How to set and achieve your professional goals as an independent

In one of our previous articles, The Ultimate 10-Step Guide for Success as an Independent Consultant, we discussed long term strategies to help build your independent consulting business. But how can you begin without having clearly defined short term goals in place?

Goal setting is built into the business strategy in most traditional organisations. Management devotes large amounts of time on this every year and often tracks and measures progress by going back to these goals. As independents, we often miss this step, however, we are the only ones accountable for the success of our own business. One of the main overarching goals for most independents is to get more clients. But do we actually take the time to create a detailed plan on how to achieve this?

Many research studies show that individuals who set clearly defined goals are more likely to achieve a higher success rate in achieving them. We did our own research to find the best goal setting tips to help you achieve your career goals in the new year. 

Urgency vs Impact: what can you do now to set yourself up for your future?

As an independent consultant (who relies on self-motivation) it’s essential to set strategic goals to grow professionally. But how do you decide on what matters the most? 

Mark Murphy, the founder and CEO of LeadershipIQ.com, studied how the brain works for many years. He has observed that individuals tend to value things in the present more than they value things in the future.

To future proof your professional journey, it’s important to distinguish what you are going to put most of your energy into.  Smaller daily tasks are often seen as more urgent than time for strategic planning and big-picture thinking. But just as a CEO or board of directors would find it imperative to plan for the yearly quarters, you should identify high impact areas to help you develop a roadmap to where you want to be. 

Setting Priorities: Asking “what do I really want from my career”?

Being independent, we know you tend to take on all business roles. You have to be the CEO, board of directors, accountant, marketer, PA and more. But there may be only a few tasks, that if given more attention, will lead to real professional success. Having a clear picture of your professional end-goal will help you identify a clear roadmap and all the actions it will take you to get there. 

In order to prioritise the most impactful areas to grow your professional career, you can ask yourself; What are the most important things I want to achieve right now? Is it important enough to spend hours of my time and effort on it? Is the work that I’m doing now get me closer to my professional vision? These questions can further assist in narrowing in on which goals may matter the most to you right now, and which to focus on in the future.

Setting Goals: Paving the road to success 

Although studies show that people who write down their goals are on average more successful when it comes to accomplishing them, the way they are formulated also plays a role in their fulfillment. After looking at the priorities you’ve set, the next step is to start breaking down what you need to do to get to your desired state.

Goal setting forces you to look at the detailed steps of reaching your higher-order/strategic goals and how you’re going to create a path to get to them. This is especially important for independents as there is no manager or CEO to keep you on track and accountable. In this step, you are essentially creating an action plan for yourself.  Here are some valuable tips on creating effective goals; 

  1. Use the SMART (specific, memorable, attainable, realistic, timely) process of writing goals (we all know this one but there is a reason it comes up often – it works!). 
  2. Set goals that are more challenging and difficult to attain. A study by industrial-organisational psychologist Edwin Locke found that employees perform better and are more motivated to complete goals if those goals are difficult. Challenging goals stretch your mind, causing you to think bigger, motivating you to commit to them.
  3. Create a timeline for each of your goals that outlines on what date you will start and finish the specific goal which will give you a sense of urgency.
  4. As Stephen Covey puts it “Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them”. Put action plans in place for each goal to help you plot out how you want to get there.
  5. Share these goals with a friend, mentor or advisor. Research shows that people who share their goals with others were on average 33% more successful when it comes to accomplishing their stated goals. You are more likely to commit if you are accountable to a peer. 

Some examples of specific, actionable goals for independents;

Strategic Objective: Become a thought leader in Business Transformation in the FMGC industry.

Goal1: Work with a global FMGC company, leading a team on a Business Transformation project in the first business quarter.

Action 1: Publish 4 industry-specific content on authoritative Business and Business Transformation platforms focusing on key professional areas in the next two months.

Action 2: Create a list of the top 10 networking platforms in Business Transformation and engage with at least 5 business leaders in the FMGC space in the next three months.

Action 3: Find upcoming events focusing on Business Transformation and apply as a speaker to create contacts and interest in the next 3 months.

Download our goal setting template which follows these guidelines and set yourself up for success!
Download Template

 

Having clearly defined goals that are realistic and challenging is a great starting point, but as you work through your action plan, be flexible and adapt in an agile way. If you can see that a goal becomes irrelevant or unachievable, make the necessary changes to get yourself back on track.

Keep on track: Reevaluating your goals and checking your progress

Now that you’ve written down your perfectly formulated goals, try not to file them away in a place you will never see them again. Consider putting time in your calendar for a weekly or monthly evaluation where you measure your progress and check you’re on schedule. Once you see that you’ve already made some steps towards achieving your goal, you’ll feel more motivated to push through to the end. If you’re a little behind schedule, don’t ditch your plan, make necessary adjustments and keep going!

 

Goals have a huge impact on our performance as it guides our actions and behaviour. Creating a solid roadmap of where you want to focus your energy as an independent helps motivate you and forces you to think about your professional future. Taking accountability, commitment, and clarity into consideration when setting your goals, with periods of evaluation, will ensure you will actually achieve what you set out to do.