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Goals vs. Objectives and How Freelancers Can Use Both

Mar 3, 2021
(updated: Feb 14, 2023)
Max 5 min read

As a freelancer, it’s typical (and recommended) that you set both goals and objectives as a way of keeping your business on track. But do you really know how goals differ from objectives? 

Some people use them interchangeably, but they’re not the same. They work in harmony to help you get the results you want, but it’s important that you understand the difference if you plan on using them effectively. 

Freelancers and business owners know that establishing goals and objectives is a vital part of the planning process because it lets you be strategic in your actions while putting you on a clearer path towards achieving success.

Keep reading for a quick overview of the difference between these two important terms along with several examples of each. 

What are goals?

Goals are primarily statements you make about your business in the future. They broadly define where you want to be, and they are generally large and intangible. They refer to the long-term outcome you want to achieve for your employee or team or for you as a freelancer.

Setting goals lets you think more conceptually; they’re important because they describe the overall direction you want to take. They should align with your company’s mission statement and vision statement while also referencing the “end result” that you’re looking for.

What are objectives?

Objectives, on the other hand, are more specific. These refer to the steps you plan on taking as well as the tasks you must complete to reach your goals.

If goals are more conceptual, objectives are more action-based. While the former are typically difficult to measure, the latter are the opposite: they are tangible, measurable, actionable, and realistic, and they have (shorter) time frames associated with them.

How the S.M.A.R.T. Strategy Guides Objectives

Since objectives are more detailed and produce tangible results that are tracked more easily, many organizations will use S.M.A.R.T as a guide for defining and measuring objectives toward a larger goal. The S.M.A.R.T strategy is made up of five elements that make up the acronym: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Below is a quick overview of each of the sections and how you can utilize them when creating objectives:

  • Specific - When setting objectives they need clarity and specificity, such as “publish five social media posts per week” rather than “build a social media following.”
  • Measurable - Pairing your objectives with key performance indicators makes tracking success easier.
  • Attainable - While goals should be harder to reach, objectives need to have the ability to be completed relatively quickly with a reasonable amount of effort.
  • Relevant - Objectives should move you down the path toward your long-term goal. That means they should be related to that goal and align with what you are trying to achieve.
  • Time-bound - Creating concrete deadlines for your objective helps hold you and everyone associated with the task accountable for delivering in a timely manner.

Examples of goals vs. objectives

Sometimes the best way you can understand the difference between goals versus objectives is by looking at a few concrete examples from the perspective of a freelancer.

Imagine you’re a freelance designer. One of your goals might be obtaining more clients. One of your objectives, then, might be to apply for 15 graphic design jobs each week. Another objective could be to email everyone on your mailing list and offer a discount on your services. As you can see, the goal is a broad desire or vision while the objectives are more specific, allowing you to effectively measure your progress.

Alternatively, imagine you run an e-commerce store. One of your goals might be to increase sales, so one of your objectives could be to run Facebook ads to your store for three months, and another might be to upload five new products to your shop every week. These very specific objectives support your business goals and should help you bring them to fruition.

Let’s say you’re a sleep consultant looking for success in the field. One component of your goal statement might be establishing yourself as an authority in your niche. To do this, you can define objectives like speaking at five conferences over the next six months or networking at ten professional events during the course of the year.

Benefits of setting goals and objectives

There’s no shortage of benefits that come from taking the time to set your goals and objectives. 

Goals, for example, help with establishing your priorities. They support future decision-making, they can allow you to reach your full potential, and they provide motivation.

Establishing objectives lets you measure your progress. It motivates you and offers a sense of achievement, and it can keep you on track when making challenging decisions.

Using goals and objectives to build your freelance career

As a recap, the main differences between goals and objectives are that the former are broad in scope, refer to a general outcome, are difficult to measure, and are long-term, while the latter is narrow in scope, refer to specific actions, are easily measured and are medium- or short-term. Performing a SWOT analysis can point you in the right direction.

Understanding these two terms is important for every freelancer, and it’s a valuable exercise to take the time to define both. 

You’ll find that once you incorporate both goals and objectives into your business planning process, you’ll be much more focused and motivated, and you’ll have a specific roadmap that you can follow that will take you where you want to go.

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