5 Surprising Questions to Ask Before You Set Next Year’s Goals

goal2Setting goals is an important part of running a successful freelance business. Right now, because we are at the end of the year, many freelancers are starting to think about their goals for next year.

In general, setting goals is a good thing. Goals are standards that can help us measure our achievements. If your freelance business operates on a fiscal year, now is a great time to look at your goals.

However, it’s also best to approach goal-setting cautiously and carefully if your business is to truly get some value from the experience.

In this post, we’ll examine some questions that every freelancer should ask themselves before they set their next year’s goals.

Setting Goals Shouldn’t Just Be About Numbers

A mistake that many businesses make when setting goals is to base them totally on numbers. Some examples of some number-based goals might include:

  • Increase revenue by 15%
  • Engage three new clients
  • Spend $500 on upgrading web design
  • Save 10% of gross income

You’ve probably already seen some lists of goals that look very much like this.
These goals aren’t terrible. In fact, you may already be thinking about some very similar goals for your own freelance business.

Before You Set Those Goals…

While the numbers-based goals aren’t completely bad or wrong (and there’s definitely room for these types of goals in any freelancer’s business plan), there should be a bit more to goal setting than just numbers.

So, you’ve got your pencil and paper handy. You might even think you already know what next year’s goals should be (and you might). Or, next year’s goals may be something that is still somewhere on your To Do list.

Whatever the case, I say be careful. Before you finalize your goals for next year take a look at the questions below and give them some serious thought.

Here five questions that you may not have thought of to ask yourself before setting your goals:

  1. Am I doing the type of work that I really want to be doing? If you answered “yes” to this question, you can breathe a huge sigh of relief. However, if you answered “no,” then you have some work to do. You need to find out exactly what is keeping you from the work that you would really like to be doing. If it’s a lack of education or training, then getting that training should be one of your goals. If it’s your marketing efforts, then changing your marketing should be a goal.
  2. Which projects did I struggle with the most, and why? You can learn a tremendous amount from projects that didn’t go very well. Much of what you learn can be incorporated into your goals for the coming year. Make a list of what you think went wrong with the project. Was the client communication poor or lacking? If so, better client communication can become one of your goals. Was the service and/or product that your provided excellent? If not, better output should become a goal.
  3. Did I lose any customers last year? If so, it may be worth your time and effort to find out why a customer left. We are in the midst of a recession, so it is possible that some clients simply can’t afford your services anymore — but don’t automatically assume that this is the case with every client that you lost over the past year. If you do discover that a client had a problem with your services, look at my suggestions for the second question and follow the steps listed there.
  4. Did I gain any customers last year? New customers can be a sign that you are doing something right. Try to find out what that something is so that you can repeat it. This will probably mean that you will need to contact your customers and ask them some questions. However, you may be able to trace your new customers to other factors such as increased involvement in social media. Whatever you discover should be something that you consider when you set your goals.
  5. Am I comfortable with my typical workload? If you’re getting too many, or too few projects, something in your business may need to be adjusted. If you’re getting too many projects all at the same time so that it seems like you never have any free time, then you may need to improve your negotiating skills (or simply, learn how to say “no” more often). If you don’t have enough work to keep you busy, your marketing methods may not be adequate. Either way, you can set a goal for next year to improve.

I hope that this list of questions has led to some serious thought on your part. Most of all, I hope that it has helped you to develop more effective goals for the coming year.

What Are Your Goals?

Have you set your goals for next year yet?

If you have, why not share a few of them in the comments?

Image by emeryjl


  1. says

    wow, these are really great questions… ones I’ve never really asked myself…. I’ll definitely be putting some thoughts into these before the new year.

  2. says

    These are great ideas and a very smart way of looking at goals for freelancers. For 2010, I’m aiming to regain a couple clients who had to cut back on their freelance budgets in 2009 due to the economy; to pitch a variety of new publications with story ideas; and do some new kinds of writing in the new year.

  3. says

    I love how thought-provoking these questions are, Laura! While I have roughly sketched out financial goals, I’ve been trying to put more attention towards identifying milestones that will help me measure progress on a monthly and quarterly basis. These 5 questions will help me dig into what it’s really going to take to achieve those goals. Thanks for such a helpful post!

  4. says

    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    Jesaka, I thought that everyone was probably working on their goals right now. I’m glad you found this helpful.

    Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — Welcome to our blog. I hope to hear a lot more from you. Thanks for sharing some of your goals.

  5. says

    I think these questions are great.

    However, once you’ve gone through them and come to set your goals, it’s always better to have some sort of measurable element in it, though it may not be entirely number based. Otherwise how can you measure your progress? Without knowing what progress you are making, it becomes very easy to miss your goal.

  6. says

    Thanks Harry!

    I guess I should clarify. The questions should be asked before you develop numbers-based goals. Obviously, you will need some way to measure your goals, so some of them can be numbers-based.

  7. says

    These are great questions to consider when reviewing my plans for next year. They make you take a realistic approach at what worked as opposed to what you liked doing. Thanks for this timely post.

