Planning: The Not-So Secret Success Tool That Anyone Can Use

business_planSome people love to “fly by the seat of their pants.” If they take a trip, they take it one day at a time and decide each day what they will do. If they start a household project (like painting the fence), they get up each day and if they feel like it, they paint. If they go into a store, such people don’t along take a list. I could go on and on. . .

There are “seat of the pants” clients too. You’ve probably worked for some of them. They’re the ones that contact you at 4:00 p.m. on a business day and ask if you can have a project done by tomorrow. They’re also the ones who assign you a deadline and then go on vacation because they don’t really mean it.

For the most part, I don’t fault the “seat of the pants” folks (much). I know that planning is just not part of their nature. They can be wonderful, impulsive, and fun folk.

However, working by the seat of the pants can also set you back if you’re running a freelance business.

Planning: A Tool For Success

If you’ve been reading FreelanceFolder for a while, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I tend to be a planner. You’ve probably noticed that I even have a template for when you can’t deliver a project and a list of questions to ask new clients.

I even use planning for my FreelanceFolder posts — outlining at the beginning of each month topics that I will cover during that month. I keep notes on my computer for each topic as ideas occur to me. When it comes time to actually write a post it’s often just a matter of polishing my original outline and elaborating on my thoughts. (I’ve tried the method of sitting down cold and trying to come up with post on the spot and find it to be much less efficient.)

I think that planning is a key tool to running a successful freelancing business. In fact, I like to think of planning as my secret super success tool — except for one thing. It’s not really a secret at all. Anyone can use planning to improve their freelancing business, but not everyone does.

Pitfalls for Planners

One reason that some freelancers may be hesitant to rely much on planning is that there are pitfalls for planners that can make planning frustrating. Some of the pitfalls include the following:

  • Life doesn’t cooperate — Everybody probably remembers a time when they thought they had everything all planned out, only to have that plan meet with obstacle after obstacle.
  • Becoming too inflexible — Another planning pitfall is relying so heavily on your plan that you refuse to budge from it even when circumstances have changed.
  • Stressing over disruptions to a plan that are not your fault — Sometimes having a plan can create stress, particularly when something does not go according to plan.
  • Not considering others in your plan — Nobody works in a vacuum. We all rely on clients (and often colleagues) to complete our projects. Often these people have plans of their own.

With the right approach, however, these pitfalls to planning can be overcome.

How to Overcome Planning Pitfalls

There are a few techniques to overcome some of the frustration that planning can cause for freelancers. Here are several:

  1. Have a Plan B — It’s a good idea to have a backup plan for even the best plan. You never know when something unforeseen might happen. A backup plan can reduce a lot of stress.
  2. Be open to others’ ideas — One of the best ways to learn and expand your business is to learn from others. When you present your plan to clients or colleagues, listen to their suggestions.
  3. Don’t sweat what you can’t control — Even with a backup plan sometimes things spiral beyond your control and there’s nothing you can do about it. Recognize when this occurs and relax. It happens to all of us.

What’s Your Planning M.O.?

Are you a planner, or do you “fly by the seat of your pants?”

What do you find to be most frustrating about developing plans for your freelancing projects (and how do you deal with it)?

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments.