Leaving Work Behind

How to Choose the Correct Topic for Your Information Product

Written by Tom Ewer on August 30, 2012. 15 Comments

How to Produce a Successful eBook (Part I) - Research [Case Study]A couple of weeks ago, I revealed that I am writing a guide to freelance blogging that will be released as an information product. Much of that post focused on my uncertainty as to whether or not such a project would be a success, and my resultant procrastination.

A lot of my uncertainty was predicated upon the topic that I wanted to write about. I kept asking myself if people would actually want to buy a freelance blogging guide. I had ideas as to why I thought it could work, but I was far from certain. Eventually, I decided that taking action on something that might fail would be better than taking no action at all.

Now that I am well and truly rolling in terms of writing the guide (the first draft word count currently stands at around 22,000), I thought that now would be a good time to revisit my reasons as to why I thought a freelance blogging guide would be a good idea.

What Do My Readers Want?

I started my project with an advantage – an audience. I cannot undersell the value of an existing audience in terms of giving you direction. You guys were my first port of call when it came to considering a topic for an information product.

Some of the most valuable information I have received from LWB readers is contained within the replies I have gotten to my newsletter’s first (and only) auto-responder email. That email includes a simple request:

Reply to this email and let me know what you’re struggling with right now. It doesn’t matter how big or small – I’d love to hear from you.

This is an idea I originally learnt about from Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, and its value cannot be understated. The answers I get are fascinating, and some people are surprisingly candid. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the stories you guys have told me – not only is it great to get to know you better, but assuming that the stories are representative of my audience as a whole, it gives me great insight.

When I go back through the stories I have received, two “struggles” come up regularly:

  1. Blogging
  2. Freelance writing

It seems that most LWB readers are either keen bloggers, or aspiring freelance writers. That is no great surprise, given that I am a keen blogger and a freelance writer. It would make sense that I would attract people like me, no?

My answer to the first group is simple – go buy Corbett Barr’s Start a Blog that Matters. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most comprehensive blogging guide I have ever come across. My secondary piece of advice, if people are not willing to pay for Corbett’s course, is to check out my beginner’s guide to blogging.

So that’s the bloggers pretty well wrapped up for the time being. There is no way in hell I am going to try to compete with Corbett’s course – it is outstanding. That leaves the freelance writers, which is an area in which I really think I can help.

So, if you are interested in creating an information product, I would recommend that you start asking your audience what they are struggling with. It can be via your email list, your blog, your social media outposts, or a combination of the above. Get to know your readers, and they will give you the inspiration.

On a final note, also consider who else you know in the blogosphere. I know quite a few guys and girls in the freelance writing field, and a couple of them have already said (without me having to ask) that they’d love to support and promote my guide. Remember – it’s not all about your own audience – consider the audiences that you may be able to tap into.

What If You Don’t Have Readers?

I personally wouldn’t recommend trying to sell an information product without a blog. I know that many people have done it, and doing so is entirely possible (not to mention potentially lucrative), but it involves a whole different set of tactics to what I am focusing on.

You would need to nail your SEO in order to attract leads to your sales page, and/or you would need to engage in a PPC campaign, which is notoriously easy to get wrong. “Manufacturing” an audience in such a way is not a road that I would like to go down – I would rather go down the “organic” route of relying upon my audience and blogging connections.

Convergence

I touched upon the concept of convergence in my introductory post to this case study series, but I want to explore it further now.

When it came to picking a topic for my information product, I didn’t simply spot that a proportion of my readers are interested in freelance writing, and therefore decide to write a freelance writing guide. It is extremely important to me that I create something of true value – something that will really blow readers away. I wanted to find that sweet spot between what people want, and what I could offer:

Convergence

I feel that I have to lot to offer when it comes to freelance writing, and more specifically, freelance blogging. Over the past year or so I have gone from a non-existent freelance income to earning $3,500 – $4,500 per month – whilst only working 20-25 hours per week. I have learnt a great deal about every single aspect of freelance blogging, and I think that my experience can help others who are keen to replicate my success.

Furthermore, the positive reception I have received regarding posts such as my guide to setting and negotiating freelance rates leads me to believe that people value my opinion on such matters.

Those factors combined to give me confidence that I could produce something that other people would find truly valuable. That is an absolute must for me.

Desire

It is one thing for my readers to be interested in freelance writing – it is another thing for them to be interested enough to actually pay for advice. This is something that is covered very well in How to Launch the **** Out of Your eBook, an awesome guide that I purchased a couple of weeks ago. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in releasing their own information product.

One thing alone almost guarantees that there is a big enough desire – competition. If you are writing on a topic for which there have been a number of guides produced in the past, you can be pretty sure that there is a market for it.

