A mug full of coffee on an open planner
Blog,  Freelancing,  Journalism

Setting goals as a freelance journalist

A mug full of coffee on an open planner
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Sometimes one of the problems I run into as a freelance journalist and editor is the fact that yes, I run a business but also that no one else does what I do or at least the odd combination of what I do. 

And that makes it hard to figure out what may or may not work best when trying to solve a problem. 

Ok, so now you are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about – aren’t there other freelance journalists out there? 

Well, yes, there are. But some just prefer to pitch and write and invoice and not think about other things and others don’t always have the same problems – their clients are different or the work they do is different or they have other issues to solve. Others have structured their businesses differently to the way I do it so inherently look at goals differently.

Here is an example: how do I make my journalism work into a visual image for social media for promotion and marketing when a) I cannot often show behind the scenes notes because I need to keep that confidential and b) showing a block of text is rather boring and c) any images used with the pieces I write are usually not mine to use? 

Not every other freelance journalist is trying to solve that problem. 

But the one problem I have been thinking about rather vaguely over the last few months is what sort of long term and short term goals to set for myself as a freelance journalist and editor. Everyone’s experience is different and I don’t have much to go off. 

The obvious one is income but that is also hard to determine. Here, in Australia, we legally have the right to set our own prices but we often end up having to settle for whatever news organisations will give us. So can I make $50,000 per year from freelance journalism? It sounds like it should be reasonable enough but I would debate whether that was a realistic goal to set or not. 

But goals, or so I have been told, have to be realistic and achievable and measurable and defined and deadlined. It’s not enough to say “In one year, I hope to earn more.” 

So I sat down with pen and paper to think about this. I want my daily tasks to feed into my short term and long term goals. Everything has to connect backwards and forwards. 

But there are also so many different aspects of my business: sales, accounts, marketing, editorial. They all have their own goals. How many goals is too many goals? 

How realistic is what I want to achieve not just in the sense of the state of the industry and market but also in the timeline I have given myself or the tasks I have decided should be the most obvious ones that will help me achieve said goals?

What is it that I really want?

A bit of scribbling about this helped.

Ideally I want (five years from now): 

  • more awesome bylines
  • more money in my super
  • my books published
  • to earn a lot more
  • to save a lot more

Plus a few other fun things or things I think might be a bit out of left field that could contribute to some of these other wants.

And then I broke it down to what I thought might be reasonable enough to aim for in a year from now.

 

One year from now...

A year from now, I want to: 

  • have saved approximately at least $5,000 to add to my current savings. 
  • have added $2600 or more to my super somehow
  • have earned at least double what I earned last year
  • have hit 1000 followers on Instagram (if you haven’t followed me yet, please do)
  • have hit 3000 followers on Twitter
  • have finished writing Gin and Tonic
  • have started writing The Real Estate
  • have finally launched a few things I have been wanting to do
  • have 30 – 40 awesome bylines – ie. stories with publications I like & value.
I then broke this down to what it should be three months from now in January which frankly does not seem that far away to be honest.

Three months from now...

Three months from now, I want to: 

  • have saved approximately at least $1200 to add to my current savings. 
  • have added $600 or more to my super somehow
  • have earned at least $5000 over three months
  • have gained 102 followers on Instagram (because I am not starting from scratch to reach 1000)
  • have gained 138 followers on Twitter
  • have written 50,000 words for Gin and Tonic (it’s currently 26,000 total?)
  • have started writing The Real Estate (only if Gin & Tonic is done though so this goal is conditional – only one book at a time)
  • have worked out what I need to do with the things I want to launch and made some progress
  • have 5 – 10 awesome bylines 
If I thought three months away was scary, then one month away from now is terrifying.

One month from now...

