Podcast Episode 20: Goal Planning – Your Freelance Aims for 2013

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It’s the first day of a brand new year, so it is time to make some goals and set some aims for what you want your freelance business to achieve in 2013. In this episode, Lorrie and I discuss why goal-setting is a good idea, and we discuss some of the best ways to ensure that the goals you set are ones you can stick with. Enjoy, and happy new year!

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Show Notes


Understanding Advanced Search using Google Search


LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 20 of A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.


Resolutions 2012
Resolutions 2012 (Photo credit: simplyla)

You can subscribe to the podcast in a number of ways: just visit our podomatic page, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe via RSS feed, iTunes or Stitcher Smart radio – or just on the Podomatic page itself. That way, you’ll never miss another episode. Additionally, there you can find the link to our Facebook page and to the numerous websites and social media feeds of myself and the lovely Pip. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and welcome to the first A Little Bird Told Me of 2013! 20 episodes in – I’m not sure we when we started that we ever thought we’d get to this point – but the podcast is happier and healthier than ever, with lots of listeners and the number 2 spot on Podomatic, which is amazing! Today we’re going to be talking about setting goals for yourself as a freelancer, goals for both you and your business, starting out with why setting goals for yourself is so important.

LH: While lots of people might be just getting over their hangovers and setting out their New Year’s Resolutions around now, the kind of goals we’re talking about are those that will help to move you and your business forward. And, unlike New Year’s Resolutions, they’re not designed to be conveniently forgotten about at the earliest possible opportunity like that whole “I’m going to go to the gym four times a week!” one that I totally didn’t resolve to do!

PW: Or don’t eat chocolate ever again.

LH: Yes! Someone said to me, “Why don’t you give up chocolate for a year?”

PW: Why on Earth would you want to do that? You might get hit by a car in August and spend your last moments wondering why you’ve missed out on eight months of chocolate.

LH: Can you imagine if it you got hit by a Cadbury’s truck?

PW: That’s a beautiful short story.

LH: Thank you! I might note it down!

PW: Yes, so like Lorrie said, resolutions tend to last about a week or two, whereas setting goals can be a really useful exercise to make sure you are achieving the things you want to achieve, and going in the right direction. It can help you to stay motivated, as well, and can make sure you do tasks you might overlook otherwise.

LH: Yeah, definitely a good way to keep on track. So, first of all, what types of goals might freelance writers set – or freelance anythings, for that matter? It makes sense to split your desired goals into two areas: personal development and business development. Personal development would include things like training, courses, research and all kinds of things that will help you to improve your knowledge and skills. Business development aims are wider goals, really – what you can do outside your writing and editing savvy to make sure you win clients, keep current clients (and yourself!) happy and grow your business, improve your marketing as time moves on.

PW: I agree that’s a good way to divide them up. I’d add an extra area though, because it ties in to one of my own most important goals for this year. Because we know, as freelancers, how work and not-work can easily merge into one big half-working situation, so I’d add a work-life balance section, because one of my goals is… *drum roll* to take a whole week off in one go. Not divided up, so two days here and there, but a whole week in one go, and in a very planned way so I can get extra work done the week before and inform all my clients in advance. But a whole week off in one go. Radical, eh?

LH: Haha, it’s the sort of thing I’ve only ever dreamed of! But no, you’re right – joking aside, I’ve done it a couple of times. Freelancers, like anyone else, we’ve got the right – and the need – to take a really good stretch of time off in one go. It’s important to recharge your batteries, so yes, let’s go with three areas, then – personal development, business development and work-life balance.

PW: Awesome. In order to start setting goals, you need to know what you are aiming for. Otherwise they might be a bit pointless and lead you nowhere. Ask yourself where you want to be this time next year. Do you want to be earning more? Do you want to have specialised more? Do you want more regular clients? Or, equally valid, do you love everything as it is, and want it to be just the same? If you know where you want to be, you can start to make a plan to get there.

LH: Yes, I think people tend to have vague hopes for where they want to be in a year’s time and they’re happy to see where the road takes them when it comes to achieving them. Sometimes, if you’re in a salaried position in a company, that’s an OK tack to take. The company you work for will develop externally of you, and you can base your own development on where that takes you. Say, whether you decide to spend more time on training and development, whether you decide to work towards an internal promotion or whether you decide to change companies – or even career.

