It’s a new year and if tradition has been followed, many of us have created New Year resolutions. Typically, they are health-oriented, such as “I will lose 20 lb and start exercising at the gym daily.” But few of us have created resolutions for our business.
“Resolutions” in this sense is synonymous with “goals.” I resolve to lose 20 lb; my goal is to lose 20 lb. With the beginning of a new year, it is time to not only start the business books over for the new tax year, but also time to set goals.
Goals are important in business because they act as focusers. Goals let us decide what will be important to us in the coming year. A well-written goal is narrowly defined and accomplishable. It may require great struggle to accomplish, but it can be done. Most importantly, well-written goals provide our business with direction for the foreseeable future.
A goal can be anything business related. The most common goals are of these types: “I will increase my billings by 25% over last year’s billings” and “I will replace client X with a new, better client.” For most of us, goals like these are not only appropriate, but what we need.
A goal can be very defining because a goal requires planning and execution of the plan. Using the 25% increase in billings as an example, it is insufficient to say “I will increase my billings by 25% over last year’s billings.” First, you need to know what last year’s billings were, which means that you need to have kept appropriate business records. If you haven’t kept detailed records, it is time to revise your record-keeping system for this new year. (Remember that detailed data is the lifeblood of a business.)
(An important note: There is a difference between what was billed and what was collected. For some freelancers, the numbers are identical; for other freelancers, billings will exceed collection, sometimes by a significant sum. The reason may be that some clients simply didn’t pay or it may be that you had a spectacular December and based on the terms of your agreement with your client, you will not collect until January. Therein lies the making of two goals: one to increase billings and one to increase collections.)
In a way, what we are talking about is updating (or creating) a business plan, except that we are focusing only on portions of what would be included in a complete business plan. We need to identify where we are today, at the beginning of the new year, and where we want to be at year’s end. We then need to spell out the steps we will take to get from point now to point then.
Goals are important because freelancers too often go with the flow of events rather than try to shape events to their needs. We need to mold our future to fit our wants and needs, rather than molding ourselves to fit whatever the future throws at us. In the absence of a goal such as increasing billing by 25%, we are likely to sit back and take what comes our way. If we are lucky, what comes our way will amount to an increase in billings, even if just by a slim amount; if we are unlucky, it will be a decrease in billings. As passive participants, whichever it is will be accepted even if it is unsatisfying.
By setting a goal and by planning for its achievement, we are creating our own luck. I know there are freelancers who will say they have tried this but no matter what they did, they were unable to meet their goal. What that tells me is that an insufficient amount of time was spent planning and executing a plan to accomplish the goals. It is like the freelancer who says he hasn’t time (or money) to do effective marketing, but then can be found spending hours every week (if not every day) “socializing” (rather than marketing) on the Internet. It is a question of priorities and with establishing priorities, we establish our own luck.
When I began my career as a freelancer, one thing I was certain of: If I didn’t have clients, I wouldn’t have income and the way to get clients was to market my services. I spent a significant amount of time and money marketing my services to the audience I wanted to reach, and I did so continually for years. Every year I created a new marketing plan, which I implemented over the course of the ensuing year. I didn’t call this a goal, but that was what it was. The result was that I had more business than I could handle myself; the legacy of that effort is that I continue to have more business than I can handle myself.
Your goals and my goals do not have to match or even be similar. Your goals have to fit your wants and needs. The key is setting those goals at the beginning of the year, planning how to reach them over the course of the ensuing year, and implementing that plan. If you haven’t set business goals for this new year, now is the time to set them, establish a plan to accomplish them, and determine what yardsticks will indicate that you are moving toward your goal.
Intermediate yardsticks are as important as the final goal because they are the measure of whether your efforts are bearing fruit. If you repeatedly fail to meet the yardstick goals, then you need to revise your plan and/or intermediate goals — not your final goals.
Remember that you are a business and need to create the atmosphere in which you can and will be successful, no matter how you define success. Keep a list of your goals taped where you can see them when in your office. We all need to be regularly reminded of what we are striving to accomplish if we wish to accomplish those goals.
Richard Adin, An American Editor