One month from now, I want to: 

  • have saved approximately at least $400 to add to my current savings. 
  • have added $200 or more to my super somehow
  • have earned at least $2000 over one month
  • have gained 33 followers on Instagram (because I am not starting from scratch to reach 1000)
  • have gained 46 followers on Twitter
  • have written Gin & Tonic daily for a month
  • have started writing The Real Estate (only if Gin & Tonic is done though so this goal is conditional – only one book at a time)
  • have worked out what I need to do with the things I want to launch and made some progress
  • have 1 – 3 awesome bylines & have pitched 20 times in a month
 

A few quick clarifications

So if the monthly breakdowns aren’t matching the one year goal figures that’s because I am not starting from scratch in every instance. 

So I already have some savings so I need to actually save less to add to it to reach that goal. The same applies to the social media counts as I only need to make up a difference of approximately 500 in either case to meet my goals. And Gin and Tonic already has 26,000 words. 

In terms of the bylines, it would be far more if I worked in house and had all the resources and didn’t have to constantly be trying to find publications that matched the kind of journalism I was doing and pitch. I have a lot more to do as a freelancer and every publication will operate on a different schedule. And then each piece will take a different amount of time to write.

So I think having a range as a goal for the bylines saves me stressing out too much and also allows time for any editing work I might get paid to do. 

But I do want to pitch more as well hence the pitching goal.

The next step was to create daily actions or tasks that fed back into these goals. You can already see some of them.

Daily tasks

Some of these are already automated and up and running so if nine or ten goals seems a lot to you and you are wondering “Well, how the hell are you going to do this without going crazy?”, don’t worry. 

Both my savings and my super are automated. Every week a certain amount goes into my savings account and into my super account. What I do have to determine is how to increase that amount without also leaving my bank account in the red, which is difficult when the income that comes in could cover it but doesn’t come in regularly.

In terms of income, the bylines andpitching would contribute to that so five pitches per week and a hunt for two new editing clients each week. 

For Instagram, I have decided to try and post daily using Planoly which can schedule Instagram posts in advance for you. Hopefully this helps. I don’t know. 

I have as yet no idea what to do for Twitter but we will see. 

With Gin & Tonic I am going to have to wake up at four thirty am and start writing again. I stopped because, well, winter. I wanted to hibernate.

I then scheduled everything I could into Google Calendar. So that Google could inform me at four am that I have things to do. So four thirty am writing, six am walks, nine am pitching on Mondays, three pm pitch development and planning on Fridays, accounts at two pm on Fridays, social media planning at five pm on Mondays and Fridays and so on.

Will this work?

I don’t know. 

But I think what is heartening about this is that two goals are automated, one goal is conditional on another being finished and one goal actually feeds into another one. 

I only have to work on the social media, the book writing, the journalism and editing and the small projects I want to work on. I think that is doable. 

Are there other things I want to do as well?

Yes. 

I would like to blog at least three times a week. I would also like more subscribers to my Patreon. 

But I think I need to prioritise things here. I also need to figure out if what I am doing with Patreon is the best thing I could be doing. I don’t get a lot of engagement and feedback to find out. And what I have noticed is that you need a large enough platform for the most part in order to do well at Patreon or something that is really eye catching and benefits from the popularity of something it is related to. Like the Slytherin comics by Emily. They are cute and funny and easy to consume but also benefit from having a readymade audience of Harry Potter fans. 

Mystery fans may like Gin & Tonic but it is a work in progress. It’s not perfect. There is no ready made market to tap into in that way. It is very much dependent on who amongst those who follow me are keen and are able or want to toss a few dollars my way. 

So it will take a while to figure out so that is something for me to do some thinking about before I start setting any goals for it. 

And as for the blog (and the mailing list): I think about the blog and the mailing list often. I often wonder if I should start over with the mailing list. As my life has changed, so has the blog. And it is a bit hard for me to determine what I could provide the mailing list that isn’t on the blog or on Patreon that is acutally useful to you all. I also don’t want to inundate anyone with posts and the like. So again, I need to think about that. 

It’s another problem that I have yet to see another journalist solve in a way that maybe I can adapt and use as well. 

So these goals will suffice for now. Do you think its too much? Will I achieve these goals? Place your bets in the comments below.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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