LH: If you’re freelancing, though, you don’t really have the luxury of ruminating on your goals for the year. You are your business, and you need to keep those plates spinning. Setting realistic, sensible and forward-looking goals is a great way to do that.

PW: Absolutely. The way I’m looking at it, in terms of my own goal setting, is that there are big goals and there are small, regular goals. So you might set a bigger goal, that by the end of the year you will have had 4 short stories accepted for publication in anthologies. That can be broken down, so you know that if you get one accepted every three months, you are on track to succeed. Alternatively, you can set smaller, regular goals, such as an aim to contact 20 new prospects every month, or earn £2,000 a month. Rather than aiming for one massive achievement, committing to regular, smaller achievements can help it to stay realistic and feel attainable.

LH: This is it – it’s a question of eating an elephant, isn’t it?

PW: Hahaha, it is!

LH: I’m hungry, I’m sorry! I’m vegetarian, which is more worrying still!

PW: I’m not, but I really like elephants!

LH: You want your goals to make a real difference to you by the time a year’s up – it’s a good stretch of time, but time is easy to lose – but that doesn’t mean you have to go charging in and trying to transform your life in one fell swoop. In fact, I’d agree with Pip on this and recommend smaller goals that add up to one big one over time. If you make your goals bite-size and regular, they’ll be far easier to incorporate into your already busy life.

PW: Yes, and if you have one massive goal to achieve by next January, it’s pretty easy to ignore it until…say, November! Whereas if you need to something this week, then next week, then the week after. It makes it easier to keep on track.

LH: Definitely, I keep a paper diary as I’ve mentioned before and I’ve gone through my diary at the beginning of the year and blocked off Friday afternoons for creative writing. Once it’s blocked off, it’s achievable.

PW: Absolutely, like Lorrie says, making a huge change isn’t what we’re talking about. You can’t realistically expect massive change overnight.

LH: So, when it comes to sitting down and figuring out your goals, you might feel a bit stuck. Which ones to choose? Which ones to pass up? Why? After all, how do you know if something’s a good goal to have? Pip and I want to recommend a goal-setting method that’s used by many organisations as a way of outlining KPIs – or key performance indicators – and making sure that goals are achievable and easy to keep track of.

PW: That’s right. It’s one of the most well-known ways of goal setting, and it’s called the SMART framework – it helps you to set goals which are specific, measurable, attainable realistic, and time sensitive.

LH: Yep. While it is sometimes tempting to dismiss templates like this as cheesy ideas, there’s a reason they’re so popular: it’s because they’re effective. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a good idea to try and wing it when it comes to a freelance career and being self-employed. So, even if you feel a bit silly or cynical when it comes to setting goals in line with a specific framework, as I did at first, like the SMART method, it’s still worth sitting down and actually spending some time doing it.

LH: The fact is, if outlining a few goals in line with the framework is difficult for you, your business is probably lacking a bit of direction. And remember, spending a few hours on something like this might feel like a waste of time, particularly in the busy New Year period, because it’s not earning you money, but it’ll set you up really well for the year ahead.

PW: So if we start by looking at specific, then in terms of one of the possible goals we mentioned, let’s look at pay. Do you want to earn £30,000 this year? “Earn more” is no good, choose the wage you want to attain. A target for earnings is also nicely measurable – it’s easy to tell whether you’ve met your goal or not.

PW: Other specific and measurable goals might be that you want to send 5 pitches every week, or gain 5 new clients.

LH: Probably not five new clients a week, though!

PW: Haha, no, I meant in general, perhaps regular clients!

LH: Phew, I was starting to think I was lagging behind quite significantly in terms of marketing there!

PW: Setting goals which are attainable and realistic is very important. If you’ve earned £12,000 this last year and your aim for 2013 is to become a millionaire, then I hate to break it to you but you’re unlikely to succeed.

LH: you cynic!

PW: I know! You might, of course, but as goals go, it’s not that attainable or realistic.

LH: Definitely. There’s always this big dream, especially when we read about lucky ducks who’ve become overnight millionaires, but you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you don’t keep your goals realistic.
For this reason, I think it’s important to brainstorm a few ideas when it comes to trying to find attainable goals. On the one hand, you don’t want to rest on your laurels and end up with a five-year plan that consists of “Do the same as last year”, then “Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.” That’s cheating, so don’t do that!