On the other hand, I think that instinct also comes into it to. A question I asked myself was, “Would I buy the guide I am writing?” You can call me biased, but the answer was a resounding “Yes!”. After all, I was once subscribed to the Freelance Writer’s Denand I threw a few hundred bucks at the Freelance Writer’s Blast Off Course. The fact was, I wanted to make a living from freelance writing, and therefore I was prepared to invest in it. I think that many others feel the same way.

One final consideration is the financial reward that a product will bring to people. Let’s say you pay $97 for an information product that teaches you to generate $4,000 in monthly income. It’s a pretty good deal, right? That is how I see the value proposition of my guide.

The Competition and Your Unique Selling Proposition

Finding a great topic to write about is the first step – figuring out what you can bring to the topic that is of value is what comes next.

As soon as I thought of the idea of a freelance writing guide, a very clear unique selling proposition came to me – a guide to freelance blogging specifically (as opposed to freelance writing in general). There are a number of reasons (which I will not go into here) as to why I think freelance blogging is great choice, and I feel that a lot of people see it as a relatively “accessible” form of freelance writing.

At first, I couldn’t actually find any other information product that had focused on freelance blogging specifically. This was one of my concerns that I had to override with my “What the hell, let’s just do it” attitude – if there’s no competition, is there demand? I did subsequently find a direct competitor, which left me with mixed feelings. Competition is good (because it indicates demand), but it is bad (because it’s competition). In my mind, there was only one way to rationalize this catch-22 situation – accept it, and get on with it.

The fact is, if I didn’t believe that I could bring something of unique value to the table, I wouldn’t be doing this. And I believe that I can produce a great guide, absolutely packed to the rafters with value.

What Next?

So there you have it folks – the above represents the research I carried out to select my guide’s topic. In a nutshell, I went through the following process:

  1. I found out what my readers wanted
  2. From those wants, I picked a topic that I could bring value to
  3. I assessed the desire for that particular topic
  4. I assessed the competition and defined my USP

At this stage, I have nearly finished the first draft of the guide. To be honest, I would love to set a launch date, but I feel as if I am stuck in no-man’s land at the moment. There are so many things that need to come together (completing and editing the guide, interviewing experts, attracting affiliates, creating sales pages and autoresponders, and so on), and I simply don’t know how long it is going to take.

So I am left at a bit of an impasse. What I really need is a schedule from now to launch, but the problem is that the accuracy of such a schedule would be in severe doubt. Should I continue writing for the time being before setting a launch date, or should I just bite the bullet and pick a date on the calendar?

Creative Commons image courtesy of pnoeric and uxSears

How to Launch Your Own Successful Service Business

Written by Tom Ewer on August 27, 2012. 15 Comments

How to Launch Your Own Successful Service BusinessIt is 11:30am on a Wednesday morning, and I am writing this at my dining room table in sweatpants and my Baltimore Ravens hoodie. Living the high life.

In essence, I am sitting here because of a speculative punt, followed by accidental success. The speculative punt is represented by the applications for writing positions I submitted via the ProBlogger Job Board back in September 2011. The accidental success was my blog becoming a client referral machine, despite a complete lack of intent on my part for that to be the case.

Launching and growing my service business (freelance writing) has been an experience that one could almost describe as being too good to be true. Flexible hours? Check. Great hourly rate? Check. Clients on tap? Check. I have to pinch myself.

The Benefits of Owning a Service Business

I don’t say any of the above to boast, because I think that nearly anyone is capable of launching a successful service business. I don’t consider my achievements remarkable. But what I am trying to communicate is how lucrative service businesses can be.

Unlike the many passive income pipe dreams out there, you can launch a service business and start earning money tomorrow. You don’t have to worry about overheads or stock, and your exposure to risk is essentially non-existent. And perhaps what I love most about running my own service business is that I dictate the hours I work. I currently earn a full time living with around 20 hours work per week, which gives me another 20 hours or so to focus on other projects (such as my freelance writing guide).

Even if your longterm dream isn’t to sell services, it can act as a fantastic stepping stone to whatever higher ambition you have.

In Search of a Great Guide

I write about freelance writing here on the blog, and also about freelancing in general. But what I haven’t offered is a guide to getting started with a service based business.

This issue came to a head when I was speaking to a friend recently. She is currently unhappily employed as a social media consultant, but does a bit of freelance work on the side. I asked her if she had considered launching her own social media consultancy business. She had, but didn’t really know where to start. I gave her a few tips, but I knew she needed more to feel like she could really launch herself into the idea wholeheartedly.

