Do you ever feel overworked and underpaid as a freelancer or business owner? I know I have. For many, the primary cause is thinking about your business in the short term rather than the long term.
Think about a freelancer who takes smaller, quick paying jobs today instead of leaving time to improve their business so they can get bigger jobs later.
It becomes almost like a cycle: they can’t get out of those small paying jobs that just barely pay the bills.
To break this cycle, you need to start thinking of your business in the long term. Instead of making a quick buck today, we need to create value for the future.
In this article, I’m going to show you the five ways I was able to shift my thinking from short term to the long term and improve my business and my profits.
1. Make long term goals
“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
– Jim Rohn
If you have no destination in mind, you’ll just flounder. Without goals, you’ll get stuck in the short term.
Ask almost any successful person, and they will say that you need to set goals. When you set goals, you’ll have a destination in mind and be able to follow a path towards it.
Now, what kinds of goals should you actually set?
It really depends on you.
I’ve met some people whose goals are simple: “make enough to support myself and my family.” Others have slightly more ambition, like creating a business empire or changing the world. Others have goals on what they want, like buying a house or a new car.
One of the best goal setting exercises I ever did was from the “4 Hour Workweek,” called the Ideal Lifestyle Costing.
It prompts you to create two timelines: one that’s 6 months out, and one 12 months out. And then you list five things you want to have, you want to be, and you want to do.
From there, you can figure out what you need to accomplish them, and then set about finding how to accomplish them.
Once you find your goals, you need to be sure to write them down.
2. Write down your goals
In the article Why You Should Be Writing Down Your Goals on Forbes.com, a study conducted on a Harvard MBA program’s students reveals the importance of writing goals.
As the article states, “only 3% had written goals and plans, 13% had goals but they weren’t in writing and 84% had no goals at all.”
10 years later, the group of students was interviewed again. Here are the results:
“The 13% of the class who had goals, but did not write them down was earning twice the amount of the 84% who had no goals. The 3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined!”
There are many studies out there about the importance writing has in goal setting.
Suffice it to say, when you write down your goals, you are more likely to follow through with them.
When I do my goal setting exercises, I write down all my goals in Evernote. Every few weeks, I take a look through them and see if I’m following through with them. If I ever start to flounder (i.e., get stuck on short-term profits instead of my long-term value), I’m able to adjust and get back on track.
3. Plan your day-to-day activities
“I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.”
– Venus Williams
For the first few years of my business, I had horrible planning skills. Each morning I’d wake up and say, “What should I work on today?”
As you can guess, I made very little progress.
Each day, I was presented with two choices: I can either take this small job for a couple hundred dollars, or work on long-term projects to build up my business.
Almost always, that smaller, quick paying job seemed more enticing, in that moment.
When I realized that I was not making any forward progress with my business, I adjusted. Instead of planning my activities the day of, I would plan it way ahead of time.
I would take the list of goals I had made, and break each into a set of tasks.
I’d then take the list of tasks, prioritize them, and schedule them out on my calendar, months and months in advance. Then, like Serena Williams said in the quote above, I just ignore everything else and work on those tasks.
When those smaller, quick paying jobs would come along, I wouldn’t take them because I already had a full day of tasks set up.
Now, I didn’t want to be a mindless zombie, so I would check in on my goals and my tasks every other week and make adjustments as needed. Maybe a specific task doesn’t need to be done anymore, or there’s another, more important, task that popped up.
I was flexible during my planning stages, but in work mode during the other times.
4. Learn to say no
“I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
– Steve Jobs
Building off #3, if you want to be able to achieve your goals, you’ll need to learn to say no to tasks that aren’t getting you closer to your goals.
Sadly, saying no is one of the hardest things to do.
I know for me, whenever anyone presented me with a job, I really, REALLY wanted to say yes. I still have problems saying no today.
But you need to realize that, like you’ve probably heard thousands and thousands of times before, “there are only so many hours in a day.”
You need to choose the jobs you want and have the ability to do. You can’t do everything.
If you want to succeed, you will need to say no.
5. Invest in your goals and yourself
“Invest in as much of yourself as you can, you are your own biggest asset by far.”
– Warren Buffett
I’ve seen far too many freelancers and business owners treat their earnings as their piggy bank.
Sadly, I was included in that.
When you make money, you always want to take some of that money and either reinvest it in your business or yourself.
Think of large businesses like Google. What keeps them so successful is that much of the revenue that comes in isn’t given to shareholders, but invested in new areas of their business.
Treat your business the same.
Perhaps you can take a course that will teach you new skills. Maybe you can get a new logo that will help brand you.
What scares most people from reinvesting in their business is that they look at it as a cost. I’ve heard many business owners say, “I don’t want to SPEND $500 on a new logo!”
But what they are missing is that the $500 they spend on a more professional logo will allow them to attract higher end clients who will pay them more. That $500 investment will turn into revenue for them.
Thinking about your business from a long-term perspective takes time. It won’t happen overnight.
And it’s not binary either. It’s not like one day you will go, “Oh, I get it now!” It’s something you will constantly work at to get better and better. Some days you may slip, others you will excel.
One of the best books I’ve found to help improve how you think about your business in the long term is “Built to Sell.” Even if you don’t have plans to sell your business at any point, I highly recommend reading it.
What are your thoughts?
If you have any comments regarding building your business for the long term or about goal setting, or perhaps even some tips, I’d love to read about them in the comments below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this today.