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How to Make a Career of Freelancing, via Goal-Setting

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Basic CMYKI still get skeptical comments when I tell people about what I do, from “Can you really make money online at home?” and “I don’t think I’d be disciplined enough to work from home” to “What exactly do you do each day?” and “You’re probably the exception to the rule, right?”

Even among fellow freelancers, some uncertainty exists about how to make a “career” out of freelancing. Sure, it’s easy to get a few projects here and there. But how is it possible to build an income solid enough to support your family? Here are a few tips that helped me build a full-time oDesk career.

Goal-Setting vs. Wishing

When I was a kid, I was confident that I’d grow up to be a professional baseball player. In fact, as a teenager, I had heard that if you really wanted something to happen, it was important to write the desired outcome on paper and look at it each day. So, I decided to tape a poster on my bathroom mirror that read: “I WILL play Major League baseball.”

Looking back, it seems that I was simply wishing for an outcome, instead of actually setting goals. As an adult, I now realize that goals must be attainable and measurable, and you must have a specific plan of action for achieving them. My baseball aspirations were hampered because I never wrote out a specific game plan. Also, the goal may have been unattainable from the get-go, given how few people make it past high school or college baseball (although I did bat .381 my senior year in college).

Why Goals are So Important

Goals bring us clarity. Stating a desired outcome is the first step in the goal-setting process. In fact, if you’ve read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you know that one habit is to “begin with the end in mind.” Visualizing a successful outcome will help you understand what steps should be taken to realize the goal.

So, if each of us desires to have a more successful oDesk career, what should we do next? What specific actions should be taken? Let’s take a closer look.

Start by Dreaming Big…Crazy Big

Once you’ve landed a couple steady oDesk clients, it’s time to start dreaming big. I’m not talking about vague ideas, such as “being successful on oDesk.” I’m talking about things that will keep you motivated for the long-haul. Sure, desiring to be successful on oDesk is admirable. However, such success is often a byproduct of something much deeper.

To help you consider these types of “big” ideas, I’d like to offer the following rubric (which I outline in my book):

  • What is something that is possible, yet not likely? (Hint: some of mine include paying off our house in less than 5 years and going on an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation soon).
  • How can you make this happen?
  • What deadlines can you set to achieve this?

Three Goal Types for Every oDesker  

Once you’ve got some big motivators in mind, it’s time to devise a realization plan. My virtual career is a manifestation of the following three goal types:

  1. Annual goals: These are goals for the immediate year. I typically dedicate a full day in late December to do this type of goal-setting, when I can go “off site” to do a review of the previous year and build a projection for the coming year. During this session, I take a look at the average number of hours I worked for each client, what succeeded, what failed, and what I can do next year to provide even more value. I then layout a “forecast” by determining expected revenues from each client.
  2. Weekly goals: Based on your defined annual goals, you need to have a weekly game plan that helps you track your progress. I use a simple spreadsheet that lists all clients and hourly rates on the left side of the page and each day of the week across the top. As the week progresses, I update the spreadsheet to track my desired income versus actual.
  3. Daily goals: Based on your weekly goals, you should already have a good starting point for each day’s work. Obviously, things change from day to day. However, if you are intentional about allocating your time, you can usually be successful in predicting the amount of time you will spend for each client. At the beginning of each day, I usually open my weekly tracking spreadsheet and figure out how many minutes I’m going to work for each client. Based on this, I write out each hour of the day in a notebook and decide which client will get that hour of my time. In addition, I like to write each client’s name and list out a few goals. As the day progresses, I am able to cross off each hour and goal from my notebook.
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