As a consultant, you don’t have a manager asking you to set performance objectives, an annual review, or even a company pay scale determining your salary. When it comes down to it, all independent professionals are essentially small business owners, and are in a unique and exciting position to establish your own rules of the road.
As author Zig Ziglar said, “success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” While it can be as formal or informal as you’d like, creating a strategic plan for your consulting practice can go a long way toward positioning you for success throughout the upcoming year and beyond.
As we approach 2021, here’s how to craft a straightforward but powerful annual strategic plan that can serve as a ‘North Star’ for your consulting practice and help you stay focused on your goals in an ever-changing world.
1. Define your mission
Tesla’s mission statement is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” JetBlue’s is “to inspire humanity—both in the air and on the ground.” What is your mission for your consulting practice?
While it doesn’t have to be as refined or sophisticated as a large company’s, having one umbrella mission for your practice can help you stay motivated throughout the year. In fact, some studies suggest that you are almost twice as likely to achieve a goal if you write it down.
Start by taking a step back and considering why you set out to become an independent consultant in the first place. Remember that there is no one definition of success. The most important question to consider is: “What does success look like to you?”
After giving some thought to what your biggest goal is and why you are uniquely positioned to achieve it, write it down and consider it your mission for the year. Don’t be afraid to make it big, bold, and high-level. Make sure you are passionate about it and that it motivates you.
2. Craft your objectives
According to Upwork’s Freelance Forward 2020 report, 36 percent of the workforce is working independently—many in part because of the schedule flexibility and income diversification working on your own offers. As independent talent, you have an opportunity to tap into an uncommon set of benefits that you may not otherwise have access to if you were working in a traditional role, and achieve an array of professional objectives throughout the year that you define for yourself.
Think through all of the benefits working independently presents as well as all of the elements of your consulting career that are important to you. Then, write specific objectives for the year ahead. Some examples could include:
Financial objectives: As independent talent, you have the ability to set your rate and income goals for the year. What does success from a monetary standpoint look like to you? Determine the salary you’d like to achieve for the year and work backward to figure out how much you need to charge as a day rate in order to meet your financial goals.
Educational objectives: How would you like to upskill or expand upon your skill set this year? Are there certifications you’d like to pursue?
Professional objectives: Are you hoping to build your leadership skills, or position yourself as a thought leader?
Personal objectives: Do you want your work to provide you with more flexibility so you can spend more time with your family? Perhaps you want to work on projects that serve a specific group of people, or have a positive social impact.
Growth objectives: How do you plan to scale and grow your business this year? How do you plan to find clients and market yourself? Define where you want your business to be at the end of the next 12 months.
Try to make each objective SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound):
- Specific: Is your objective clearly defined?
- Measurable: How will you know if you achieved it?
- Achievable: Is this something you can realistically achieve in the coming year?
- Relevant: Does this support your overarching goal?
- Time-bound: By what point in the year do you hope to achieve it?
3. Outline strategies
If your objective is your destination, your strategies are your roadmap. Writing down specific strategies can help you see a path forward and turn your high-level goal into a reality this year. Strategies can also help you identify where there are gaps you need to fill.
Under each objective, jot down 1-3 strategies you plan to take to achieve it. For example:
- If your objective is to enroll in and complete four educational opportunities throughout the year, outline how you plan to identify and complete each course. Perhaps you can plan to set aside three hours per week just for learning opportunities, or commit to fewer working hours one quarter.
- If one of your objectives is to pivot your practice by serving an industry that’s different than the one you currently serve by year-end, one of your strategies could be to reach out to a colleague or friend in the industry you’re hoping to switch to by the end of the first quarter.
4. Stay the course
If one thing is for certain, what your days and months will look like in 2021 may seem uncertain. As we continue to battle COVID-19 globally and experience economic uncertainty in the U.S., it may seem impossible to plan for the future.
However, as they say, smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. While your navigation may change, you can stay focused on your destination by following your plan throughout the year and looking to it for inspiration. Make your annual plan a living document by:
- Saving your plan on your desktop for easy access.
- Putting a recurring note on your calendar to review it quarterly.
- Turning to it when you are presented with a new opportunity.
- Updating it when you achieve milestones.
- Adjusting it when needed.
Keeping your 2021 strategic plan at hand will keep your priorities top of mind and propel you forward. By staying true to your personal definition of success, you may just be able to make the year ahead the most personally and professionally fulfilling one yet.
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