Five-Step Plan to Setting and Achieving Goals for Your Freelance Writing Career

We all like to talk about goals at the end of the year, when we're figuring out what we want to change in our writing careers - we want to earn more, take on more clients, take on different types of clients, launch a blog, write a book or e-book, etc. But how can a freelance writer set realistically attainable goals for their freelance writing career, even without that year-end buzz and mass goal-setting excitement?

Five Steps to Setting Freelance Writing Goals

When deciding on long-term goals for your freelance writing business or career, I recommend you follow this five-step plan (you can certainly alter it, but this is what I find works best for me):

  1. Know what you need.
  2. Decide what you want.
  3. Set objectives to help you get there.
  4. Give yourself a deadline.
  5. Reward yourself.

Know What You Need

We all start somewhere. Sure, you may have dreams of becoming a six-figure copywriter, but you need to start off by knowing what you need right now. It's easy to dream. It's harder to make those dreams a reality.

If you're new to freelance writing, a good place to start would be to figure out what you need in order to freelance full-time, quit your day job, etc. I'm not talking about what you need to live the exact same quality of life or make as much "take home pay" - I'm telling you think about what you really need. What do you need as a bare minimum to make your freelance writing career work? Before thinking on a grander scale, start there. You can figure out some of the financials behind what you'll need by taking a look at my post on Setting Freelance Writing Rates the Right Way.

Decide What You Want.

Here's where you can dream a little bit. In an ideal situation (while still trying to maintain a sense of reality), what would your freelance writing career look like? What type of work would you be doing? For what type of clients? How much would you charge, or how much would you be earning overall?

Fantasize. Daydream. And write it down! Commit your dreams to paper, and keep them somewhere where you'll be periodically reminded of them. These are your goals. They should be somewhat general, and they should be beyond the point you're at now in your freelance writing career (beginner or not).

Set Objectives.

Your goals are general for a reason. They're the ideals, the hopes, the pleasant thoughts that will keep you motivated to work and grow. Setting your objectives is where it starts to feel like work. Your objectives are the specific things you're going to do over time that will eventually let you reach your goals.

Let's look at an example for a writer that we'll call Sue:

Sue is a writer working full-time for an employer. Her goal, or dream, is to be able to quit her job and earn $75k per year on the Web through her writing. It's a big dream when you're just starting out, but it's attainable. Simply telling herself that she wants to earn that income isn't going to do much to get her there though. She needs to set objectives. Let's say that Sue's full-time job was writing advertising copy for a firm. Here's what some of her objectives might be:

  • Launch a blog devoted to copywriting issues to showcase her expertise, attract clients, earn ad revenue, and have an online platform to later promote her own products.
  • Write a series of 5 e-books or reports on writing ad copy, sales pages, etc., each targeted to a specific niche audience within her target market (such as to e-book authors, software developers, etc. - people who need solid marketing copy to sell things on the Web).
  • Land 5 regular freelance contracts with Web-based firms to take on copywriting work from them, on behalf of their clients, on a per-project basis.

These are just a few examples of what Sue might do. Your list of objectives will probably be much longer, and is something you'll periodically update. Each objective will only take you so far before you have to up your game to get closer to those big dreams you have.

Give Yourself a Deadline

Goals can be general dreams, but objectives need to be only specific but also measurable. That means you need to give yourself deadlines. In Sue's case that might mean completing her e-book series in three months or landing those five contracts in six.

You could try to give yourself a deadline for your overall goal as well, but I prefer not to. I find that deadlines that are set too far in advance can seem overwhelming and disheartening, and every time I take that approach I end up failing. Instead, focus on short-term deadlines that will put your closer to that goal. Eventually, you'll get close enough to reaching it that your goal will become more of an objective (such as when Sue is just a few thousand dollars short of her goal), where you can set a more near-sighted deadline and more specific plan of attack to hit that final end point.

If you don't set deadlines with your objectives, you have nothing more than a generic to-do list. While that might be enough for some people, it won't be for most. Deadlines help to make things feel more urgent.

Reward Yourself

When you reach your end goal, it might feel like its own reward. But I find that it's easier to say motivated when I set rewards for myself along the way. For example, I have one goal I'm working towards (not freelance writing-related in this case) where my reward is going to be a trip to Europe. That's pretty motivating. But I find that little rewards work well too. I might say that if I finish my e-book I'll go out and see a movie I've been wanting to catch, of if I land a specific contract I'll buy myself my favorite truffles, take a friend out to dinner, or something else relatively small.

I'm not saying that every single objective should be rewarded - some will probably be very small and easy to complete. But setting up rewards for objectives that will be more work can help to keep you focused by giving you something else to look forward to - a bit of pleasure even before you reach that long-term goal.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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3 thoughts on “Five-Step Plan to Setting and Achieving Goals for Your Freelance Writing Career”

  1. Thanks for the link love on the article “Why Keeping a To-Do List Can Make You 6 Figures in One Year” Jennifer. As you elegantly lay out here, it all starts with the list.

    FYI, I like #5 on your list, “treat yourself.”

    I can’t wait to log off and have a glass of that bottle of Merlot I’ve been promising myself once I get this client project off my desk.


  2. I have some of that waiting on me too. But it’s been a long week, so it might be more of a hard liquor Friday. lol

    Ironically, my “treating myself” for the weekend involves setting up another website and possibly devoting time to a short e-book / report I need to get finished. Is it bad that my “for me” work has become a “treat,” because it’s the only way I can work some of it in? lol

  3. Thank you for this post and for your entire site. I discovered your site late last week and have been reading through the posts as I have time. You’re so encouraging and motivating. I’ve been freelancing for over a year but have been wasting so much time with no real goals. I can’t thank you enough for showing me that freelancing doesn’t have to be a “catch as can” venture. This can be a real business, and I’m going to do my best to make it happen.


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