Writing Resolutions
Writing Resolutions (Photo credit: Tojosan)

You need to devise goals that are aspirational but not entirely out of reach; goals that motivate you because you can visualise ways to achieve them, maybe three, six or twelve months down the line. On the other hand, though, while you should have to reach for your goals – and use them as a means of advancing – don’t go reaching for the stars unless you’ve got a space ship. This isn’t a film, it’s a business, so keep things sensible. What I’m saying, really, is that it’s crucial to find a balance.

PW: Yes, if you set them too high, you’re likely to look at them go, “I can’t do it.” Whereas, if they’re too easy, it might keep you ticking along nicely but if you want to progress, you won’t if your goal is, “Do a bit of work once a week.”

Goals which are timely are those which have a particular length of time in mind for when you want to achieve them. Going back to wanting to have 4 short stories accepted into anthologies. That’s a nice goal, but if it’s in general you will have no motivation to make it happen this year. As a goal to achieve before the end of the year, you will be much more proactive. Similarly do you want to earn £30,000 this year, or in total for the rest of your life?! So, set time limits. When goals have a time limit, this helps them to be measurable too. All these different factors play into each other to create goals that are pretty resilient.

LH: Absolutely. I think this touches on a really important point that’s worth reiterating. While goals should be a really positive, motivating way to start your New Year, there’s no point spending a half-day or day outlining them if you feel comfortable sacking them off a week or a month later. That’s another reason it’s so important to make sure you address all of the factors above – if you choose unsuitable goals, you’re more likely to think (probably correctly) that they were a bad plan in the first place and shouldn’t be stuck to.

PW: Absolutely. Once you have set your goals, you need to stick to them or, as Lorrie has just said, they are a pointless exercise. Think about the things that, in general, help you to stay accountable. Some people make sure they tell other people their New Year’s Resolutions, so that if they are caught smoking, or eating pizza, they can’t pretend they weren’t supposed to!

LH: Yeah, accountability is a really important thing. I like to make quite a thing of my annual goals by writing them down on a really big bit of A3 card in my office. Also, for smaller goals, the fridge – no kidding! – is a really good place to have them. Particularly personal goals. I head to the kitchen several times a day – for tea, lunch, dinner, snacks, whatever – and to have the goals there where everyone can see them and I can be reminded of them really does help.

PW: Something that can help me is having something that reminds me of why I chose that goal in the first place. If I’ve lost my motivation and can’t be bothered, then being reminded that I’m doing this because of x, y and z can boost my enthusiasm for the project again! If I don’t want to send out another pitch but I can contextualise it and remember why I’m doing it, it’s a boost.

LH: Ooh, you could have your one-week holiday destination there on a lovely postcard!

PW: Yes! Setting up a regular time each month, or each week, to monitor how you are getting on is a good idea.

For instance on the first of each month I do all my financial stuff. I think I’m going to add goal monitoring to that day each month. I can review whether I am meeting my goals, exceeding them, or failing entirely. If you revisit them in this way then you can decide if they actually need revising – if by April you’ve had 6 short stories accepted, then change your goal to keep going.  Whereas, if you’ve had none by September, then perhaps aim for 2 by the end of the year in that case. There’s no point stubbornly sticking to a wrong goal just because it’s what you decided on the 1st Jan.

LH: definitely – and this is one more reason your goals should be measureable.

PW: Absolutely. Regular reviewing and monitoring can help you to check your goals are realistic and attainable, and if one is clearly very wrong, it gives you the chance to do something about it. It can also give you a kick up the bum if you’ve got lazy on one or two.

LH: it’s true – t’s easy to get lazy at the best of times. Also, if you’re new to goal setting and freelancing, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to realise you’re the only driving force behind your own career. It can be scary, and New Year can be a scary time anyway and a lot of people tend to have real existential crises – “What am I doing with my life? Where’s this all going? What does it all mean?” But by having it all bullet pointed nicely and what have you, you can see what you’re doing, go back and revisit it. As Pip says, don’t stick with something if it’s not working – give it a go (hopefully the tips in this episode will help you come up with some goals worth sticking to!) but don’t stick to something arbitrarily if it’s not working.

