Defining Freelance Success and Milestones for the Self-Employed
February 4, 2019
When you work for yourself, career success isn’t defined by a ladder of corporate goals. There are no standard annual raises, promotions or elevated job titles dangling before me. Instead, my inner boss identifies milestones that make sense for my individual business experience.
It’s empowering to define the goals and strategies that contribute to my freelance success. Although I don’t have access to company-sponsored coaching, paid training seminars or a road map to guide my career, I can do all of that‚ and more‚ on my own. I’m defining success on my terms to fit my workflow and personal needs. You can, too.
My Changing Definition of Freelance Success
Does this sound familiar? You meet with a group of friends and the conversation turns to work achievements. Someone’s celebrating a promotion. Another talks about being selected for a special project. Then, the voice in your head questions your professional trajectory: What am I doing?
You’re pursuing your dreams, but sometimes you’re not sure what your next steps are or how to get there. I remember feeling that same uncertainty before I became more mindful and introspective about what I want to achieve in my career. As I’ve progressed, these three milestones have unfolded:
- Money: For me, success initially related to financial stability. I wanted to earn enough to replace my old job’s salary and eventually have a little extra to prove I could do better on my own than with an employer. Once that milestone was met, my vision shifted.
- Flexibility: Next, I focused on finding work that fit my target career path. I wanted to love all the work that I tackled. As a writer, I slowly gained the ability to start choosing clients that naturally fit into my workflow and interests. I no longer had to say “yes” to every project to make ends meet.
- Balance: As I prepare to celebrate nine years as a full-time, self-employed individual, my definition of freelance success is evolving again. I’m seeking to balance my endless calendar of work tasks with self-care and the ability to spend more time with my husband. I’m refining my business strategy to focus on daily work that generates the most income and satisfaction.
It turns out that I’m not alone in this career progression. Suzanne Brown is the entrepreneur behind Mompowerment. As an author, speaker, consultant and mother of two young boys, she’s focused on loving what she does every day, too.
Freelancing has always been about giving me work-life balance,” she explains. “I am able to stay engaged in my career and work on projects that are interesting and challenge me to grow professionally. Since I’m working for myself, I can choose which projects to take on and which ones I need to pass on. That gives me more control over my schedule.
I, too, seek an improved work-life balance. Bottom line: I want to wake up each day and enjoy what fills the hours ahead. If I’m able to educate, entertain and empower my readers in some way, then I’m successful as a writer.
Identifying What Freelance Success Means to You
Take some time to examine your work. Do you find personal satisfaction in the products or services you’re offering? Are you running your business in a way that lets you generate the income you need to live the lifestyle you want? Are you happy? Really happy?
“I think success as a freelancer is defined as being able to make a living doing what you love,” says comedian and speaker Dan Nainan. “Especially if you can make more money than you were before in your 9-to-5 job.
As a former senior engineer with Intel Corporation, Nainan took a comedy class to squash his fears of giving public demonstrations. Then, the comedy bug bit him, opening the door to a new career path.
Part of his definition of success hinges on the experiences his new career has offered. “For me, the icing on the cake has been traveling to 58 countries and performing in 28 of them, and performing for and meeting people like Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Steffi Graf, Arianna Huffington and a host of other celebrities and politicians,” Nainan says.
Now, think about why you chose your freelance career path and compare it to how you’re running the business today. Did you lay the groundwork with a business plan and financial projections that identified key milestones? Are you meeting them? It’s not uncommon for new freelancers , myself included ‚to customize the milestones of the corporate word to fit their needs.
If you’re falling short on your initial plans, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you need to align your schedule with traditional office hours to meet your goals and stay focused?
- Do you need to set up your accounting to revolve around monthly bill paying, regular invoicing and bi-weekly payroll processing?
- Do you need to set rewards for meeting your goals to stay motivated?
As your business plan evolves, dig into the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting and consider how you can reflect on your own performance when you don’t have a supervisor or annual review for feedback. This approach will give you some perspective on the flow of your business.
Do whatever it is that you need to succeed. For me, this means starting my days early to achieve specific writing milestones before going to a late-morning therapeutic yoga class to nurture my mind and body. I don’t wince at working on weekends to meet my goals, because it’s how I can take a weekday afternoon off to enjoy a lingering lunch date or go on an impromptu walk with my furry co-worker.
What does success mean to you? When you’re a freelancer, there’s no right or wrong answer. This is your journey to achieve your goals.
Angela Tague has worked in news writing and photography since 1998. After she attained a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa, her journalism career led to positions at The Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa; The Sioux City Journal in Sioux City, Iowa and several weeklies in the Midwest. She’s been freelancing since 2009, and was named Writer of the Year in 2012 by Skyword, a global content marketing agency.
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