Michelle DaleIt was around that time that I received an email from Michelle Dale – someone who I have known for a good long while now. Someone who I have observed with admiration as a living and breathing example of how to create a successful online service business.

And guess what – she was emailing me to tell me about a new course she had just launched.

Introducing The Virtually Anywhere Shoestring

Michelle introduced The Virtually Anywhere Shoestring to me as a course that “answers all of the ‘How’ questions for someone wanting to get started providing a service online”. I couldn’t believe my luck. After skimming through the material, I could see that this was exactly what my friend needed, and exactly the kind of thing that would benefit a huge number of Leaving Work Behind readers. So then I went back to the start and digested the course thoroughly.

To say that I was impressed by its exhaustiveness would be an understatement. It is presented as 30 day program which takes you through every necessary step to launching a successful service business – from personal branding, to website and blog creation, to marketing, and even invoicing. I found myself thinking, “If only I had found this course a year ago”. What was even more interesting was some of the feedback Michelle was getting, such as this:

The VA Shoestring Testimonial

I can’t say I am surprised that the course is producing results like this, because Michelle has basically exposed all of the strategies she has employed to nurture her own successful businesses.

How Much Does it Cost?

The Virtually Anywhere Shoestring is priced at $99, but Michelle has a sale on until the end of August – it is currently available for $77, but only for a few more days.

If you are interested in creating a successful service business, this is basically the instruction manual. To find out more, click here.

If you’re not ready to take the plunge, then I definitely recommend that you check out Michelle’s blog, where she hands out a ton of free advice relating to service businesses, no strings attached.

If you are interested in launching a service business, will you be taking a closer look at The Virtually Anywhere Shoestring course? Let us know in the comments section!

How to Connect with Leaving Work Behind

Written by Tom Ewer on August 17, 2012. 10 Comments

How to Connect with Leaving Work BehindOver the last year or so, Leaving Work Behind has grown from one man’s accountability journal into a community of awesome people who have a burning desire to build a life on their own terms.

I am truly astonished by the number of people I have had the privilege of talking to in that time – whether it has been an email exchange, a chat on Skype, or a meeting in person (hello Bon, Jana, James, and others!). My horizons have been well and truly expanded by the people I have got to know through LWB, and I hope that those who have engaged with me have benefited in some way too.

With that said, I thought it would be nice at this point to share the different ways in which you can keep in touch with myself and the whole LWB movement. If you’re new to the blog, this will serve as a great introduction. If you’ve been around for a while, you may be surprised at what you’re missing out on…

The Blog

The Leaving Work Behind blog serves as the “hub” for everything that I do online. It’s where you can find all of the latest guides, case studies, and stories relating to my journey (which I hope can in turn help yours).

There are a few ways in which you can keep in touch with the blog:

Social Media

I don’t just use my social media accounts as places to promote new and old blog posts – I love finding new people to engage with. I also share my random experiences, and ridiculous wedding photos (amongst other things). Here’s where you can find me:

Contacting Me

The best ways to get in touch with me are via Facebook and Twitter.

However, if you’re not a social media type of person, feel free to contact me via more traditional means – my email address is tom [at] leavingworkbehind [dot] com. I always reply to emails (if there is actually something to reply to…).

A Favor

If I could ask you to do just one thing, it would be to share my blog. Via social media, by emailing a link to a bunch of friends, or in whatever other way tickles your fancy…it doesn’t matter. Or, you can just click here to share a tweet with your friends. I would be most grateful.

And if you have any feedback regarding the blog – things you like, things you don’t like, things you’d like to see, or anything else – please leave your comments here!

Introducing My New Project: an Information Product for Freelance Bloggers

Written by Tom Ewer on August 15, 2012. 72 Comments

My New Project - Will I Fail or Succeed? [Case Study]I’ve been focusing on highly actionable posts over the last couple of months on Leaving Work Behind. Whether it’s been setting and achieving goals, blogging, or negotiating freelance rates, there has been something for just about everyone.

Whilst I love producing those posts (and there will be plenty more to come in the future), today I want to take you back to where it all started.

Those who have been LWB subscribers from the start will remember the blow-by-blow accounts of projects I was working on through 2011 and early 2012 – from niche sites, to authority sites, to freelance writing. Well, I have been working on a project for a few weeks now, and today I want to introduce it to you.

Trapped

You may recall from a recent post on business inspiration that I had come up with many interesting ideas on holiday in Bulgaria back in May. And yet, it took until just a few weeks ago for me to finally start work on any of the projects that I had dreamt up.