LH: The next thing we want to discuss is what to do if you don’t stick to your goals. And, as Pip just said, making time to assess your performance in line with your goals should make it easy for you to see how you’re getting on. Again, as with the setting of the goals in the first place, don’t try and cheat your way out of your assessments.

PW: You’re only cheating yourself! Haha!

LH: It might well be tempting to skip a weekly or monthly goal check, especially if you know 100% that you’ve been really flaky on one or two (or even all) of them, but you’re only kidding yourself. The sooner you look at your goals, the sooner you can iron out any problems.

If you find that all’s not well in the homestead, you need to work out what’s happening. Depending on how you work best, you might want to sit down on your own and have a little ‘heart to heart’ with yourself on why something’s not gone to plan. Or, if you have a trusted person like a partner, colleague, friend or family member, maybe sit down with them and try and pinpoint the issue.

It might be that the original goal is fine – you’re just not quite going about achieving it in the right way. Or, it might be that the goal needs some tinkering. I think that’ll often depend on whether it’s a small, medium or large goal – if you find that you’re in month six and your plan was to earn £30,000 in the year, but you’re only on £5,000, there’s obviously a real issue that might need you to shift one of the goal-posts as well as altering your working methods as well.

PW: Yes, an important point to make here is that reviewing and possibly revising them is not to be used to get out of a task you’re bored of. It’s strictly for goals which it has become clear were totally out of whack, one way or another.

LH: Good point. If you get three months in and find that your goal of keeping better track of your finances by having a weekly session with your online banking interface and your spreadsheets is boring, it’s not an excuse to lay your hand across your forehead and bemoan that, “This is not for me…this was THE WRONG GOAL” As long as a goal is going according to plan, leave it alone and just do it.

LH: The next thing we wanted to talk about is what to do if you’ve achieved/exceeded your goals. As Pip mentioned above, achieving your goal early isn’t an excuse to sit back and relax for the rest of the year. There are different ways of dealing with a goal that’s been met, and it’ll very much depend on the type of goal. Say you started the year wanting to earn £30,000 in the twelve month period, and you achieve that sum by month nine, there are two ways of looking at the situation. Either you go on and try to continue earning at the same rate (never a bad thing!), and increase your desired earnings for the next year, or you can take a little time and concentrate on other things. Or, invest some of the ‘extra’ funds in more training and development. Better still, treat yourself to a few nice things – life is for living, after all 😉

PW: Or, you could take my goal to an extreme and just take the final 3 months of the year off!! Not if you ever want your clients back, however.

LH: Yeah, I can’t see many of my clients welcoming me back with open arms after a three-month break!

PW: That is one of the fears of taking time off, isn’t it? If they need to find another copywriter to cover you for a week, then they’ve got another copywriter on their books!

LH: What I’ve always tended to do is mention the holiday *way* in advance and prepare, say, news articles before the week or two weeks comes around. The last thing we want is some other copywriter coming in and smooching up our clients!

PW: Yes, that’s absolutely my plan actually. Warn regular clients, and do as much in advance as I can.

LH: As long as you know when you’re going to be off, you should be fine – you have a good level of communication with your clients, they know from experience that you’re committed to keeping the work at a good standard and they know you’re flexible, punctual and accommodating.

PW: Aww thank you! And yeah, that’s the thing. It’s not like I’ve taken no time off this year, it’s just that it’s been a bit ad hoc – if I was having a quiet week I’d have a few days off. This is different because it will have to be planned far in advance.

LH: And you’re quite entitled. While being a freelancer is a bit different to being salaried, in that you are your business, you’re still very much entitled to some time off. I think, as well, there’s a tendency to think too big when it comes to taking time off. Because you’re used to being so busy when you’re self-employed, and to carrying the whole business, you feel like the world will end when you don’t check your emails for a day or so.

PW: Even an hour!

LH: Haha, I didn’t want to say it, but yes! The funny thing is, though, that other people don’t even notice – it’s sod’s law! You have to remember that people aren’t sitting there focusing on you, you, you. Think about it – I don’t send an email and then sit there wondering when that one person will get back to me. I expect a delay of some hours or days, depending on the query.

PW: It’s true, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that sitting in your inbox is your DREAM assignment, with a 25 minute acceptance limit.
LH: This assignment will self-destruct in T-minus five minutes…

PW: Exactly!!

