Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Finding Serenity with Income Goals

If you have a business plan, then chances are you have income goals. And if you're like a lot of self-employed people, your income goals are probably a whole lot higher than your income history. Either you're new to self-employment and growing your business or you're experiencing a slowing of income increases that a 2004 study documented in the journal Science.

When considering my income goals for this year, some self employed friends gave me the following advice:

"If you're the type of person who can handle it when you don't meet your goals, then shoot for the moon. If, on the other hand, you feel like a failure and spend a lot of energy beating yourself up when you don't reach a goal, then you should set more modest goals.

Now, I've always fallen into the latter category. I'm very goal oriented, very Type A--but the unintended consequence of being so oriented towards outcomes is that inevitably you don't reach your goals at some point and not reaching those goals can send you into a spin of self-loathing and self-pity. Ans serenity? Right out the window.

So you're coming to the end of the first month of the year and it's a good time to reflect back on those goals you created at the end of 2007. How are you doing?

To assess, consider the following questions:

Are you close to your goal for the month?
What's the margin of difference between your goal and the reality for the month?
How does that goal feel in your body as you are putting it into action? What I mean is, when you think about that goal and how your income is actually flowing in comparison, do you feel panicky?
Do you feel proud?
Do you feel hopeless?
Do you feel like a failure?
Do you feel secure?

You get the point. A business plan isn't some dusty thing you put on a shelf. It's a living thing that--and here's the important part--you can adjust to match your needs. The important thing about a business plan is that it motivates and supports your business and your serenity as a self-employed person. If you're in the panicky category, you may be tempted to tone down those goals. That's allowed after all. But before you do that, consider this:

Wait a few months.

I know, it can feel excruciating. But you need to see where the gap between your earnings and your goals is the result of an unrealistic goal or if it's the result of some oversight in your marketing efforts.

So before you scale back, see where you can increase your income next month to balance your earning from this month. It's less important what you make this month than what you make on average over the next six months.

So don't be precipitous with your goal fiddling. But do be aware. Just do one small thing to increase your company's profile today. If after a few months, you're continuing to feel terrible, consider changing your goal.

Until then, consider it a practice of setting your intention with the universe.

If, at the end of those few months--let's say, at the end of the first quarter--you find you're not okay with falling short of your goals, then it's possible that you need to revise it--and then revise your expectations for spending, too.

And it's possible that you need to look at your mix of clients and marketing to see what's most effective for you.

The point is not the goal. The point is whether it motivates you in a positive way.

Serenity in business, I feel, comes from sustainability more than anything else.

So did I reach my goal for this month? Nope.

But I'm oddly fine with it. I don't know if it's the meditation, the support or the planning, but I can see my income stream projected for the next two months and it's outstripping this month several times over. Part of that, I'm finding, is seasonal. Last year, January was a tough month, too. The difference this year is that I'm better targeting my marketing and doing more work I love with better reward (both intellectually and financially) than I was last year.

Having a plan, more than anything, makes it so I find it easier to bounce back after a stressful or short month. Let's face it--cash flow will always be an issue for us self-employed people. That's out of our control.

What we can focus on, then, is how we plan for and react to our circumstances.

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