It’s that time of year again. The time when we reflect on the past 365 days, examine our accomplishments and shortcomings, and then determine how THIS year we will make things better. Whether it’s losing weight, getting healthier, working harder, mending broken relationships or just being a better person, something about the end of a calendar year causes us to take stock and set goals for improvement.
For freelancers, this season is no different. In fact, running your own freelance business requires the end of the year assessment. I would suggest it even requires self-evaluation much more often than annually.
Each day, each week and each month should incorporate some continual consideration of where the freelancer stands in attaining their respective goals. Here are what I believe to be vital resolutions that all freelancers should adopt in order to enter the next decade with the maximum power to reach their fullest potential.
Raise Your Rates
It’s a known fact that many freelancers are struggling financially simply because they are charging too little for the services they offer. In the past, I have actually had clients tell me I needed to charge them more! It’s not unusual for freelancers — especially those that are just starting out — to keep their rates well below the standard in hopes of gaining business and possibly underselling any competition.
Unfortunately, this often has a more negative effect, cheapening the value of the work and sending potential clients elsewhere for what is perceived as a more professional freelancer due to their higher project quotes. The old saying “You get what you pay for” has never rung more true in the minds of potential clients who choose to pay more in their belief that the higher price equals better quality of work.
Take assessment of current prices for your field. Talk to other successful peers and find out what they are charging. Determine what you think is a fair price for your quality level of work and for your clients. Then notify all your clients of the increase. Make sure to give them a clear explanation, possibly quoting the statistics you’ve uncovered and giving clarity to the reasons behind the change.
While you may fear that this would drive clients away, I believe you will find the opposite effect. Besides, inflation, recession and the rising cost of living are obviously impacting all businesses, so any realistic client is probably expecting a rate increase. The New Year is a great time to set the new standard.
Increase Your Productivity
For all the benefits being your own boss can have, we can often give our “employee” (ourselves) a little bit too much leeway. Distractions that can arise from working at home, having instant and/or constant access to social media, unproductive and irregular sleep habits, and many other situations the freelancer faces can all deter us from our daily and even hourly goals. It is important to find the balance between enjoying the freedom of freelancing and maintaining a productive work environment and pace that enables us to continue our business.
No matter how productive we are, I would be willing to bet we can all do better. Try keeping a record or recapping a traditional work day and scrutinize it to reveal the flaws and areas needing improvement. There are countless open source time tracking, project management and to-do list software programs available that can be utilized to grab a hold of your daily reigns and keep distractions in check. I think we all would be surprised how much more we can get done when we meet the challenge of redefining our routine head-on.
Expand Your Brand
How “known” are you in your field? Perhaps you are doing just fine within the current circle of connections you have. The opportunities for enlarging your network of clients, peers and even friends abound thanks to the recent explosion of social media. As a freelancer it is not necessarily important to create a reputation for yourself as one of the “top” in your field, but it is definitely advantageous to market your freelance brand to the point that others think of you when asked for recommendations.
If you have not already created a brand for your business, set out to do it this year. Identify and propagate your core values, primary mission and professional style. Build and grow your brand using social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, keeping in mind that overnight success is a myth and you must work steadily to expand the visibility of your brand. Set attainable goals that will not conflict with running your business and completing projects, but will instead enlarge your online footprint while enhancing your existing routine. Resolve to do all you can this year to make others recognize the name of your freelance business.
Trim Your Fat
Even a freelance business could stand to lose some “weight.” Many freelancers take on all kinds of projects — sometimes at ridiculously low rates — just to stay alive financially and fend off the “feast and famine” cycle that can occur. Attempting to keep your schedule full regardless of what it takes or what type of work you are doing can result in the loss of much more profitable and fulfilling projects simply because you are not available when they arise. This can also cause confusion with your existing and potential clients as they lose clarity of your true specialties and focus.
Reexamine all of last year’s projects and determine which ones you should have avoided. I would suggest not looking at the income they brought in but instead evaluate the positive or negative impact they had on your business, the achievement of your goals, and the strengthening of your trade skills. Did each project contribute or detract?
Once you have identified the types of projects that you should avoid, make a list and keep it handy for future reference. Be sure to use it as a filter for each potential project that comes your way, and trim the fat proactively as you proceed through the New Year.
Improve Your Client Communication
Freelancers should always work toward developing better client communication habits and skills. Customer service and quality communication are important tools in any freelancers toolbox. They will always be key contributors to landing new clients as well as keeping them and motivating them to use your services again.
