Before you make the leap to become an e-Learning freelancer, ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve?
While it might seem like a basic question, you might be surprised by the number of people who forget this step, and end up wasting time starting a freelance career with no way to measure their own success. I myself was guilty of that at first: I knew I wanted the flexibility and freedom of the freelance life, but I didn’t define any goals for my first year. I wasted time taking work that I could do, without ever thinking about whether it was work that I should do. I knew I wanted to take jobs that would move my career forward, but I never stopped to define the kind of work that would do that.
Think about what you’d like to achieve over the next year. As you’re thinking about your own professional goals as a freelancer, let’s talk about some of the typical reasons people become freelancers:
- To make money. It’s easy to look at freelance hourly rates and think, “I would definitely make so much more money if I went solo!” But before you go putting a down payment
- on that new Ferrari, remember that being a freelancer comes with some major expenses—including everything from your monthly Internet bills to the expenses of your new estimated quarterly taxes. It’s definitely possible to earn a healthy income as a freelance e-Learning Designer, but it will take time; remember that most small businesses are lucky to turn a profit in their first year.
- To get away from a job. If you’re unhappy in your job, freelancing can seem like a fantastic alternative—we’ve all said at one point or another, “I’m so unhappy at Job XYZ! I would be so much happier if I worked for myself.” But if you’re going to develop your career, it’s important that you’re not just running away from something, but that you’re also running toward something.
- To have control over time and work. As a freelancer, you’ll be in complete control over how much and which work you do. Just don’t forget that it’s likely that in the beginning, you’ll be working more hours than you would at a day job. For example, if you intend to freelance part-time so that you can spend more time with your family, consider that in the beginning, you could be working full-time to find the right clients and projects to work on.
These three examples are totally valid goals to have, but on their own, they can lead to burnout. Without goals, you may end up taking any work offered to you, which isn’t always a good thing. Before I had written my own goals, I felt like I was at the mercy of what work was available to me. It wasn’t until I began the process of writing my own goals that I started to feel like I was in control of my own destiny (which was one of my reasons for going freelance in the first place).
So, what’s the best way to define your own goals? The first and most critical step is to write them down. Remember that simple and easy are not the same thing! There’s plenty of information available about writing goals (you may be familiar with “S.M.A.R.T. goals,” which can be useful in this exercise), and it’s worth it to use whichever method works best for you. But the important part is that you go through the exercise of doing it—remember that until goals are written down, they don’t exist.
Writing out your goals gives you the opportunity to scrutinize yourself—have you set a goal that defines the work that will make you happy? How will you know when you’ve reached the goal? Does your goal speak to the work-life balance you want to achieve?
One of my career goals this year is to help other e-Learning Designers by sharing what I’ve learned in my own freelance journey. As soon as I wrote it down, I was able to write my own success criteria—and the steps I would take to get there (for example, this series of blog posts).
As you’re writing your goals, remember these tips:
- Write separate short-term, long-term, and continuous goals. When you first get started, chances are you’ll have goals about finding work and getting organized. Just don’t forget to include what you want your future to look like, and what ongoing practices you want to adopt.
- Don’t just think about what you’re good at—make sure you’ve defined the work you enjoy. For example, if you love creating assessments, write a goal around that.
- Write goals that keep your skills sharp. Staying up-to-date with the latest approaches to e-Learning is imperative, so don’t forget to include goals that address the ongoing need for training!
- Consider writing some continuous goals that address the lifestyle you want to have. For example, as you budget the time you want to spend on your professional goals, include time for taking care of yourself. For me, physical fitness is something that can easily get deprioritized when I’m working hard, so I’ve included dedicated weekly exercise time to my continuous goals.
- Remember to revisit your goals periodically, and to create new ones as you accomplish old ones.
- Quantify as much as you can. If you want lots of clients, state how many you want. If you want to increase your Twitter footprint, specify how many followers you’re seeking.
- Share your goals with your peers for feedback. A second opinion can be really helpful!
- Publish your goals using social media. By doing this, you’ll give others the opportunity to support you, and you’ll have taken the extra step of committing to your goals more publicly.
With your goals defined, you are in a much more powerful position. As you consider available work, you can keep yourself accountable: Does taking that job get you any closer to any of your goals? Does it give you the opportunity to grow in the ways that you want? By defining what successful looks like, you’ve created a compass for yourself that, with any luck, leads to your own professional bliss.
Are you ready to write your own goals? Download this worksheet to get started!
I’d love to hear about the goals that you’ve set for yourself, and I invite you to join the conversation with me and other e-Learning professionals on Twitter (using the hashtag #eLearningBiz), or in my e-Learning Business Basics Facebook group!