This kind of procrastination is extremely damaging (but also extremely easy). I was effectively floating along, achieving little. Sure – I have a healthy freelance income which pays the bills and then some, and the blog is growing, but in terms of setting up independent income-generating assets, I was going nowhere. I was caught in a form of what Corbett Barr calls “The Blogging Trap“.

I realized that without a project to work on – something more than just the freelance work – I was quickly slipping into mere “existence”, rather than “advancement”. And that is not the Leaving Work Behind way.

So I have decided to take a big jump out of my comfort zone and release an information product, and I want you along for the ride. This is the first post in a series in which I will share every step of my journey – from the first word, to the final launch, and beyond. You can expect the same level of candidness as you have ever witnessed from me on other projects.

Why Decide to Create an Information Product?

If you have read my recent post on business inspiration you will know that I am certainly not short of ideas. When I finally came to the decision to pull my finger out and get something done, there was a considerable selection of potential projects to choose from – blogs, membership sites, plugins, and other miscellanea.

So why did I choose an information product? Simple – because I wanted something that acted as a convergence point between the following:

  1. What I’m good at and can teach
  2. What my existing audience wants

Whilst I could have started a new blog (I’ve got an idea that I am completely in love with) or developed a WordPress plugin, doing so wouldn’t really be making the best of what I already have. I decided that it would make most sense to produce a product that my existing audience might want to buy.

Convergence

Convergence is key.

Finally (and perhaps most importantly), I felt that I had spotted a gap in the market.

A Guide to Freelance Blogging

Which leads me to the announcement of my upcoming information guide, which will be a guide to freelance blogging.

I believe that freelance blogging specifically (as opposed to freelance writing generically) is highly underrated and undervalued. Not only can it pay well (I earn the equivalent of $100 per hour from some clients), it can also lead to an enormous wealth of opportunities.

Freelance blogging can lead to:

…and so on. Not only that, it gives you the absolute freedom to run your day as you see fit – whether that is doing just 3-4 hours of writing per day (as I do), or treating it as a full time occupation and earning yourself a six figure income (as I could). You can effectively quit your job, work half the hours and earn the same amount of money, freeing up an enormous amount of time to pursue other projects (or have a round of golf).

And with my audience, I believe that I have a glorious mix of people:

  1. Those who are already interested in the concept of freelance blogging
  2. Those who are not interested, but might be if they understood just how lucrative and freeing it can be

I am really excited about releasing this guide – not only to help those who want exactly what I am offering, but also for those who are struggling to figure out how to quit their job and build a life on their own terms. For those struggling bloggers, the answer is staring them right in the face, and I can’t wait to open their eyes to it.

My guide is not going to be a 20 page pamphlet – I plan for it to be a comprehensive resource that will teach you everything you need to know in order to become a successful freelance blogger. If you consider the effort I put into some of my blog posts (such as my recent goal setting guide) and multiply it by a number of times, you will have an idea of what to expect.

Will It be Worth It?

In short – I don’t know (who ever could?). However, I am reasonably sure that it will be.

In putting time and effort into this guide, I am taking a calculated risk. My viability calculation is as follows:

Time Taken * Desired Hourly Rate = Necessary Break-Even Point

So for instance, say the guide would take me 30 hours to produce, and my desired hourly rate (i.e. how much I would like to earn for each hour I invested in the project) was $75:

30 * $75 = $2,250

In order for me to consider the guide a success, it would have to earn a minimum of $2,250 in its lifetime. If I were to offer the guide for say $47, I would need to sell just under 50 copies in order to break-even on my time investment.

Although the above numbers are not the ones I used to calculate my break-even point, they are indicative of the process I went through.

Since I have never released an information product before, I can have no accurate expectation of how it might perform. However, I am relatively confident that it will do well enough in the long run for me to recoup my investment. Only time will tell.

Fear of Failure

The idea itself and the calculation of viability were the easy parts. Actually creating the guide, and subsequently marketing it, is where things will get tough.

In short, I don’t know what I am doing. This is one of the key factors that kept me procrastinating for so long. I had the idea, but I feared failure. What if the guide is a flop? What if I get it all wrong?

The $100 Startup

I would happily recommend this book to anyone.

The answer finally came to me whilst I was reading The $100 Startup, in which Chris Guillebeau essentially gives you two options:

  1. Continue to procrastinate and get nowhere
  2. Embrace the chance of failure

I chose option two. I am embracing the chance of failure. The worst case scenario is that I sell a handful of copies of the guide, make a few hundred bucks, and learn a great lesson regarding how it all went so wrong. Best case scenario, I meet or exceed my expectations, grow my blog’s following, and kick my business up to another level.

It rather sounds like a win/win, doesn’t it?

What Next?