Evaluate your current communication habits and identify any weaknesses. Then ask your clients to do the same. Most likely, they will name a few areas where you thought you were doing well. Do some research online and read some books to create a plan to turn your weaknesses into strengths, while simultaneously fine tuning your current strong points. One suggestion may be to have a set time or times of each day that you respond to emails, phone calls, etc. to make sure that every interaction is addressed on a daily basis and avoid missing or leaving anyone out. There are countless books on communication skills that would be worthwhile to implement into your freelance business.
Revive Your Customer Service
Contrary to popular belief, customer service does not have to be dead. In this age of automated payment systems, voicemail mazes, and all other technologies that have eliminated the human element, freelancers have the opportunity to give clients the customer service they’ve been missing. Breathe life into this dying art by developing your customer service skills to the point that clients remember and are enthused about using your services.
I recently went wine tasting at several Napa Valley vineyards while on vacation in Northern California. The pourer at the first stop was the most engaging, humorous and generous gentleman we encountered the entire day. Before we left we bought a bottle of Tempranillo, almost entirely due to Jeff’s amazing customer service. For the rest of the day each stop we made was measured against the high standard that Jeff had set, and none measured up. By the time we left, others in our party were interested in returning to the first stop to make their purchases of the day from the one person who had been the highlight of their experience.
Memorable customer service will probably be one of the most powerful impacts a freelancer can have on clients. Resolve this year to make significant improvements in the way you personally treat anyone — clients, vendors, peers, etc. — that interacts with you and I guarantee that your business will experience growth.
Continue Your Education
I am a huge proponent of lifelong learning. I am confident that anyone who believes they know all they need to know about anything has proven they are a fool. There are so many new discoveries, new developments and new methodologies uncovered and espoused almost every day that it would be ridiculous to assume we have all the knowledge we will ever need. With the multitude of easily accessible resources — online, in libraries, and elsewhere — it behooves the freelancer to set a course for continuous education in their field and in any other areas of interest. Resolve this year to begin walking the path of a lifelong student and watch how it positively impacts your freelance business as well as your passion for the things you love to do.
Enlarge Your Network
Freelancers tend to work alone, but the benefits of connecting with your peers and developing both personal and professional relationships are invaluable. Connecting with others in your same or related fields can open up all kinds of doors, including resources, assistance, partnerships, referrals and more. Use social media, blog comment discussions and even email to meet new peers and create new connections. Resolve to enlarge your network and both your personal and professional life will be enriched.
Reignite Your Passion
Most freelancers started their businesses because they wanted to do something they love in the specific way they wanted to do it. Breaking free from the corporate chains is a powerful moment most freelancers have engraved in their memories. But as responsibilities pile up and the daily demands begin to overwhelm, the original passion that got us started can fade and get lost in the day-to-day routines.
Take a moment to stop and think about why you started freelancing in the first place. What is it that you do that gives you joy, excitement and a sense of accomplishment? What projects are you most proud of and why? What projects have you found most fulfilling and why?
Look at the common thread in these projects and identify the passion and inspiration they awoke in you. Resolve to pursue your original passion in future projects and determine the best ways to find the hidden gems in those projects that seem to inspire you less. Most of us became freelancers because of our passion for the work we do, so do your best to reignite and continue to stoke the fires of your passion in the coming year.
Reject Annual Resolutions
Let this be the last New Year that you make a “new start.” Think about it. Every January the world makes new resolutions and every February those newly purchased exercise machines become overpriced clothes hangers. Rather than look to the calendar to set an ill-fated point of new beginnings, let every day become its own accomplishment. Start each day with an idea of what you are setting out to achieve, incorporating the resolutions listed above into bite-size, attainable daily goals.
How can you be more productive today? How can you expand awareness of your brand today? Who can you connect with today amongst your peers? What new skill can you learn or improve upon today? How will you better communicate with your clients today?
We cannot do it all at once. Nor is it realistic to expect ourselves to reach the end of the year and look back at the goals we set — without ever checking in along the way — to reveal a perfect success rate.
Live your life as a freelancer in the moment. Set out to do the best you possibly can for today and discover the joy of a job well done on a daily basis, rather than a yearly disappointment. The pride you take in your completed work, the sense of accomplishment at the end of a productive day, and the constant growth as a person as well as a freelancer in your field will improve your quality of living in ways you can only imagine.
Resolve to let these resolutions be the last one’s you make on an annual basis. Resolve to embrace each day with expectation and a full view of its unlimited potential. Resolve to live and work and play within each moment to the fullest of your abilities and enjoy a new life from this point forward, rather than a New Year every January.
You won’t be sorry.