  8. says

    Another great thoughts to think about. And just in time before I and my wife actually do the planning and goal setting for next year. It will be a lot different for next year because she will be joining me with some little tasks. She simply couldn’t resist the drive to work, so we will be channeling her extra enthusiasm into something productive online venture. As it has always been, putting our goals into writing gives us a higher percentage of really achieving our goals. But to make it extra special we will put frame it and stick it on our office wall.

  9. says

    Can you give advice to a freelancer that’s just starting out? I’ve done small jobs for extra income, but would like to pick up more work and (someday) freelance full-time. When setting my goals, I’m not sure where to begin or how to organize them in a way that’s easy to reference and remind myself to stay on track.

    I know I need to network with other freelancers, but haven’t had the easiest time landing jobs and have felt discouraged this last year….. so I need help and advice with that, too.

    This site has been a great resource and I’m glad I’ve stumbled upon it – via twitter.

    Happy Holidays!

  10. says

    Hi Jeannette!

    You don’t say what type of freelancer you are, but we have written an excellent 40 page ebook for new freelance writers. You can find it under the “Getting Started” menu above.

    If you are a web developer, Amber has written a great post here titled “How to Become a Freelance Web Developer: A Six Month Plan.”

    I hope that answered your question.

    Best wishes to you.

  11. says

    Very helpful post, as usual, Laura. And timely too! I am in the midst of reviewing 2009 and making plans for 2010. My answers to these questions will definitely make a difference in my business plan.

    Thank you!

  12. says

    Great ideas on setting goals. I agree it shouldn’t all be about numbers, but numbers have the benefit of beings specific as well. I’d say the most important thing is when setting goals, create an action plan for them too.

  13. says

    Fantabulous advice, Laura!

    What I’m going to try to accomplish in 2010 is this:

    1) I CAN say no.

    2) I need to budget my time.

    3) Get out of the house more often – and LIVE!

    4) Try really hard not to burn myself out.

    5) Focus more of my efforts on my own sites/blogs.

    Oh, and I plan on practicing yoga on a deeper level as well! It truly brings more inspiration to my writing life, as well as life in general.


  14. says

    Excellent advice, Laura. I really appreciate that we are asking these questions before moving to the metrics-based questions.

    Another business development question I like to ask is…

    How can I increase my income and work fewer face-to-face hours?

    This question of leveraging your expertise/intellectual property is gradually becoming more relevant as the Internet unfolds with its ever increasing access to global online audiences.

    Best to you, Laura.

    Robin ;)

  15. says

    I have a very strange goal for the year. To find ways to merge the trends in my clients various business industries and to share those trends with my clients across the various industries for the web development or software development projects I do for them.

    My reason for this is based on a trend that I noticed happened in my own business, when I conveyed trends and concepts from other industries to my clients and gave them ways to make it applicable to their business. I simply saw my income from those specific clients rise and rise. I have 2 such clients who in less than a year are now my best clients and account for more than a quarter of my income out of about 20 clients. Further if you can achieve something like this, your clients will consider you an expert and absolutely essential to their business needs. I have the fortune that with both of these clients that they basically allow me to do as I please in their businesses and allow me to experiment by tweaking there traditional ways of doing business. I also have the fortune of being able to say that the chances of me loosing those clients ever is very slim so long as I remain an expert.

    The down side to this is that you need to do a lot of listening, reading and understand your clients business intensely and it takes a while to build this sort of trust, so the income doesn’t come quickly.
    The up side however is a client that values your opinion in business, ie they don’t merely see you as a service provider but as a partner in their business and your income will definitely increase with these clients as they learn to trust you ad your work easier. With these clients for instance THEY requested that instead of asking the usual 50% deposit that they will rather pay between 75% and 100% immediately.
    The positive points far out weight the negative points.

    So i a long winded way of explaining, I want to gain more quality clients in the year because it is these clients that will ultimately result in great stability in my business.

  16. says

    This is an interesting article considering how easy it is to aim for goals without any real plan on how to achieve them. Many designers set goals that are purely financial, but this is ignoring other key aspects of the business.

    Analysing where things have gone wrong in the past can really help you develop your skills for the future. Looking at what type of projects didn’t work and what did can help you develop an effective plan for what type of business is more profitable, and therefore help you achieve your targets.

    Thanks for another useful blog, I will be bookmarking this for future reference.

  17. says

    I asked myself am I happy doing what I’m doing, and whilst the answer is yes, I know that there are other things that I wish to be doing such as incorporating more illustration work in to my designs.

    And I totally agree that goals involving numbers don’t always give you a momentum or leave you inspired, even if you can only see dollar signs!

  18. says

    She can browse through your photos when she needs to remember.
    This has the ability to bring everything into a persons life, starting from healthy relationships to good physical and mental health, emotional and psychological balance, financial abundance etc.
    But a long-distance relationship is even more difficult and it can sometimes seem impossible to keep love alive when separated.


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