When I was a kid, I remember waking up on New Year’s Day and excitedly pulling out my unicorn-and-rainbows box filled with paper and a pencil. I’d write down my New Year’s resolutions and tuck them away in the box, along with my not-so-great drawings of horses, my love at the time.
Within three days, I’d have bitten my nails, argued with my brother or done whatever else I’d vowed not to do for the whole year. The horses remained. The resolutions did not.
I never sat down to write yearly goals for my life as a freelancer, at least not until last January when a local women’s journalism group in Los Angeles hosted a goal-setting workshop led by Debra Eckerling, a freelancer who created Write On! Online more than a decade ago. It’s a community for writers to help them set goals and be more productive.
The first thing we did in the workshop was write a mission statement for ourselves. What did we want to accomplish for the year? The statement takes you from being floundering freelancer to focused solo businessperson.
“What is the overarching thing that you want to be doing?” Eckerling said. “It’s sort of like what was your theme for the year?”
Your mission statement is the guiding light that will help you plan your year and grow your freelancing in the direction you want it to go. It’s what you want your freelance life to be.
Let’s say you characterize yourself in your mission statement as a successful, savvy reporter with an interest in global stories. But you’ve done little international reporting. During the year, you’re offered a gig to write press releases for a local company. Sure, you could grab the gig for the money. And you should, if you really need it. But ideally, you should step back and see if the gig aligns with your mission statement. No? Then you’re better off skipping it and focusing your time on something that aligns with your mission.
After you craft a mission statement — which can change year to year, as your life evolves — it’s time to write down some goals to help you move toward the freelance life you want.
“The best way to set goals is to take out a piece of paper and write down everything you want to accomplish this year,” Eckerling said. “I’m talking everything from new business cards to writing the great American novel to getting published in a major magazine — every single thing that you have in your head as something that you want to accomplish.”
Eckerling said the key is getting those goals out of your head and onto a piece of paper.
“So you write your mission at the top and then you do your laundry list of everything,” Eckerling said. “And then you break it down.”
Going back to our example, maybe you define “successful” as making more money. Then one goal might be to make 25 percent more compared to last year. You want to beef up your international reporting, so let’s make it a goal to build your international portfolio.
Once you have a few goals set, guided by your mission statement, you need to break each goal into smaller tasks that will get you there. If your goal is to make 25 percent more, then your tasks might be: Send 20 pitches a month. Pitch to a new outlet each week. Stop taking stories that pay under a certain amount. The tasks for each goal are very specific.
With the international reporting example, maybe your tasks would be: Apply for six international fellowships this year, such as the Burns Fellowship to Germany or an East-West Center Fellowship to China. Find one international story in your own backyard each month. Pitch these local “international” stories each month to international outlets, such as PRI’s “The World” or an international newspaper. This moves you toward your goal.
It’s simple but effective. First, mission statement. Second, goals, prioritized from big to small. Third, tasks.
Congratulations! You’ve laid the groundwork for your freelance year.
But it doesn’t stop there. Eckerling said to stay motivated by looking at your goals. Post them somewhere where you can see them each day. Post them publicly. Find a buddy or a group to help you stay accountable to your goals. And more importantly, check in on how you’re doing. Have you strayed from your goals and mission statement? Recalibrate and set yourself on the right path.
Eckerling suggests not focusing on failure. We all fail. We need failure to push us to succeed. She said to take some time regularly to write down your successes.
“Write down the things that pop into your head that you’re most proud of accomplishing in the last six months, three months, year,” she said. “And look at them and be like, ’Look what I did!’”
Eckerling said it will not only keep you mentally positive and motivated but can also help inspire your freelance buddies around you. She said it gives you a little boost to be able to look at those successes when you’ve had a crappy week or a period when everything seems to be going wrong.
And don’t let yourself off the hook, either. As freelancer media folks, we’re often natural procrastinators.
But in the end, remember your mission. Remember who you want to be as a media professional and as a person. Remember your goals.
“Keep your eye on the prize,” Eckerling said. “Even if you work toward them a little of the time, you’ll get somewhere.”
Tagged under: Freelancing