I have been writing for a good few weeks now, and the guide is already well over 10,000 words long. I basically jumped in without planning the book out in detail, which was a bit of a mistake.

Now that I have got a good start on the guide, I plan to step back from the day-to-day writing and focus for a week or so on planning. I also need to think about an actual launch date – I am hoping for sometime in October, but am not quite ready to publish a formal date yet.

I need to map out the chapters, headings, and subheadings, coordinate interviews and case studies, and consider pre-launch marketing and affiliate networking. I need to decide in what format I will release the guide (PDF? Kindle eBook?). All of these things are completely alien to me. I don’t know what to do. But I will do something, and I’ll either screw it up or do a decent job. Either way, I’m going through with it, and you will have a front row seat for the whole experience.

Who’s coming along for the ride?

Creative Commons image courtesy of h.koppdelaney and uxSears

How to Set Goals and Motivate Yourself to Actually Achieve Them

Written by Tom Ewer on August 6, 2012. 96 Comments

Goal setting

If you plan to excel, you must plan to excel (tweet this)

Conscious goal setting is the foundation of any successful venture.

While I am sure that you can find a few exceptions to the above statement, they prove the rule. You can see evidence of my assertion everywhere you look; from elite athletes to serial entrepreneurs. They all have a plan. They set goals to achieve great things.

You are not the exception that proves the rule. Whilst you may experience some success without much in the way of conscious goal setting, you will never reach your full potential (or anything close to it).

There are an enormous number of goal setting systems out there. I should know, because I have spent most of my adult life studying a huge number of them. And over time, I have developed my own system; a method that works very well for me. Today, I want to share it with you. It is the system I use to set goals for everything I want to achieve in life, and is one of the most important tools I have.

So, if you want to know how to set goals and motivate yourself to actually achieve them, read on!

When You Should Set Goals

Every January, a slew of new goal-setting posts are predictably released across the internet. I say “predictably” because the start of a New Year is a symbolically powerful reminder that you should seek to better yourself.

There’s just one issue: it’s completely arbitrary.

I am willing to bet that goals set on January 1st are statistically more likely to fail than goals set on any other day of the year. That is because those goals are fueled by temporary enthusiasm, rather than a a deep-seated desire.

I recently stumbled across an image shared by a friend on Facebook that perfectly encapsulated this:

Goal setting mistake

There isn’t a single person in the world who hasn’t had a moment similar to the the above at least once in their life. Motivating yourself to achieve tough goals, quite unsurprisingly, is tough. And yet, when it comes to learning how to set goals, the above approach encapsulates everything you shouldn’t do.

My point is this: any goal that is worth setting is worth setting right now. Not next Monday. Not in the New Year. Today. If you find yourself procrastinating, that’s because the goal just isn’t that important to you.

The Logical Thought Process Behind Any Goal

Following directly on from that statement, I should make something absolutely clear: just because you don’t perceive a goal to be important enough at any given moment doesn’t mean that it isn’t a goal worth pursuing.

We should not be defined by our weakest moments; we should look to our moments of greatest strength to define what we do with our life. And in order to figure out whether or not a goal is worth aiming for, we must try to objectively analyse whether it is worth the effort.

Skiing

When I was a kid I skied into a French couple at great speed (by accident). All I could say was, “Je suis très desole!”

Let’s consider two simple examples:

  1. I can’t speak French. The reason for this is because there is no real benefit to me knowing the language, beyond the pleasure of simply knowing it. Whilst I would like to speak French fluently, the time and effort investment it would cost is simply not worth it to me.
  2. I can use the WordPress blogging platform. I hadn’t even heard of it 15 months ago, and now I get paid to write for WordPress-related blogs. This blog is built on the WordPress platform. It was definitely worth my time and effort investment to learn to use WordPress.

If I had spent as much time over the past 15 months learning French as I had learning about WordPress, I venture to guess that I would be able to converse capably with native speakers. The reason that I am a proficient WordPress user, but cannot speak more than around 50 words of French, is because learning WordPress offered me more.

This logic applies to anything you want to achieve in your life. The question you must ask yourself is: “Will the necessary effort I have to put in to achieve this goal be matched or exceeded by the beneficial outcome?” If the answer is yes, you’ve just formed the reserve of motivation that you will need to rely upon in order to achieve that goal.

Knowing When a Goal is Worth it

If the above question were easy to answer (and enough to keep us motivated in the long run), we would all be overachievers. But we’re not, so other elements are clearly at play.

That brings me to an email I sent to my subscribers a couple of weeks ago in which I said the following:

Most of the time, our brain does a decent job of performing subconscious mental gymnastics and presenting us with the requisite level of willpower relating to any particular task (which may or may not be the required amount).