LH: Joking aside, I think a nice, specific out-of-office will tide you over absolutely fine for a week 🙂

PW: I haven’t told you this yet, but my auto-responder will probably say, “If you have a copywriting emergency, please do contact Lorrie”!

LH: Um, thanks?! Good to know I’m recommendable. Maybe I can be your Little Bird Recommendation for the week!

Little Bird Recommendations

PW: Lorrie, as transitions go, that was SEAMLESS. Beautifully done.

LH: Why thank you! Just one more reason to recommend me, I guess 😉

PW: Maybe next time! So what’s your recommendation this week?

LH: So, this week, my recommendation will be put to shame by Pip’s, but it’s nice and simple: business cards! I got caught out last week when I met a prospective new client, reached into my hand bag for a card and realised that I’d changed my handbag. For new freelancers, I’d recommend you get on the internet and have a look for free business card samples. My personal favourite is Moo.com – they offer 10 free business cards, totally personalised, so get them, and stick them in your wallet!

PW: Like you say, when you go out shopping, you’re not actively looking for clients, but you do want to be prepared. I do keep some in the back of my diary, as back up, really.
Now, my recommendation is a course I took recently. I found it on Alison.com and I think it’s fair to say that the quality on there varies a lot. But this one, I loved. I am a bit of a search geek, so when I saw they had an “Advanced Search on Google” course, taught by a guy from Google, I couldn’t resist. It didn’t disappoint. I already used a few of the tips, such as putting a minus in front of the terms you don’t want to include. I remember, I got glue ear once, and searched for it on Google, but realised most people who get it are toddlers and babies, so I searched for “glue ear” minus babies, minus toddlers, minus children!
Another one of the advanced search functions I use is searching within a certain time frame. For example, if I need current statistics, but I google and find results from 2009-10, that’s no use. So I search within the last week or month. But there were so many more tips and tricks and they’ll help me a lot in the searches I do when researching articles. Even if you’re strangely not like me, and excited by searches, you can still benefit from this course. The link’s in the show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, the course is free – it’s about four hours of video, perhaps a bit less.

LH: And please, if you’re interested in search, please, please get in touch with Pip because she needs some like-minded friends! Please don’t make me to talk to her about search any more. When you decide to become a freelance writer, you think, “Ah, writing! I like that, I can do that!” but what you don’t realise is how much you’ll have to baby step clients through finding up to date, relevant information for their stories.

PW: that’s often why they hire you – because they don’t have time to do it.

LH: It’s also something to pop on your CV and on the training section of your website. People like to think they’re getting value for money, and if they see you’ve just taken a course, they’ll like that.

PW: Plus, people hire me to write about search so it’s my duty to take training on it. Also, I love it!

LH: Haha, I knew that was the real reason! I can see you rolling around in search print-outs.

PW: Life wouldn’t be interesting if we all liked the same kind of thing.

LH: True, we both love grammar, for example.

PW: Me too! What I really find interesting is when someone whose first language isn’t Eglish uses a particularly word order or grammatical formulation because that’s how they’d normally do it in German or Swedish, for example.

LH: That’s a service I offer, actually – it’s called target text only editing. So, you’ll have a text that’s been translated from, say, Swedish to English, and there’ll be mistakes in there that, if you have no knowledge of Swedish, you won’t understand why they’re there or what they’re supposed to mean. So it’s a cross between translation and editing, really, and it’s something I do offer because I can see why someone’s put what they’ve put, take it back to the original language and try and decipher what was meant.

PW: I used to know the only Welsh to Swedish translator in the world!

LH: That’s fabulous!

PW: There wasn’t a whole load of work, but what there was, she got! She was Swedish, went to Uni in Wales and as well as picking up English, perfected Welsh as well.

LH: Right, anyway!

PW: So yes, we’re both geeks in our little…well, big ways!

LH: So, we hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast and that it’s a really positive way of getting into the swing of things for 2013, by setting some goals that will help drive you and your business forward.

PW: And come over to our Facebook page and tell us what your goals are!

LH: Yes, tell us how you’ve used the SMART framework to come up with some self-employment goals. Pip and I might share some of our own as well.

PW: Thank you so much for listening, we really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

LH:…and I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we’ll catch you next time!