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Goal setting

What is the Difference Between a Goal and an Objective?

Samara Kamenecka
Samara Kamenecka

What is the difference between a goal and an objective?

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 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 a goal 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 creative. While the former are mostly difficult to measure, the latter are the opposite: they are tangible, measurable, actionable, and realistic, and they have (shorter) time frames associated with them.

Examples of goals vs objectives

Sometimes the best way you can understand the difference between goal versus objective 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, while allowing you to effectively measure your progress.

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.

A smart strategy

One strategy used by many companies, which freelancers can use as well, is called S.M.A.R.T. criteria, a methodology that lets you define and measure objectives established on the way towards achieving a goal. 

The letters stand for Specific, where objectives are concrete and must be tracked; Measurable, where they can be measured; Attainable, where they can be achieved and aren’t impossible; Relevant, where objectives are related to your long-term goal and are aligned with your vision; and Time-Bound, where objectives have a very specific deadline. 

Goal setting can be daunting; however, using this criteria lets you break down your process into precise, bite-sized pieces that can be tackled individually and bring you closer to success.

Never used S.M.A.R.T. criteria? It might be the right time to apply it in your freelancing business. 

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.

Goal vs. objective: A summary

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 are narrow in scope, refer to specific actions, are easily measured and are medium- or short-term.

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

You’ll find that once you incorporate them both 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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