I use the words “most of the time” very deliberately, because there is a key factor that can skew our internal willpower calculator (as I have just coined it): ignorance.

I don’t mean ignorance in a negative sense; I simply mean a full lack of understanding of the benefits and/or required investment (whether that be intellectual, physical, emotional, financial, or any combination of the above).

Say for instance my brain doesn’t give me the required willpower to rock six pack abs because it simply doesn’t have faith. My brain doesn’t believe that six pack abs are possible without exerting more effort than the benefits I would gain from strutting my fine self up and down random beaches, and taking my shirt off at entirely inappropriate moments.

But what if a friend of mine, with a similar previous build and diet, showed up one day and boasted about a miraculous ab workout that has done wonders for him? Not only was it far easier than he thought it would be (lesser required investment), but it also gave him far more confidence than he thought possible (greater benefit).

You know what I’d do? I’d take interest. Who wouldn’t? I’d digest his advice, and my brain would suddenly have a whole lot more information with which to make a more informed decision. Perhaps under those newly formed circumstances, the required willpower would be matched by my actual willpower.

My point is this – don’t let your brain rule the big decisions in your life without consciously questioning your existing understanding of the matter at hand, and asking yourself if you have equipped your mind appropriately.

The biggest step to achieving a goal is in understanding the necessary undertaking, and appreciating the potential outcome. These are not absolute terms; unless your goal is very simple, you won’t fully appreciate those two factors. However, the closer you are to understanding the necessary undertaking and potential outcome, the better you will be able to motivate yourself.

So when it comes to setting goals, you need to be as educated as possible on what you set out to achieve. Seek to empower yourself with knowledge. As I said in the email to my subscribers:

Challenge your brain’s logic. Poke holes in it. Play devil’s advocate. Educate yourself better. Take advice from those who have already achieved what you wish for.

The more you know about what you want to achieve, the better equipped you will be to achieve it.

How to Set Goals: The Big Picture

In my opinion, there should be no delineation between “personal” and “business” goals. I don’t even like using those words in such a context, because it goes completely against the Leaving Work Behind philosophy.

Ultimately, you want to better yourself. Whether that is in becoming better at baseball or earning a six figure income, all of your goals should stand under the same umbrella. Your life goals shouldn’t be segmented.

That is why I refer to “the big picture” very deliberately. The first step you must take in setting goals is to take a top down view of what you want, based upon what I consider to be the main categories that define us as humans:

  1. Happiness
  2. Health
  3. Success
  4. Wealth
  5. Giving
  6. Growth

I believe that everything we want to achieve in life comes under one or more of the above categories. Here are a few examples of goals that might come under each category:

  1. Happiness: get a girlfriend, join a hobby group
  2. Health: run a marathon, cut out complex carbs
  3. Success: be interviewed on national television, sell a business for six figures
  4. Wealth: have $1m in the bank, own a custom tailored suit
  5. Giving: mentor someone, join a foreign aid program
  6. Growth: live in a foreign country, have lunch with a nobel prize winner

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you already know what you want. Take some time to consider each of the above six categories, and make a list of everything that you want to achieve. List liberally, indiscriminately, and selfishly. Take your time.

This is your bucket list, and you will want to keep it close, as it should continue to grow for the rest of your life.

Here are a few items from my (rather long) bucket list:

I know that I won’t achieve everything on my list. But I know that I will achieve a damn sight more by virtue of the fact that I am consciously aware of them. There is a great power in having something written down.

Keep Goal Setting Simple

If you have followed my instructions, you will probably now have an impossibly overwhelming list of potential achievements. Whilst it is important to have this list, it is also an important reminder of how easy it is to get overwhelmed when setting goals. What you absolutely must not do is try to bite off more than you can chew.

With that in mind, I want you to pick out the one item on that list that you think will have the greatest beneficial impact on your life. That’s right — just one item. Now I want you to take as much time as is necessary to ascertain whether or not that goal is worth reaching. Ask yourself the all-important question:

“Will the necessary effort I have to put in to achieve this goal be matched or exceeded by the beneficial outcome?”

Then ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the goal excite me?
  2. Does the goal feel potentially life-changing?

The answer to both questions should be an emphatic “Yes!”

What you have come up with is what I like to call your “One Big Goal”. It represents the single biggest difference you can make to your life. If it doesn’t, you should go back to your list and think harder about what you truly want from life.

An obvious example of such a goal would be, “Quit my job”. That was my One Big Goal last year; the focus of all my efforts. It felt big. It excited me, and I felt that it would be life-changing (and it was).

