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Learning from the Past and Looking Forward to 2013

Planner, pen and computer

I have done a few end of year / start of new year posts in the past but this one will not be a look back at the past year. 2012 has been a great year for me and my business, a year of growth and the pain that often comes with it. But I prefer to look forward and distill those lessons into areas of focus for the new year so I can improve where I can and do better in 2013.

Planning the year ahead

I read a great article yesterday that someone linked to on Twitter and the gist of it was that you should consider not setting goals at all for different reasons but define areas of focus instead. That makes a lot of sense to me. Here’s the paragraph that drove the point home for me:

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.

Again: “An area of focus set­tles you into the present“. That one really hit a nerve for me as I have a tendency to think of the future a lot and forget the here and now. I don’t need to set specific goals for a year from now as much as I need to know what I have to do today to move toward larger life altering goals. That will probably keep me motivated a lot more.

That really changes how you approach change and improvement in both personal life and business and does not set you up for failure. Let’s face it, we all generally suck at keeping resolutions and meeting specific goals. In a field as fast paced as Web design and development, we often struggle just to keep up with the day to day grind of the work we have to do, client demands, constantly learning our craft and balancing all of that so we can keep some sort of balance and hang on to our sanity. It’s not easy. Like I said, I tend to live in the future anyway so anything that can help me focus on the here and now is truly welcome.

My Areas of Focus for 2013

So I sat down yesterday and wrote down 5 areas I want to focus on in 2013 and detailed specific points I want to improve or move towards. These things can be with me every day as I set my priorities and help me focus on what matters to me and my business at the time. For example, if I want to increase my revenue, I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work for clients who are willing to pay more for my expertise and see the value in it as it can help them with their own objectives. I need clients that respect my time and skills and are willing to help themselves move forward too.

So what do I need to focus on to increase revenue? For me, one important thing is local marketing. In June 2012, I started participating in a networking organization similar to BNI (but far more flexible) and that has pushed my business forward like no other marketing efforts I’ve done before. My client base has evolved towards my ideal client more in the last 18 months than in the previous 5 years combined. Getting out of my shell was not easy but it paid off in ways I didn’t even expect. Getting up at 5:30 am every Tuesday is not easy for this night owl either, but I do it because it’s part of what I need to do to move forward.

My second main area of focus will be communication. I have a tendency to get bogged down in my work and not communicate with clients (or collaborators) often enough. It’s a disservice to them… and me. As a freelancer I need to manage expectations, report on progress and guide my clients through what is complex technical matters to them. It’s not that I don’t do it, but I dropped the ball a few times in the past and can definitely improve in this area overall. I will bring more value to my clients this way then probably attract more clients and help proving my worth to my existing ones…. then increase revenue as a benefit. You see, not a lofty goal of a number I may not reach this year but pointed areas of focus that will have a real impact in my work flow and attitude.

Goals Versus Priorities

I’m not saying that setting goals is not important. But I don’t think they help you make all the big and small decisions you need to make in the day to day grind as well as setting areas of focus and priorities. I do believe that defining priorities keeps you focused in the here and now a lot more effectively than setting too specific goals you may not reach. Deciding to prioritize better communications, better time management and marketing more effectively do not have a specific increased revenue amount attached to them, but they certainly will help me reach the ball park figure I have in my head.

If I land new clients that value my skills and are willing to pay more for them while I improve my processes and communication skills, I’ll probably improve my quality of life as well, regardless of revenue. I’ll have more free time and less stress. These are just as important to me as increasing my income in 2013 so I’ll focus on the things I believe will get me there.

So what do you plan on focusing on in 2013? What do you need to prioritize so you can improve your work and personal lives? Do you still think setting specific goals are the best way to go? Don’t hesitate to share your opinion or experience in a comment!

A happy, productive and fulfilling New Year to all!

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