Day 3: Set Your Freelancing Goals


This is Day 3 of 31 Days to Start a Freelancing Business (Or Make Yours a Better One). If you missed the earlier days, you may want to read these first:

  1. Day 1: Make An Inventory of Your Freelancing Skills
  2. Day 2: Examine Your Freelancing Resources

Yesterday, you did a thorough inventory of your freelancing resources. Today, we’ll step back a little to take a big-picture look into the future.

We’re setting goals.

How to Set Goals

If there’s one thing I learned from 14 years of working in the United Nations, it is this: you must always set SMART goals. What is a SMART goal? It is:






Ok, let’s go over each one:

Specific. Your goal should be so specific you can see it, touch it, feel it, smell it and taste it when it has actually happened.

For example, don’t aim to “find happiness and fulfillment in my career.” Ask yourself, what does happiness and fulfillment look like? Is it waking up every morning excited to jump out of bed and get to work? “Happiness and fulfillment” aren’t specific enough. However, “jumping out of bed” is. See the difference?

Measurable. You should be able to measure or count your goal. So in our example above, you can add “jump out of bed at least 5 mornings every week.” When your goal is measurable, it’s easy to see how much farther you have to go. If you’re already jumping out of bed 2 mornings a week, then you know you only need to be excited enough to jump out of bed for another 3 days a week.

(Sorry, my example is silly, but the idea is to get you to understand the “SMART” framework. Ok so far?)

Attainable. Every personal development expert will tell you to dream big. But practical goal setters will tell you to dream big … within your reach. Your goals should stretch you beyond your comfort zone, but not so far out that you’re only setting yourself up for failure. So dream big within reason.

Realistic. Remember your list of resources? Set a goal you can achieve with those resources. For example, don’t aim to make a six-figure income if, realistically, you can only freelance one hour a day. Is that possible? Maybe. You could probably find somebody who does it. But it’s highly unlikely for you or anybody else.

Time-bound. Your goal should have a time element. It can be in terms of frequency, such as “to earn a net income of $2,000 every month.” It can also be a deadline like, “by the end of December 2009.” The time element gives you another means of measuring and tracking your progress. It also puts an end-date to your goal. Then when you’ve achieved your goal, you can move on to the next (bigger) one.

What Goals Should You Set?

Now that you know how to set SMART freelancing goals, what kind of goals should you have? Try to come up with a goal for:

  • your freelancing income
  • your freelancing lifestyle

Most freelancers would stop at setting an income goal. That’s fine, but you should go farther. Set goals for your lifestyle as well. After all, we want you to be both wealthy and happy. It does you no good to be making $10,000 a month freelancing if it means you never exercise anymore, you’ve stopped talking to your family, and you can no longer distinguish week days from week ends.

(Note: I’d like to thank my client and mentor, Nicole Dean, for this tip about lifestyle goals.)

If you can’t balance your freelancing career with the rest of your life then, well, it’s just not savvy.

And we’re all about being savvy here.

What are your freelancing goals? If you’re up to it, do share them with us in the comments below. Or let us know how this exercise has been for you.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Bogdan Suditu

17 Responses to Day 3: Set Your Freelancing Goals
  1. Chris Anderson
    October 6, 2009 | 10:49 am

    I just wrote a blog about goals not too long ago. I think they are a big step towards success. You talk about dreaming big within reason. Another way to look at that is to dream big and make a big goal, but break it down into smaller goals that work towards reaching that big one.

    Also as you said, be specific, that’s important. Great post here!
    .-= Chris Anderson´s last blog ..Todoodlist Review =-.

    • Alexis
      October 6, 2009 | 11:38 am

      Hey Chris! I remember your post. I also commented about setting SMART goals there.


  2. Alex
    February 16, 2010 | 2:22 pm

    This task could take a lifetime, really challenging but true, you have to decide all your life NOW and make some adjustments on the way.
    28 days TO GO!

    • Alexis
      February 16, 2010 | 2:28 pm

      Alex, welcome to 31 Days to Start Your Freelancing Business! Let me know if you have any questions or if there’s anything else I can help you with. All the best!

  3. Karine Delvare
    August 28, 2010 | 1:20 am

    Nice that you talk about the freelancing lifestyle, as it is my most important goal! I started freelancing to be able to stay at home and take care of my pre-school children, and then found it so great for other things (like, not having to eat every lunch outside while I’m so picky food quality, the commute time gained, and so on) that I will maintain that goal even when the children will all be in school.