By now you should have your One Big Goal.

Break Your Goals Down

When it comes to achieving goals, the key is to break them down to small, manageable, and actionable tasks. Your One Big Goal is likely to look large and intimidating at face value, but like anything else you do in life, its apparent scale can be cut down to size.

Let’s further explore my “Quit my job” goal from last year, and take a look at how I could better define how the goal was achieved:

Establish Freelance Writing Career > Quit My Job

Now let’s better define how I established my freelance writing career:

Submit Job Applications > Win Clients > Establish Freelance Writing Career

Achieving the apparent impossible is done by breaking it down into smaller constituent parts that don’t feel overwhelming. After all, what sounds more difficult: quitting your job or submitting a few job applications? One ultimately leads to the other.

So at this stage, I want to take your One Big Goal and start to break it down into smaller steps, just as I did with mine. These steps should be of a manageable size, and you must be able to complete them on a consistent basis. They form the practical basis for the achievement of your One Big Goal.

Given that your goal is likely to be rather big (by definition), you may find yourself listing a number of different tasks. If that is the case, it may help you to produce a mind map of the various elements that come under the umbrella of your One Big Goal. Revise and refine your mind map until you have drilled down to key actionable tasks, then prioritize them as you did with your bucket list goals.

Goal Setting: Combating the Unknown

There is every chance that you may not immediately know how to achieve your goal. I get plenty of emails from Leaving Work Behind readers who say that they have all of the willpower and motivation in the world, but don’t know what they need to do to achieve their goals.

This is an understandable concern, but ultimately a cop-out. Not knowing how to achieve something is no excuse not to achieve it. You were once ignorant of everything you have achieved in life, and yet here you are.

When I launched this blog, it was nothing more than an accountability journal for my own efforts in quitting my job. It has since become the focal point for everything that I do. It refers me more prospective clients than I could wish for — even though I never intended for it to do so.

My point is this: do something. Set tasks that you believe will further your chances of achieving your One Big Goal. You will make mistakes and you will waste time. You will also learn a huge amount and bring yourself closer to where you want to be. And in time, the path you need to take will likely make itself known.

The alternative is to simply conclude that the world is against you, that you face an impossible task, and give up. Your choice.

Goal Setting: How to Execute Your Next Steps

By this stage, you should have defined your One Big Goal and broken it down into manageable steps. None of which is of any use unless you start executing.

To be perfectly honest, assuming you have the required motivation, executing is often the easiest part of the process. Once you know what you want, and you know how to get it, all you need to do is afford yourself the time to carry out the requisite tasks. It may sound like I am oversimplifying the process, but on a basic level, that’s all there is to it.

Your One Big Goal should be a central feature in your life, so you should have little trouble in finding some time every day to work towards it. I believe that is the case for everyone. Sure — some people will have more time than others, but for the people who are about to tell themselves that they simply don’t have time, with the greatest of respect, I call bullshit.

No matter how busy your life is, there are a million other people out there still doing more. That shouldn’t discourage you, or make you feel like you are in some way inadequate. On the contrary, it should push you to match their achievements.

If you’re looking for some tips for making time to achieve your goals, check this out. And whenever you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have on, take a moment to step back and observe what you are actually doing. You are likely to notice that a proportion of the “work” you are doing is not actually contributing (or only contributing on a modest level) to the advancement of your goals. This thought process should be made part of your periodical review process, discussed shortly.

Taking Goal Setting One Step at a Time

You are probably aware that I have written all of the above with a specific focus on your One Big Goal. A reasonable question at this stage would be: “What about everything else?”

Everything else comes after. Not after you have achieved your One Big Goal, but after you have settled into your new routine. Please do not set out to achieve a hundred things at once. I want you to establish long-term habits, not burn out after a few days or weeks.

That in itself is the key — set one goal at at time, and carry out associated tasks until they become a habit. Once you have established something as a habit, go back to your bucket list and pick the next most important goal.

Don’t set yourself any arbitrary goals, like setting out to achieve something new every month: it’s meaningless. Go at your own pace.

The beauty of this process is that when followed correctly, you will take stock a few months down the line and realize that you are achieving a breathtaking amount; doing the kind of things that would have completely overwhelmed you in the past. But because you had a clear direction, and took on each new goal only when you were ready for it, you are able to handle it.

The Importance of Regular Goal Setting Reviews

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with achieving goals is keeping your eyes on the prize. You may well have faithfully followed each of my steps so far, but it will all be for nought if you don’t regularly review what you are trying to achieve, why, and how.

