My 9-to-5 friends are often baffled — then impressed — by my momentum. When you love what you do, you have an internal drive that pushes you to do better and constantly learn more about your industry.
It also helps that my inbox is always flooded with notifications for professional development webinars, Twitter chats and instructional videos — thanks to the many email lists I’ve signed up for over the years. It’s simple to click the sign-up buttons; what’s difficult is making the sessions fit into my workflow so I can keep up with my daily business tasks. Here’s how I pull it all together each month.
Business “Me Time:” Prioritizing My Professional Development
Just this past week, I received an email about a webinar collaboration that would focus on evaluating current strategies between a company I work on contract with and one of its clients. I decided this would be valuable to attend, because I could learn more about two companies I work with, and network with my colleagues in a professional situation.
Thankfully, the webinar was scheduled at noon. I ate lunch at my desk and took notes as I listened to the conversation. Four pages of ideas and insider information later, I now have better insight into their marketing plan and feel more confident than ever working with them.
Sometimes fitting development opportunities into my schedule isn’t so easy. That’s why I block out time each week for unexpected things that pop-up, like client calls, last-minute projects or an opportunity to learn something new. I’ll juggle the tasks on my calendar that aren’t time-specific (but rather project-driven) Tetris-style to make room for any unforeseen events.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Reviewing Self-Performance
When it comes to reviewing my work performance, as long as I’m moving forward each day with the help of these trainings, I’m satisfied. To determine my overall business momentum, I regularly ask myself these six questions:
- Am I meeting my goals?
- Do I regularly learn new things?
- Do I feel inspired?
- Am I completing projects on time?
- Is my revenue growing?
- Do I meet customer expectations?
For me, it doesn’t matter how quickly these things happen — as long as they happen. I’ve felt the delicate balance of work and personal life falter in the past, and have learned to honor the pace of my business journey, not rush it.
Overall, the professional development opportunities I take part in inspire me to stay on track with my goals and self-reflect on my business progress on a regular basis. Much like an in-person training or industry-focused conference, I get motivated to expand my knowledge base because I’m empowered with creative energy. My mind buzzes with ideas, and my brainstorming notebook is filled with topics to write about, new apps to try and people to connect with on LinkedIn.
Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals As an Indy
All business decisions should come with a plan and set of goals. I have plenty of opportunities to learn via online outlets, free seminars at local colleges, entrepreneurial groups in my city and conference calls with my clients. All I have to do is pick which topics will benefit me most depending on where I’m at in my career and workflow. For example, if I’m starting a new e-book project, listening to a video from an expert in digital publishing who specializes in the differences between writing an e-book versus a long-form blog post would be most advantageous.
Most employers advocate the popular S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting technique to manage the personal development of their employees. But this practice isn’t limited to traditional employees with HR departments. As solopreneurs, we can use this technique to guide our own professional development.
This S.M.A.R.T. goal outline will help you create goals to hold yourself accountable and make progress:
- Specific: Explain what you’re going to do, how you’ll do it and why it’s important. Be as specific as possible, and name techniques, locations and purposes.
- Measurable: Set a deadline for your goal. Implement several short-term benchmarks to achieve a larger goal with a completion date set further into the future.
- Achievable: The goal should challenge you, but not overwhelm you. Find opportunities that are just above your level, so the information allows you to learn new things without struggling.
- Results-focused: Define what you want to achieve. What do you hope to gain from spending time on developing your business?
- Time-bound: Dictate a time frame to achieve your goal. Remember: Improving your business is an ongoing effort. Evaluate the success of your goals weekly, monthly or quarterly to determine if you need to ramp up your efforts.
Here’s an example of my current S.M.A.R.T goal to add more professional development opportunities to my schedule:
I will leverage professional development learning opportunities — including online webinars, local meetings and conference calls hosted by key clients or companies I’d like to develop a relationship with — at least twice per month for the entire year. I will choose topics that align with my current challenges (which include improving my marketing outreach, video skills and client relationships) so I can learn new techniques to manage my business (working with an assistant and revamping my schedule to accommodate health challenges), expand my services (consulting, photography and influencer projects) and delight my customers. At the end of each month, I will identify the challenges I have solved and the smaller goals within this statement I have achieved, and I will adjust accordingly for the month ahead.
The smartest thing I’ve ever done was to block out time on my Google Calendar for my personal health and the health of my business. Each month, I enjoy a wave of rejuvenation and confidence in my skills as I learn something new that propels my business forward. With a few S.M.A.R.T. goals and an honest look at your own performance, you can help your business grow.