    My income goal is pretty simple: earn at least as much as I did when I had a boss. That doesn’t work anymore since my first child, but I’m patient, that will be a true goal again with school :)

  4. Bonnie
    January 16, 2011 | 11:05 pm

    I set my goal, but I have a really bad habit of setting “unrealistic” goals…so here’s mine:

    To earn $3000 per month freelancing 30 hours per week by December 31, 2011.

    Not sure how realistic that is, but it gives me something to work for where I can track how close I am to getting it done – and yes, like Chris Anderson said, I also set smaller goals that bring me closer to reaching my ultimate goal.

    I only have one piece of advice for people – if you do your best and give 100%, then if you fall just shy of your goal, don’t beat yourself up over it – keep trying to reach that big goal.

  5. Karen
    February 12, 2011 | 4:43 pm

    This is usually hard for me to create and even more difficult to achieve but, as Bonnie said… Setting manageable and realistic goals are what I have tried to do. So, I’ve come up with short, mid and long term goals of 3-6 months, 6-12 months and 12-24 months respectively.

    I started out on my own 3 years ago and had to go part-time for the last 18 months but am ready to get going again.

    All the best to everyone on their goals.

  6. Jack Watson-Hamblin
    February 22, 2011 | 7:07 pm

    I’ve just downloaded an iOS app called “Achieve” to help me with this. Was almost what I was wanting, but I couldn’t find any other goal tracking/setting apps that incorporated anything like SMART.
    Jack Watson-Hamblin´s last blog post ..APIs and Authentication

  7. Craig Silver
    September 24, 2011 | 3:25 pm

    Hey Lexi I have to say your life and site has served as an awesome source of inspiration for me. I have been sort of forced to pursue what has been a life long passion to create.

    Now that I am no longer distracted by my former careerpath in the insurance industry, I have the time to approach my goals to form a proper business in the graphic design field.

    With your guidance I have even more reason to expect success. Thank you.

  8. [...] you don’t truly want something, you won’t be persistent enough to work until you get it. One thing to always remember when you’re creating goals, and grabbing your vision, is to set …://">vision, is to set them high. Not so high that you can’t [...]

  9. Christina Crowe
    October 25, 2011 | 2:48 pm

    This assignment was harder than I thought it would be, especially when thinking about my lifestyle goals.

    I had already had a yearly income goal penned out when I had initially made the decision to write for clients on Elance, but I hadn’t thought to break it down per month, so that’s what I did today.

    Here goes…

    By January 31, 2012, I plan to have received $2,500 in my bank account.

    I figured $2,500 would be a good starting point. I have a vacation in November, so that’s why I made the end-date so late.

    Thinking about my lifestyle goals was a bit harder, but I eventually decided on a number of hours I want to work each week (while earning the same income) to make room for other hobbies throughout the day.

    Christina Crowe´s last blog post ..Goals and Achievements – May, June & July 2011

    • Alexis
      October 26, 2011 | 2:15 pm

      @Christina Crowe – Keep going, Christina!

  10. Elizabeth
    February 14, 2012 | 6:17 pm

    This was such a useful exercise – but it did involve more brainpower than the previous two!

    Income Goal
    I would like to earn at least £900 (approx $1400) a month as a freelancer by Sept 2012. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it will cover all my expenses. I may not be able to buy designer clothes (not that I do anyway!) but it will be the first 5-6 months of business – and if I can earn this much it means I’m actually earning my living from freelance work, which is great. Obviously if I can earn more, that would be a bonus.

    Lifestyle Goal
    I would like to have time to exercise during the day (my preferred time and impossible to do with my current job). I would also like to work in different venues: the local park, coffee shops and so on. I also want to feel less stressed by being able to wake up more-or-less when I like and go out for walks/visits during the day. Sounds amazing right now!

    • Alexis
      February 15, 2012 | 8:57 am

      @Elizabeth – Excellet goals, I’m super excited for you! And don’t worry about having an income goal that’s too high or too low. Only you know what goal is “enough.” I don’t know why everyone is hung up on earning six figures a year, sheesh!

      • Elizabeth
        February 15, 2012 | 6:07 pm

        Thanks Alexis!

  11. Justin
    August 20, 2012 | 2:18 am

    Thank you again working through this one step at a time. Setting some goals helps feel more at ease like I am not in chaos. It shows me how much more I could be doing to achieve what I want on top of really thinking hard about what I really want. I would advise others to take lots of extra time on this important step and not to focus on writing a business plan but rather a plan of action and what the “prize” to keep your eyes on is. Thanks as always.

  12. [redacted]
    August 12, 2013 | 9:51 am

    Howdy! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the fantastic work!
    [redacted]´s last blog post ..Six Figure Boss – Six Figure Boss Review

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

CommentLuv badge

Trackback URL