When I say regularly, I mean weekly. Monday morning is an extremely important time of the week for me. It is a time where I take an hour or so to remind myself of what I am trying to achieve, why I am trying to achieve it, what I have achieved so far, and whether or not the work I am doing is actually taking me closer to that goal. I repeat this process for each of the main goals I am trying to achieve (such as “quit my job”, or “run a marathon”).

The review process should involve the above four questions, and should be done in writing. So going back to my 2011 “quit my job” goal again, my Monday morning would’ve looked a little like this:

  1. What am I trying to achieve? I am trying to get into a position where I can quit my job.
  2. Why am I trying to achieve it? Because I want control over my income and the freedom to work on my own terms.
  3. What have I achieved so far? I have launched my blog and made some job applications.
  4. How am I working towards my goal?  Is it taking me closer to my goal, and if so, how? I am working on my blog and submitting job applications. It is taking me closer to my goal, because growing the blog will lead to more client referrals, and submitting applications will lead to jobs.

Each question has a clear purpose:

  1. Remind yourself of what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Remind yourself of your basis for motivation.
  3. Assess your achievements to date, and give yourself a pat on the back (or a kick up the ass).
  4. Re-focus on your actions, and whether or not you are on the best path to achieve your goal.

The above is a brief summary of what should be a considered and introspective process, with a strong focus on actionable tasks that you can carry out in that week. It should be repeated for every main goal that you have.

This review process can be a real eye-opener. The work that you do is only as efficient as you plan for it to be. It is all too easy to do “stuff”, and feel like you have worked hard, without having actually achieved a great deal. I don’t want you to be in that soul-destroying place where you realize that all of your hard work has led you nowhere.

Always remain focused on your One Big Goal. Review what you have done, then focus on what you plan to do. This review process is one of the most important factors in ensuring that you reach your goals, so do not neglect it.

Goal Setting Accountability

A lot is said about accountability, and quite rightly so. Holding yourself accountable when it comes to goal setting is an extremely powerful tool. Avoid accountability at your peril, because it is one of most powerful forms of motivation you can grant yourself.

The key to holding yourself accountable to your goals is to invest emotionally in what you are doing. Put yourself in a position where it will hurt to fail. Where it will be disappointing and embarrassing.

Accountability Partners

The best form of accountability is to partner with someone. But not just anyone. Don’t go casually tell a random friend what you plan on achieving, because they probably won’t care. You need to find someone who will be genuinely invested in your success. This can come either from someone who you are very close to (and who will push you), or someone who is on the same path as you, and can work with you as an accountability partner.

Draycote Water

My local running route.

A great example of accountability in action is the running regime I currently have going on with my dad. Every Monday and Thursday we meet at the village square in Dunchurch and set out on a 7 mile run around Draycote Water. I know that I probably would have bailed on at least one of these runs had my dad not been waiting for me. I also known that I wouldn’t have pushed myself as far on those runs if it weren’t for his semi-suicidal competitive streak.

Mastermind Groups

Mastermind groups are a great source of accountability, but must be carefully organized to be of real use. I have personally been part of two mastermind groups that just haven’t panned out — not for a lack of desire (amongst some participants at least), but simply because of poor planning and organization.

Fortunately, my third attempt at a mastermind group has been highly successful and I revealed our winning approach in this post.

Summary

Setting goals is extremely easy. Setting effective goals that give you a good chance of success isn’t too difficult either. But generating the kind of motivation that gives you the fuel you need to reach your goals can be seriously tough.

And that is why motivation has been a central theme running through this entire goal setting guide. It is the key to success, as much as anything is.

With that in mind, let’s run through the process you should follow in order to set and achieve goals. You must:

  1. Understand the necessary effort and the potential beneficial outcome of your goals
  2. Be able to break your goals down into manageable tasks which you can complete one step at a time.
  3. Review your goals regularly, and remind yourself why you are doing what you’re doing.
  4. Hold yourself accountable.

Those are the four crucial steps that you must follow in order to successfully achieve your goals. Do not neglect any of them.

No Goal Setting Worksheets?

Goal setting guides are often accompanied by a selection of worksheet templates that guide you down a very specific path, but I have very deliberately chosen to avoid anything of that nature. If downloading such worksheets has taught me anything, it is that I always ended up throwing them in the trash and figured out my own way of doing it.

I believe very strongly in the above system — it has helped me enormously and will continue to do so in the future. But I am not you, and you may have a different way of doing things. I want you to follow my advice whilst feeling free to follow your own path. If you have any questions at all or feel that you need further guidance, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Now that you have read the guide, it is time to start setting goals. Then, it is time to start achieving them. I wish you the very best of luck!

Creative Commons images courtesy of Marco Bellucci and Wikipedia