“I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world.”
Ah, George Bailey. He never realized the big dreams of his childhood. Instead, he found great joy in that “crummy little town.” That’s the promise of It’s a Wonderful Life — that those who live generously will prosper in friendships, community, and the admiration of others.
But George is a fictional character after all. If you lost $8,000 in the real world, your hometown likely won’t rally around you, dumping their change and bills into a punch bowl. And even if they did, it’s pretty certain that you wouldn’t be able to pull that trick off twice.
The thing is, your career goals are deeply intwined with your income goals. Which means, if you don’t set solid income goals, you might not reach the aspirations you have for your career. So how exactly are income and career goals related? Let’s take a look.
Set Your Career Goals
The first step is to actually have some objectives in mind. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? And how can your income get you there?
This is the time to dream big. As freelancer writers, we have some measure of flexibility and control that regular 9-to-5ers don’t. So while it might seem like pie-in-the-sky to dream about spending half of the year basking on the beaches of Mexico, as a freelancer, this idea isn’t necessarily so far-fetched.
And yes, where and how long you choose to work are career goals. If you can make your annual income in a mere six months, why not? If you can pound out white papers or magazine articles from a cabana while sipping mango juice, who’s to say you shouldn’t?
But you might want to consider other career goals, like writing a series of YA novels or being recognized as a thought leader in your field. More practical goals include retiring with a nice nest egg or going back to school.
Set Your Writing Income Goals
Now that you’ve dreamed big, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. What you earn from your writing will have a direct effect on your career. That’s because as a freelancer, you have the opportunity to spend some of your earnings on your business and your own professional development. You’re also in charge of your hourly rate and the number of hours that you work.
The best place to start in setting income goals is exactly where you are right now. If you don’t know your current income, it’s time to find out. Be ruthlessly honest here. Your latest yearly tax return is very useful, but if you didn’t claim business expenses, like website design, training, and conferences, you may need to do a little bit of figuring.
The next step is to set an annual income goal. Come at this from several different angles, including what you need to earn and how much more you’d like to earn. It’s tempting to shoot for the stars here, but I would advise against setting anything more than a 20 percent increase over the previous year. You want a goal that feels reachable but also stretches you.
But how do you know if your goal is too high? Break it down. Start with your annual income goal and then calculate your quarterly, monthly and weekly income goals.
Annual income goal: $60,000
Quarterly income goal: $60,000 \ 4 = $15,000
Monthly income goal: $60,000 \ 3 = $5,000
Weekly income goal: $5,000 \ 4 = $1,250
Do any of these look out of whack? If so, make adjustments on the weekly or monthly level and recalculate your annual income goal. Also, recognize that these may be averages. If you bring in $2,000 in one week, you’re ahead of the game. But if you only bring in $200, you’ll need to pick up the pace later in the month.
Merge Your Career Goals with Your Writing Income Goals
Now that you have a road map for next year’s income, you can start thinking about how you want to plan for your career goals. This process will vary widely, depending on your career goals, but here’s an example: closing up shop for the entire month of December.
To manage this, you’ll need to rework your quarterly, monthly and weekly income goals. To start, divide your annual goal by 11 months, rather than 12.
Monthly income goal: $60,000 \ 11 = $5,454.55
Weekly income goal: $5,454.55 \ 4 = $1,363.64
Notice that you only need to bring in $454.55 more each month, which is a little more than $100 each week. That doesn’t seem too daunting!
Then you can recalculate your quarterly income goals. The first three quarters’ goals will be different from the last.
Quarter 1, 2 and 3 income goal: $5,454.55 x 3 = $16,363.65
Quarter 4 income goal: $5,454.55 x 2 = $10,909.10
Again, notice that the goals for your first three quarters have not gone up all that much — just $1,363.65.
To merge other types of career goals, you’ll need to consider how they’ll hit your bottom line. For example, if you want to write a book, you’ll need to carve out time for this labor of love — and that’s going to mean one of two things: raising your hourly rate or upping your workload for some period of the year. If you’d like to spend three months in Tahiti, working only 4 hours a day, you need to know the costs involved and how you can bring in the dough to cover them. And if you’d like to retire early, you need to know what you should be squirreling away now.
Most of us are just like George Bailey, eager to dream big but discouraged by the obstacles thrown up in along the way. Setting clear income goals isn’t a guarantee that you’ll sail smoothly to your career destination. But one key to success is knowing what you need to bring in so you can have the career that you want.
Do you know how much you’re making from your freelance writing? Is it in alignment with your long-term goals for your career and your life? How does living a few months a year in an exotic local sound?
Laura Laing is a freelance writer and the author of Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money.