If you’ve been employed in the corporate world, you’ve probably endured a performance review or two. While a performance review may not be your favorite thing in the world, it is useful for helping you assess your position at your job and what you’d like to accomplish in the upcoming year.
In a similar fashion, freelancers can do annual performance reviews to gauge their progress and plan for the year ahead.
Many companies use S.M.A.R.T. goal plans when having their employees complete their performance evaluations. These SMART goals are actually an acronym that stands for the following:
A specific goal means more than just saying “I want to make more money” or “I want to grow my business.” Instead, it involves a very realistic outcome such as “I want to acquire higher paying clients” or “I want to hire a sub-contractor to manage my marketing efforts.”
Specific goals usually answer the who, what, when, where, which and why of a situation. So, you should look at who is involved in your goal, what you wish to accomplish, the location of the goal, the time frame for the goal, which requirements or constraints are in place for achievement, and finally, the specific reasons, purposes and benefits of accomplishing that goal.
This aspect addressed which metrics will be used to ensure that your goal is achieved. For example, if your goal is to attract better-paying clients, how exactly will better-paying clients be determined? Will they need to cross a given threshold of rate/hour? Alternately, will they be determined by the amount of work assigned, or the hours billed?
When it comes to measuring how well your goals have been achieved, you need to establish discrete criteria that define whether or not your goals have been attained. This way, you can measure your progress and stay on track. As you achieve your target dates, you then know that you are progressing towards achieving your goals.
While it’s wonderful to imagine achieving many lofty goals, sometimes we set our sights too high on projects that are simply unattainable due to limited resources such as time and money. This is why you must consider whether or not your goal, or goals, are achievable with the resources you have on hand.
Alternately, if your goals are not achievable, can you leverage your project to other freelancers? Can you outsource the work for a fee?
Goals must be relevant to your overall plan as a freelancer. For example, will finding higher-paying clients actually help you become a better freelancer, or will the added responsibilities of that higher pay prevent you from achieving more important goals like having more time for your family? Conversely, will finding higher-paying clients be relevant to your development as a freelancer, or should you instead be finishing your degree?
Goals must be assessed as relevant because they take a lot of time and effort to achieve. If your heart is not in your goals, or if there are other hindrances to achieving them, then your goal-setting will be for naught.
At what point in time do you estimate your goal, or goals, will be achieved? Instead of hoping that you will attain your goals by the end of the year (more or less), you should set milestones at the 3, 6, 9 and 12-month marks.
Thus, if your goal is to find 10 higher-paying clients by the end of the year, you should have a milestone of five high-paying clients by the end of June, for example. If your goal is to expand your business, you should hire a sub-contractor by the middle of the year, if not sooner.
By making your goals timely, you reduce your risk of slacking off and/or procrastinating on whatever you set out to do.
How SMART goals can help you
Setting goals is the first step towards effective project management and is a requirement of managers. Without effective goal setting, the intended goals are delayed or simply not achieved. Furthermore, time is wasted on following leads that are not realistic, or which will take too much time or money to complete.
What happens if you set down your goals but do not achieve them?
In such a situation, it is worthwhile to consider where in the SMART goal setting process the overestimation occurred. Perhaps you did not consider how much time and effort doubling your freelance earnings would truly take. Or, perhaps you underestimated how much money it would cost to hire and train subcontracting freelancers.
Failure does not necessarily mean that you should give up on your goals. Instead, falling short of your goals invites retrospection and adjustment. You might consider picking up additional training and/or resources, or simply asking for help from other freelancers. You might form additional goals that lead to your larger goals down the line.
The Bottom Line
A goal without a plan is just a dream. Therefore, it pays to carefully consider your goals and set defined timelines on when they are to be achieved. In this way, you increase your chances of becoming a successful freelancer and doing what you love for a living.