Web Work 101: Planning, Budgeting and Goal-Setting

If you’ve been following our recent Web Work 101 series, by now you know how to telecommute, what mistakes to avoid, how to find support, about joining groups, how to set up your office, and some of the tools of the trade. In this post, I’m going to get back to basics. The key to successful web work, and getting paid to do it, is knowing exactly what it is you want to do, and how you’re going to go about doing it. In other words, you have to plan, you have to budget, and you have to set goals for yourself.

Plan Your Role

Imagine you’re treating yourself as a new hire. It’s time to plot out your career path, which means answering the tough questions about what your role is and what you want to accomplish in your new position. It’s all well and good to say you want to be a web worker, but what does that really mean? It only describes the method, not the nature or content of your work.

The web working sphere is filled with people who seem not to have taken the time to answer the very basic question of what it is they do. Not that you can’t wear multiple hats, but you should definitely wear at least one.

I find it handy to give myself a job title, and even go so far as to write out the description for that title. When I’m feeling especially ambitious, I work on my career path, which has different titles arranged in a hierarchy, each with their own corresponding description. You may have ventured in to web working to escape structure, but it can go a long way in helping you (and your client) know what it is you’re hoping to achieve.

Word to the wise: avoid the “Social Media Consultant” title until you’ve actually done professional consulting work devoted to social media, and can point prospective clients to solid examples of what that work entailed. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to become known as something far less flattering.

Your Finances

Budgeting is a trying exercise in the best of circumstances. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, and are used to the people in Accounting handling that side of things, it can be downright terrifying. Even if you’ve worked as a freelancer before, working online introduces new challenges into the equation which could result in a very different experience.

First, there’s some good news. Computer equipment, internet service, cellular and phone bills, and even a portion of your rent may all qualify as deductible expenses. I have an accountant, since my brain isn’t wired for numbers, but if you want to go it alone, the Anti 9-to-5 Guide has a handy Freelancer Tax FAQ that should start you off on the right track.

You need to budget for your web work-related overhead. Think about and budget for things like web hosting and domain registration, web service subscriptions, software purchases (some of which you may be able to be bill to clients, depending on the nature of the contract), and consumables like pre-paid long distance cards, and, believe it or not, easy-to-forget things like batteries for your hardware peripherals.

Budget for the short-term until you get a good feel for what sort of costs will be likely to recur.

Your Goals

This is related to your role, in that setting a career path comes in to play when you’re setting goals for yourself. But since you’re not just an employee any longer, it goes far beyond that. You also want to think about output goals, spending goals, and even establish a desired future state for your web working business for the purposes of developing a clear strategic vision.

You can measure your output goals in terms of deliverables, projects, contracts, blog posts, etc. depending on the nature of your business. Establish clear targets attached to timelines, but don’t be afraid to alter these as you learn more about web work and what you can realistically expect.

Spending goals are easy to measure, so long as you accurately track your spending history. Make sure to record even the little things, and then aim to reduce costs wherever possible, just like any corporation would.

Establish a desired future state once you’ve been working long enough to know what you can reasonably expect out of your web working career in the future. Paint a picture of what your practice will look like at one year, and then at five, and so on, for as long as you’d like. Having a future state in mind will help keep you motivated, and help make sure you don’t become stagnant. Revisit and revise your targets regularly to make sure you aren’t working towards something that isn’t possible or desirable any longer.

Hopefully these tips help you work out a clear vision of what you’d like to put into and get out of web working, long before you wade into the tools, services and best practices we examine here at WebWorkerDaily.

Existing web workers: what tips and tricks do you have for planning, budgeting and goal-setting? Share them in the comments.