Defining Your Goals is the First Step to Achieving Them

As a full-time professional freelancer, I strongly believe that if you treat your writing as a hobby, it will never become a business. Because of that, I think it is important to define your writing goals and then ask yourself why you’re pursuing them. My freelance income has exceeded the income from my former day job, and I know that wouldn’t have happened if I’d treated my writing as a hobby or failed to set goals.

Since my career (and life) is a work in progress, my goals have changed over the years. Here is what has worked for me and I’d love to hear about what works for you.

Embrace a Long-Term Plan: I’ve always known my long-term goal was to make a living as a freelancer. A few years before hanging my own shingle, my goal was to write one freelance piece a month. That pace was manageable with my day job, it gave me some extra money and it helped me build a long-term roster of clients I could turn to when I had more time to devote to freelancing. Making small investments then yielded important dividends when I went full time.

Establish Your Goals and Write Them Down: Admittedly, my goals for the past few years have centered around earning an income while living the lifestyle I wanted. Immediately prior to launching my freelance business four years ago, I created my business plan. I looked over my household budget and pinpointed exactly how much I needed to earn in order to make ends meet and backed into how many articles I had to write each month. I made a list of clients I thought could help me get there. From the get go I used that as the minimum number I would write/earn.

Why? I wanted to work around my son’s schedule. He was 15 months old and not adjusting well to our childcare arrangements, plus I wanted more time with him. I knew I had to contribute to our family’s budget and seeing exactly how much I needed to earn made the goal seem attainable and tangible. If I couldn’t make my minimum figures, I planned to head back into the world of 9-5. That if hung heavy over my head and served as extra motivation.

Think Big: While creating my minimum income targets, I created my big audacious income goal—the number that would be a big ego boost for me to hit. Why? Personal satisfaction. It was (and still is) a game for me to hit that number. It’s an arbitrary number, but one that I associate with success. I’m happy to say I hit it last year and I’m on track to hit it again this year. A few weeks ago I realized I was a few thousand dollars short of my mid-year goal, so I hustled to pick up another article. I may not have done that if I hadn’t seen the figures in black and white.

Meeting that big audacious income goal while caring for a toddler and adding a new little one to our family was a huge challenge, but it was also empowering. I recently read that the goal you set is the goal you get and I agree 100%.

Continue to Grow: In the fall, Evan will start kindergarten and Madelyn will go to preschool three days a week. Writing that pains me a little because these past few years have gone by in the blink of an eye. Now I’m going to have more time to work during business hours than I’ve had in years, so I’m taking a hard look at my goals. I know reaching my income targets and continuing to serve my current clients is still my top priority, as is working around my kids’ schedules, but I’m eager to find new ways to grow my business. I’m making a list of publications I’d like to write for and plan to pursue new avenues for my writing.

Last week I shared that I’m delving into the world children’s literature. Because I know writing for kids is a business, I’m approaching it as such. I’ve joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and I’m heading to my first workshops and conference later this month. My initial goals are to become a better writer, build my portfolio and learn more about publishing picture books. My long-term goal is to sell a picture book. That means this is more than a hobby and something that I will make time for and actively pursue. Putting that goal out there means I’ll work harder to accomplish it.

How about you? What are your goals—writing or otherwise—and what are you doing to get there?


Writing for a Living


Writing for a Living

Often times when I tell people I’m a freelance writer, they comment on how great it is that I get to right about whatever I choose. But the truth is, being a writer and writing for a living are two different things.

Whether you’re writing a feature story or a novel, you have to get those pieces published before you can get paid, and publishing on any level is a business. In business, you have to produce a product you can sell or you’ll end up having to close your doors.

When I first became a full-time freelancer, I wrote down every realistic market I planned to pursue. For me realistic meant those publications where I already had a contact. I had been covering transportation issues for a number of years, so it made sense to continue on that path and rely on the expertise I had gained. Given that my freelance income has now surpassed my full-time income, it was a wise choice.

One of the biggest benefits of pursuing an area of expertise is that I don’t spend a lot of time pitching articles that may or may not get picked up. Since a well-crafted pitch letter can sometimes take as long to write as an article, skipping that step is a huge plus. At this point in my career my assignments usually come via a phone call or an email from an editor saying he needs a feature on a certain topic. We’ll email a bit about potential sources and the angle, and then I get right to work.

On a personal level, I would love to spend more time writing essays and pitching parenting magazines, but I know that I will likely spend more time on those projects and see less money. As someone who writes for a living, I choose to focus on getting the most bang for buck. My goal is to create products I can sell, and I think that is the key difference between those who write and those who write professionally. 

Taking a Leap

Often when people talk about striking out on their own, they’ll refer to it as “taking a leap.” I’ve used the phrase myself when talking about my own freelance adventure. But, in truth, I really don’t like it. I think it negates the amount of advanced planning that goes into a solo venture, especially a successful one. Yes, there is a certain amount of faith involved in entrepreneurship, but there is a whole lot more strategy.

Freelancing had always been part of my “someday” plan. While working full time, I freelanced on the side, conducting telephone interviews for stories from my car on my lunch break and writing in the evenings. Those small side gigs paid dividends when I called the editors to let them know I had become my own boss and could take on more work.

I also spent months researching what set successful freelancers apart. I was even able to get paid for some research by writing an article on freelancing for my alumni magazine, which ran three years before I put my own plan into action. Learning what worked for others helped me create my strategy prior to quitting my full-time gig.

That being said, many of us need a catalyst that prompts us to put our plans into action. My freelance dream became a reality when I wanted to work around my son’s (and now my daughter’s) schedule. While that first move may have felt like a leap at the time, it really was just the first step in a well-crafted plan. Advanced planning and the determination to live the lifestyle I wanted have made my successful freelance venture my new reality.

Photo by kebb via iStockphoto.