habit.

It takes time to build new habits—66 days on average. The exact amount of time needed to a build a habit varies depending on the behavior, your personality, and the circumstances, says Clear in How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science).

Developing the habits of success will also help you with other things that you tend to put off, like marketing.

3. Start Small

Big goals are hard to achieve. So you get frustrated and stop trying. Starting with an “incredibly small” habit makes it easy to get started—and helps you build the habit, says Clear.

This is where breaking your goal down into mini-goals and actions comes in. Start with a few actions that are easy to achieve.

Let’s use the example from earlier where the goal is to:

“Make $20,000 more in [YEAR] than in [YEAR] by getting 2-4 new clients by year-end.”

Part of the mini-goal for the first quarter of the year is to research 100-150 new prospects. That sounds like a lot of work. But when you translate this into actions, researching about 35-50 prospects over a month is very doable. If you break that down further into researching 9-13 prospects a week, you’ve got an action that you can do in about an hour.

“Start small and gradually improve,” says Clear. “Along the way, your willpower and motivation will increase, which will make it easier to stick to your habit for good.”

4. Focus on What You Can Control

We have control over our actions, but not over the results. Whether you research those 80-100 new prospects over three months is entirely up to you. But when you reach out to those prospects, you have no control over whether they hire you.

Taking and accomplishing actions, like researching prospects, will motivate you to keep taking more action.  And taking the right actions consistently will eventually lead to the results you want: bigger, better clients and a stable, successful freelance business.

5. Choose the Right Time

The right timing, based on the “science of the day,” will help you achieve your goals.

How well we do something depends on the time of day, says Daniel H. Pink, the bestselling author  of When? The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing and other books.  “We are smarter, faster, and more creative in some parts of the day than others,” he says.

The difference between our best and worst part of the day can be huge. And at certain times of day, we’re better at some things than others.

Choose the time of day that’s right for you and working on your goals will be easier. And you’ll get more done!

The Peak, the Trough, and the Rebound

Research shows that the day has “three acts”: a peak, a trough, and a rebound. The three acts occur in that order for most of us (except for night owls, who tend to rebound, trough, and peak).

The peak is when we focus best. Morning is the peak for most of us, and late morning (around noon) is when we’re really at our best. “That makes the peak the best time to tackle work that requires heads-down attention and analysis,” says Pink.

In the afternoon, energy and alertness drop. That’s the trough. It’s harder to focus during the trough. “The afternoon trough is the Bermuda Triangle of our days—the place where our effectiveness and good intentions disappear,” says Pink. He suggests doing more mindless work during the trough, like administrative work.

The rebound comes in late afternoon and early evening. We’re more creative during the rebound.

Short Breaks

Taking short breaks helps people be more productive and happier. “Frequent short breaks are more effective than occasional ones,” says Pink. “An ideal break also involves movement.”

Examples of good short breaks:

  • 5-minute walk outside
  • 5 minutes of yoga.

Breaks should be “fully detached,” so leave your smart phone behind. Pink even suggests scheduling your breaks the same way you schedule your work.

6. Do What Jerry Seinfeld Did

What can one of the most successful comedians teach freelancers about achieving goals for freelance success? Plenty, as it turns out.

Comedian, television producer, screenwriter, and actor Jerry Seinfeld is best known for his TV show Seinfeld, which ran for nine seasons and was the highest-rated show in the United States. Seinfeld created the show with another comedian, Larry David.

Since his stand-up debut in 1976, Seinfeld worked on becoming a better comedian by writing jokes every day. His advice to a new comedian, Brad Isaac, was to “not break the chain.”

Motivation Doesn’t Matter

“It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was ‘not breaking the chain,’” says James Clear in How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals by Using the “Seinfeld Strategy.

Consistent Actions Do Matter

Consistent action is one of the secrets to Seinfeld’s success. Seinfeld didn’t focus on results, which as tip #4 states we can’t control, just action.

You don’t need to be motivated to take action. But completing each action will make it easier for you to keep going until you reach your goal.

“The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead,” says Clear. “It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are, or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about “not breaking the chain.”

Make Your Goal(s) a Priority

Goals aren’t something you need to work on every day. But you do need to make working on your goals for freelance success a priority and work on it(them) consistently.

7. When You Fall Behind, “Get Back on Track Quickly”

If you’ve fallen behind on your goals, it’s okay.

Most people do. In fact, most people give up entirely.  One month after setting a goal, just 58.4% of people are still working on it and 6 months later, only 44.8% are still trying, according to Statistic Brain.

Don’t give up. Instead, “get back on track quickly,” says Clear. Goals are not “all or nothing.” You don’t need to be perfect to achieve your goals for freelance success. You just need to consistently work towards them.

And if you set a goal and later realize that it’s just not doable now, change it or postpone it. If you realize that you set a goal that’s not a priority, drop it so you can focus on what matters most to your freelance business now.

8. Find an Accountability Buddy

If staying on track with your goals is hard for you, find an accountability buddy. Share your goal(s) with another freelancer and check in with each other monthly.

Knowing that you’ll be talking to your accountability buddy on a certain date about your progress will motivate you to make some. An accountability buddy can also help you solve problems when things aren’t going so well, and celebrate successes with you.


FREE SMART GOAL WORKSHEET

Use the SMART goal worksheet to set and achieve goals for freelance success.

Download your free SMART goal worksheet


Achieve Your Goals for Freelance Success

Set you goals for freelance successNow you know how to set effective goals for freelance success and how to break them down into manageable chunks.

Your SMART goals, mini-goals, and actions help you focus on what matters most, and give you a plan to achieve the freelance future you want. If you consistently work on your goals, you can build a stable, successful freelance business.


Learn More About Goals for Freelance Success

learn more about freelance successHere’s a list of free content to help you set and achieve your goals for freelance success.


FREE SMART GOAL WORKSHEET

Use the SMART goal worksheet to set and achieve goals for freelance success. Download your free SMART goal worksheet


Mighty Marketer Blog posts

Direct Email Swipe File, with templates, examples, and tips

Why You Need to Use Direct Email: What 4 Freelancers Say

9 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and What Happens When You Do

What You Need to Know About Being a Fully-Booked Freelancer

Other content

James Clear, How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science)

James Clear, How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide

James Clear, How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals by Using the “Seinfeld Strategy

Daniel Pink, How to Be Healthier, Happier and More Productive: It’s All in the Timing

 


Ready to Achieve Freelance Success?

Ready to start your journey toward freelance success and high-income freelancing?

high-income freelancingMy new book, 7 Steps to High-Income Freelancing: Get the clients you deserve, is a step-by-step guide to finding and attracting the high-income clients you deserve.

Get it on Amazon.