Freelancers and other solopreneurs have interests, desires, and dreams all over the map.
How do you decide what the next level up even is? Or is “up” the wrong direction?
Smaller questions like those orbit a bigger one: “What do I want?”
That question can be difficult to answer.
Freelancers want the basics, of course: life, liberty, and superbly crafted vanilla lattes. But beyond that, our honest answers to the “What do I want?” question roam all over the place.
We can’t count on money to point the way because money is a crappy compass. Achieving financial milestones doesn’t feel like we expected or brings the desired clarity.
One of my coaching clients, Kellie, learned this firsthand:
“I had a $20,000 month, and it nearly killed me. I was miserable.”
Instead of champagne glasses of sparkling clarity, milestones pour us muddy cocktails of maybes and misgivings. They never feel the way we anticipated, a phenomenon so common that psychologists gave it a name, “arrival fallacy.”
Meanwhile, family, peers, vanity, or culture at large tell us what we should want, and that cacophony of voices and opinions often contradicts and obscures the true desires hidden in our heart of hearts.
Meanwhile(r), we’ve still got to find work, pay our bills, and navigate the freelance landscape, ideally in a way that feels like progress.
What’s a beautiful, multipassionate, multipotentialite freelancer to do?
Two very specific practices have worked for me:
- Shrink the landscape of paralyzing optionality to a narrower, more manageable field.
- Pick your Next Three.
Why pick only 3 priorities?
In his book Good to Great Jim Collins examines the fundamental differences between companies that remain unusually profitable over decades and those that limp along or disappear. One of Collins’s key insights is fewer goals.
The great companies he studied had no more than three objectives.
True to form, Collins summarized his findings with this pithy remark: “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
As a chronic overcommitter, I don’t like this insight one bit. Nosirree. Surely Collins meant to demonstrate that companies (insert: solopreneurs) who win long term are the ones that pile on goals the way good delis pile on cold cuts?
Unfortunately, Gino Wickman, author of Traction and creator of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) came to a similar conclusion after working with thousands of successful business leaders: The underperforming companies were the ones that divided their focus across a dozen or more goals and ended each year frustrated.
If you trust the work Collins and Wickman have done, and I do, then our root problem is paralyzing optionality. Rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks everywhere!
We don’t start at all on the most important things, or we give up before that important thing—hello, marketing!—has a chance to produce the desired result.
To get better results, you must reduce complexity.
Instead of trying to articulate what you want forever, figure out what you want next.
Some of you may already have some inkling. Others may need to spend time asking and answering questions.
Regardless, waste an hour answering the questions below with a rambling journal entry.
Then, sift your answers: What do you want next?
Set your Next Three priorities.
Freelance Business Audit Questions
- Where am I in my freelance career? Did I resonate most with Moonlighter, Hustler, Lifestyler, or Diversifier, and what Tiny Win or financial goal will enable me bring the next level a bit closer?
- Which three to five recent projects have been most fun, fulfilling, or challenging (in a good way)? Do you notice any commonalities or patterns?
- Am I getting the clients and projects I want? Am I getting the project outcomes I want?
- Is my work characterized by joy? Or am I tired or burning out?
- What does my freelance business need from me right now?
- What do I want next with my freelancing and consulting business?
- What are your best opportunities right now? Can you think of any quick wins?
- What is most important right now in my work?
- What’s the next most logical step for my business? Where do I go from here?