My framework for deciding what to work on this week, and what to aim for next year.
My goal of running a solo business, is enabling me to live the life I want. The first post was a long, personal braindump, reflecting on my current context, interests and pinning down what’s important to me.
Dealing with those topics is very valuable to be explicit about expectations and possibilities. As a result, I know what I want field I want to work in, and know the current answers to the question “what’s important to me?”. Both will help to make decisions down the line and evaluate if I’m on the right track. That’s cool, but those won’t help deciding what to work on each particular day.
You have to have a destination in mind, so you can start working on getting there.
It’s impossible to plan if you don’t know what change you want to see in the world.
My priorities - having the luxury of spare time, flexibility, genuinely useful work results and “being able to choose what to work on” - are way easier to have, if I don’t have to worry too much about money. One way to get there, is by creating a predictable source of income which can be decoupled from my working time.
Here is the way I currently approach planning, and how I intend to get from a long-term vision to “what to do today”. I’m using a planning framework, which is explained in detail in the book The One Thing by Gary Keller. It’s called “Goal Setting to the Now”.
The guiding assumption of the book is, that there is always one thing you can focus on, which will make future goals and tasks easier or even unnecessary. In that spirit, it proposes to create something like a cascade of goals, where shorter-term goals are chosen with the intention of making the next-longer-term goal easier or unnecessary. The time-spans become larger, the further you look into the future.
With my end-destination in mind, I chose the following goals:
- Someday: Decouple income from time invested in work.
- 5 Years: A predictable business, yielding 12k € in profit, with a time investment of 2 days per week from me.
- 1 Year: Have a month with 12k € revenue.
- 1 Month: First client project.
Each of those has a reason behind it. The monthly goal will help to create a focus on getting out there, the 1-year goal will make it necessary to work towards charging appropriate rates, the 5-year goal will make me deal with ways to automate, delegate and strive for stability.
The way to think about each one is: “I want to hit my week goal, so it’s easier to hit my monthly goal, so it’s easier to hit my yearly goal, so it’s easier to hit my 5 year goal”.
An important detail of this approach, is the fact that goals are not permanent. You don’t choose once and then execute until it’s done. There are regular intervals, at which you have to reflect on progress, review your approaches, set new goals or change old ones and thus adjust your course. Every week, you re-evaluate your monthly and 1-year goals. Once per year, you have to put your 5-year and someday goals to the question. After all, things change and you have collected more information to make better decisions.
What’s missing in the list above are weekly and daily goals. Those are more volatile and can change frequently, as I am learning something new every day. Also, they differ from the other ones.
There’s a dilemma with goals. In the words of Amy Hoy:
A huge target like that? It’s not really a goal itself, but an organizing principle. A reason to set other goals.
Most of the outcomes I am aiming for with monthly or yearly goals are not quite under my control. Instead, they are subject to variance and circumstances. Achieving or not-achieving one is not a good measure whether I’m doing the right things day-to-day. I might have a terrific month, getting lots of leads, but still be doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
My current short-term goals are guided by the ones above, but I focus on executing repeatable processes which are likely to raise my chances in the long term. Variance might hit, but if you know you’re working on the right things - that’s a success, even if the result does not materialize that particular month or week.
Show up every day. Do the work. Repeat. The only thing I can guarantee and should strive for is doing the right things over and over.
There is lots of issues I need to address in the near future. Stuff I’m eager to improve.
- I’m not happy with the definition of my target audience - “startups” is too broad.
- I will need to nail down the problem I’m solving. Focusing on the tech I use and the stuff I do is bad in many ways. It should be about how clients are better off afterwards.
- I’ll need to build a marketing funnel and repeatable sales processes (ways to generate leads predictably and lead them to wanting to work with me)
The thing is, with the monthly goal in mind I really shouldn’t focus on those right now. When asking “what do I need to do to land a single client this month?”, the only answer is: “Create situations where I have the attention of potential clients. Leave the impression of being trustworthy and able to improve their situation.”
The constraint of having a client this very month makes it easy to focus on what’s most likely to work: non-scalable tactics which have potential of having immediate impact.
I need to start getting noticed by people who I can help, who need the technical stuff I can do and have access to a budget. My current weekly goal is to get in touch with two potential clients per day. I’ll write more about the tactics I chose for this, and the way I execute on them in the next post.