Happy New Year! If you are like most people, you have probably set goals, made resolutions, or created a vision board for the upcoming year. Many of us want 2017 to be better than 2016.

As I mapped out my goals for 2017, I couldn’t help but to reflect on how important it is for freelancers, in particular, to set measurable goals. It is not enough to say, "I want to be successful" or "I want more projects or clients." You must ask yourself: What is my plan of action? How do I convert my wants/and needs into tangible outcomes?

I recommend that you first carve out a mission statement. Like the mission statement of a corporation or a not-for-profit, it is imperative that you have a clear purpose of who you are, what you do, and why you do it.

I have a mission statement that is about 7 sentences long. It is a tangible reminder of how I see myself as a freelance writer. When I become mission adrift, I recalibrate. Like any written document, as you grow and as you evolve, so too will your mission so you can always tweak or revise it. It is a living and breathing document that is intended to anchor you.

Next, I suggest that you start with the finish line in focus. How do you want 2017 to end? No, you didn’t misread that; I didn’t say ‘start.’ Start with the finish line and not the starting line. Think about a marathon runner. Her objective isn’t to start – it's to finish! The training that goes into preparing for a marathon is predicated on crossing the finish line. When I trained for a mini-marathon in 2012, we often did visualization exercises in addition to our physical training. I can honestly say that when I couldn’t feel my feet at the 10 mile marker, it was imagining the finish line that pushed me through.

In education, this is called Understanding by Design (UbD). It was developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I frequently use UbD as a freelancer because it helps me to make sure that my actions are aligned to my goals.

The premise is pretty straight forward: In order to determine how you are going to tackle or accomplish something, your planning shouldn’t start at the beginning; instead, you should start with your intended outcomes and work backwards. Because of this, some people have even called it backwards design. It may feel counterintuitive at first, but it works. And the reason that it works is because assessing your achievement is embedded throughout the process.

Here’s how you can apply it to your freelance work.

  • Think about your desired results. Let’s say that my desired outcomes for 2017 are as follows: increase my client roster, pitch new blog ideas, and write a book.

  • Specify. I assign specific attributes to each outcome. Increase my roster by 20 clients; pitch 3 blog ideas to 3 different outlets; and write a book about writing. Keep in mind that outcomes must be tangible and measurable. They are the finish line.

  • Evaluate each new opportunity in relation to your goal. As you are seeking freelance opportunities, circle back to your stated outcomes. Think about how, or if, this opportunity is moving you closer to your desired results. Then determine if the opportunity is aligned or adrift.

  • Monitor your progress. Throughout the year, measure your success (or failure) based upon how close you are to hitting your targets. If you find that you are far off and some of your goals were too ambitious, you can make slight adjustments, but it is important that you don’t forsake your desired results.

Once you reach or eclipse a goal, you can add on to it or create a new one. Use this year’s experience to help you gauge and set next year’s outcomes.

Understanding where you want to end up in 2017 will help you to stay focused throughout 2017. By deliberately and intentionally seeking out contracts or projects that are aligned with your mission, you will find that you are able to wed your purpose with your passion. It will also help you to grow as a freelancer.

Although I love serendipity and the idea of everything being organic, when freelancing is your livelihood, you have to make sure that you have infrastructures in place. Otherwise, it is too tempting to wander or spend too much time and energy doing things that are not productive.

If planning for the entire year sounds too daunting or too rigid, map out your goals for the months of January and February using this approach. I’d love to hear from you to see if this made a difference in your setting and achieving your freelancing goals.