• Advice

Feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants? 3 steps to get you on track.

One of the things I hear most from creative freelancers and entrepreneurs is they feel like they’re winging it in their business.

Can you relate?

I know I can. And winging it isn’t always a bad thing. There have been plenty of times in my life when winging it looked a lot like seizing an out-of-the-blue, life-changing opportunity and figuring it out as I went.

Take the time when I moved from London to NYC, sight unseen, with a man I’d been dating for just 3 months (spoiler, it didn’t last). Or the time I started my first business with little formal small business experience other than having worked in one for 8 years and speed-reading “Small Business for Dummies.”

Both of those choices changed the trajectory of my life and taking the leap and figuring it out as I went was exactly the right thing to do. If I hadn’t done those things, I wouldn’t have reached anywhere near my full potential. But boy, were they challenging, cortisol-fueled, stressful times! Winging-it might be called for occasionally, but it doesn’t have to be your default way of running a business.

If it is your default, it doesn’t have to be that way (your future self will thank you, I promise).

As a business coach for creative freelancers and business owners, I’ve helped countless creatives just like you establish a clear vision, build a strong foundation, and design an actionable, flexible plan that can transform a chaotic patchwork of gigs into a focused and efficient service-based business.

If you’re tired of winging it and dream of arriving at your desk each day knowing exactly what actions will move you forward, read on. Here are 3 steps to build a flexible plan for your creative business or career in 2024.

Step one: Identify where you are and where you want to be.

Goals in and of themselves are not a bad thing. It’s how we engage with them that’s problematic. Let’s say your goal is to make $200K/year because that graphic designer you follow on Instagram just shared her 2023 numbers. You’re as good as her, so you should aim for $200K too. Right? Maybe, maybe not. When we compare our results to someone else’s, we’re overlooking a whole bunch of information that we don’t have access to.

· How long has she been doing this?

· What support does she have?

· How much time, energy, and resources has she invested in herself, her business, and her team?

· How much of that money did she get to keep? (aka how profitable is the business)?

So, how do you stop following the crowd and define what success (and therefore the goals that move you toward that outcome) looks like?

Enter the life wheel:

Action step: Ask yourself the following questions:

· How would I “grade” myself in each of these areas? One is not great, ten is crushing it.

· How do I want to perform in each of these areas?

· Why is this meaningful to me?

· What two areas will you choose to focus on in 2024?

Step two: Map out your goals in a fun, visual way.

Now it’s time to take your areas of focus and turn them into specific, time-bound goals. You can pick any timeframe that works for you, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to choose a quarterly cadence. Here’s why I love and recommend this practice:

· Business quarters are already established, so you don’t have to remember when it’s time to check in, review where you are, and outline what’s next.

· Quarters are conveniently the same as a 90-day goal which is the perfect amount of time to tackle something big, but small enough to make it do-able.

Below is a simple, 3-step process to zooming out to capture all the things you’d like to be, do, or have, this year, before we drill down to creating your goals for the next quarter. I’m writing this article in early March 2024, so the next quarter (Q2) would begin March 31st, 2024. Perfect timing, right?

· Set a timer for 5 minutes and list all the things that would make 2024 an amazing year you’d be proud to shout about. Include financial goals, personal goals, types of work and client goals; list it all! Important note: don’t censor yourself here, go for glory!

· Prioritize by circling the 3-4 things that will have the most impact on your life and business and life right now. These will form the foundation of your quarterly goal map.

· Take a large piece of paper, gather your colored pens, pencils, or anything else that will make this baby sing and go about distilling your goals as succinctly as you can. Feel free to use visuals as well as words.

Step three: Cultivate the habits that will move you closer to your goals.

Creative freelancers and entrepreneurs often cite prioritization and seeing ideas through to completion as a HUGE obstacle to their success, money, and well-being.

Setting goals is the easy part. You decide you’re going to read one book a week and, voila, you have a goal!

Where things get hard is making that goal stick. Why? Because we’re only given half of the information when it comes to successfully changing our habits. Here are three myths to debunk:

1. Establishing a new habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days (the average being 66 days). It is NOT 21 days as we’re often told. The simple fact is, you’re likely going to fall off the wagon with a habit, but it’s getting back on the wagon that counts. If you know it could take up to 254 days, how might that affect your expectations and approach? A lot is my guess.

2. We typically pile a new habit on top of an already full plate/schedule. Before you commit to a big goal, ask yourself what you’re already committed to. What will you need to let go of or delegate, so you have the time, energy, and space for the learning curve that comes with something new?

3. When we focus on results, we set ourselves up to fail. Why? Because we can’t control the results. The only thing we can control is our effort.

“New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is a process, not an outcome…all your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results” – James Clear

I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s universally loved for a reason!

How are you feeling about 2024? Clearer and more motivated, I hope! If there’s one thing I’d love for you to take away from this post, it’s this: goals are not written in stone; they’re meant to be aspirational and love a little (or lot) beyond your reach. They are meant to evolve, and they are not an indication of your success. They are simply tools to help you calibrate and re-calibrate your way to a business that feels successful to you.

I’m rooting for you every step of the way and am here to support you!

Justine Clay Justine Clay is a speaker, writer, business coach, & ADHD life coach for creative entrepreneurs & freelancers. Sign up for her free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients & Get Paid What You’re Worth

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