Setting Goals Based on Where You’re At in Your Writer’s Journey

The word Goals spelled out and a calendar

I love the New Year.

You can argue that it’s an arbitrary milestone. But it still feels like a fresh start … a good time to review and reflect on your accomplishments from the previous year and to give some serious thought to what you want to achieve in the upcoming year.

That makes it a natural time to set some goals.

Now, let me be the first to say, that I don’t think goals are required for success. I think you can do a lot to grow your business — and yourself — even if you don’t set specific goals.

But there’s evidence that defining your goals, writing them down, and revisiting them often can help you achieve more of what you want. In one Psychology Today study conducted in 2015, researchers found that people who wrote down their goals were 33% more likely to achieve them than people who just imagined outcomes in their mind.

So, it’s a useful exercise if you choose to do it.

There are a lot of ways to go about defining and achieving your goals, so let’s take a look at goal setting … and what kind of approach might work best based on where you’re at in your writing journey. Because goal strategies are not one-size-fits-all!

When You’re Working Toward a Business That Supports You

This is how I define someone who is in the beginning stages of a writing business. From the moment you decide you want to be a professional writer to the time when you’re consistently earning an income that supports you — and all the steps in between — you’re in the early stages of your business.

When you’re still in that initial building phase, a classic systematic approach to goal-setting can be extremely helpful.

At the beginning of the year, carefully define where you would like your business to be by the end of the year. This is a time for S.M.A.R.T. goals if there ever was one. That’s:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

At this stage, a good goal is to grow your business to the point of providing a consistent, livable income for you by the end of the year.

Let’s say you are specifically working to replace the income from your full-time job.

You might write out your goal like this:

“By December 2021, I will be earning $5,000 a month from writing projects. I will have been earning at that level for three months, and I will either have projects lined up for the next two months, or I will have a marketing system in place that’s proven reliable at bringing in work. (Preferably both.) I will also have saved 50% of my writing income from the year to offset any slowdowns in 2022.”

Notice this is a far cry from, “I will make a six-figure income this year.”

The goal, when expressed this way, is very specific.

It’s measurable — you know exactly what success looks like.

It is attainable. This goal isn’t about earning a specific amount during the year — it’s about building a system that allows you to grow into earning what you need in a reliable way.

It’s relevant, assuming what you want for yourself in the next year is to replace your regular income with freelance writing income.

And it’s time-bound. This goal gives you several months of trial and error to figure out how to land clients, deliver great work, get paid … and repeat.

Articulating your goal in a very specific, detailed way is just the first step with classic goal-setting.

The next step is to break down that goal into key milestones. For example, to achieve the above, you might identify these key milestones:

  • Master a specialty skill like writing email newsletters.
  • Define your niche or identify two or three target markets.
  • Build a list of 100 prospects.
  • Set up a LinkedIn Profile.
  • Set up a website.
  • Contact your 100 prospects five times each over a three-month period (April to June).
  • Keep the warm leads (anyone you’ve corresponded with) and discard the cold ones (everyone who did not respond to your contacts). Build a new list of 100.
  • Nurture your warm leads weekly or monthly.
  • Contact your new 100 prospects five times each between July and September.

From there, you’ll need to identify daily tasks to accomplish these milestones. You might dedicate the first quarter of the year to mastering your skill, setting up your LinkedIn profile and website, building your initial list of 100 contacts, and creating the five messages you’ll send to them.

Write out all the steps for each of those milestones and then figure out what you need to do during each workday.

Then in the second quarter, you could focus on making those five connections with each of your 100 prospects. Again, determine what you need to do each day.

Remember, this is just an example. Tailor your goal, milestone, and tasks to what you want to achieve this year.

As part of this process, read through your goal each morning before you get to work. And then make accomplishing your goal-related tasks your top priority each day.

With a systematic approach like this, if you fully commit to daily action, you will see results. You may fall short of your goal. You may surpass it by a mile. But, with a clear plan and daily action, you are all but guaranteed to make significant progress during the year.

Leveling Up an Existing Business

Now, what if you’re already making a full-time income from freelance writing?

If you want to:

  • Increase your income
  • Reduce the hours you work
  • Land higher-quality clients
  • Or break into a new niche or specialty …

 … then taking the classic S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting approach I outlined above usually works best. Just write your S.M.A.R.T. goal to fit your new objective.

But if you’re happy with where your business is at on those fronts, and you’re more interested in:

  • Growing your skills
  • Or applying them to side projects …

 … then a monthly or quarterly Challenge approach might be a more satisfying goal-setting process for you.

For each month or quarter, set a goal as a Challenge … preferably one that focuses on process.

So, in January, you might decide to challenge yourself to send an email to your list each day. In February, your Challenge might be to write and publish one blog post each day. In March, you might make three new connections on LinkedIn each day. In April, you might write 100 headlines each day. And so on …

These types of Challenges stretch you. They help you make a lot of progress in a short time. And they often yield surprising results. You might see your email list grow more than it ever has … or big improvements to your site traffic … or more project inquiries from LinkedIn …

Plus, Challenges are fun. And you can learn a lot.

Using monthly or quarterly Challenges is a great way to try new things that will help you grow your business over time.

One key thing — pause and reflect on what you learn at the end of each Challenge. And then make a decision about how you’ll apply that going forward.

Overcoming a Plateau

Sometimes, you’ll see a slowdown in your business growth. It happens to everyone.

Maybe things have gone along swimmingly for months or even years — you always knew where your next project was coming from — and then suddenly the work seems a little scarce.

If you’re looking to overcome a plateau either in the number of clients you have or the quality of projects you take on, try setting a rejection goal.

I know, that sounds awful, right? But a rejection goal can be really effective in ending a stagnate period.

Basically, set a goal to get a certain number of pitches rejected during the year.

A couple of rules …

For a rejection to count, you must put your best foot forward. Study the potential client. Personalize the proposal. And follow up at least three times.

Also, for a rejection to count, the prospect needs to respond to you, not just ignore your messages.

If you aim to get 100 rejections that fit this bill in the next year, chances are really, really good that you’ll also start landing more work. A lot more work.

Don’t Forget Your Personal Goals

Although writing is pretty great … there is more to life than that.

There’s health and family. Community and hobbies. Personal growth and big dreams.

In addition to setting your business goals for the year, give some thought to two or three personal goals you’d like to achieve.

And then pick one of the processes above to make a plan for achieving those goals, too.

No Matter the Process You Choose

Which every process you choose to chase your goals, there are a few things that are universally helpful in achieving the goals you set …

  • Review your goal daily — this is so key to staying motivated and on track.
  • When you review your goal, remind yourself of why you set that goal.
  • When you’re feeling resistant to the goal-oriented task in front of you, acknowledge that as normal and okay … and the choose to take action anyway.
  • Be grateful for the big and little blessings in your life. Dwell on that gratitude.
  • Celebrate your wins regularly.

And always remember, you set goals because you want to make your life better. This isn’t about earning approval from others or not letting them down. This is about lifting yourself up. So, keep your head on straight and make it a great year!

Are you ready to make the leap to the writer’s life this year? What are your goals? Share with us in the comments.

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Published: January 1, 2021

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