You can't accomplish a goal if you haven't defined it. That’s why year-end reviews are so important for freelance editors, writers and project managers. You need to see where you’ve been, decide where you want to go next and strategize how to get there. This is how I do it each and every year.
Every fall I take stock of my freelance business. I look at last year’s goals, my client base, income, time spent, expenses and accomplishments. I then compare that data to the previous year(s). The information helps me codify my success (or failure) and helps me see if I want to continue in that same direction over the next 12 months or if I need to readjust any of my procedures and plans.
Let’s go step-by-step through my year-end review process so you can adopt it and take stock of your business as well.
Generally speaking, you probably have a fairly good idea of what your clients think about you and your work. Most of us receive feedback on a rolling basis. But, we live in a fast-pace society and your clients might not always have time to follow up after an assignment with a phone call or email with notes or constructive criticism. That’s why I ask for feedback on an annual basis. And, it just makes sense to do it at the end of the year while I’m assessing my business strategies.
You can use Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create a questionnaire with a few questions or multiple choice queries. Don’t go overboard. Make the survey short and sweet, and it helps if you make it anonymous. Include an identification field at the end in case a client does want to go on the record, but I’ve found that most do not. Sometimes these end-of-year client surveys unearth a gem or two that can help you more effectively interact with your collaborators in the future.
I start this year’s review with a look at the goals I set at the end of last year.
Each year I set at least three major goals that focus on different aspects of my career. The goals may be related to…
I also create some micro goals that relate to specific clients or projects. The goals may look like this…
Once the goals are set, I map out a concrete plan (step by step) to achieve them. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll give some goal-setting advice in future posts.
Hint: If you don’t have a goal for your hourly rate yet, be sure to set it for the upcoming year. Learn How to Calculate Your Hourly Rate. I also talk about pricing in this story called Project Fee vs. Hourly Rate: Which Is Best?
I take a look at the goals I set for myself and I see if I’ve achieved them and to what degree. I make notes in my Passion Planner (where I write my annual goals) and give myself a pat on the back if I made them happen. If a goal wasn’t achieved, or I only partially fulfilled it, I spend time thinking about why it didn’t work, what I could have done differently, and if I’ll add that goal (or a version of it) to next year’s goal sheet.
Once you’ve refreshed your memory regarding the year’s goals, begin your year-end review by gathering some relevant data. You’ll want to run some numbers, make charts, analyze and dream. Don’t shortchange yourself by trying to fit this in between an interview with a source and picking your kids up from school. Set aside some time because taking the pulse of your business is serious stuff; give it the attention it deserves.
Next, gather the following data for the past year:
Once you’ve listed all the individuals and companies you worked with this year, notate which were new-to-you and which were returning clients. How does that breakdown look?
Second, designate which clients are anchors, recurring and one-offs. Read about the differences between these three types of clients. (If this is your first year as a freelancer, just list your clients.)
Next, jot down how the client arrived on your doorstep (i.e., a personal referral, via LinkedIn, your website, etc.). Look for trends here. Is one person overwhelmingly responsible for the vast number of client referrals? A thank you may be in order.
Finally, who did you enjoy working with the most? Are there any clients that you’d like to stop working with? Who would you like to work with more often? Which projects were the most fun/thought provoking?
If you use an invoicing system like FreshBooks or Xero, open it up now. Otherwise, open whatever software program you use to generate and track invoices. If you’re new to freelancing, you may just be using Microsoft Word paired with Excel or GoogleDocs and Google Sheets. (I give some hints about How to Create the Perfect Invoice here.) For reflection purposes, it doesn’t matter how you invoice. You just need access to all of the invoices you’ve sent this year.
Tally your predicted revenue for this year.Now, look at the type of work you did for each client. For example, I consider my assignments to fall into one of three categories: project management, editing and writing. Determine the percentage of each type of work you did last year. How does that compare with the year before?
Do you track your time? You really should. If you didn’t do so this year, I strongly suggest that you adopt this habit next year. Tracking time tells you exactly how long certain types of projects take. It’s important to note these trends over time. For example, you can see that writing for one client may be more time consuming than another because of revision requests. Or, you may determine that one service you offer is much more lucrative than another. I use FreshBooks to track my time, but before I had an annual subscription to that accounting package, I simply used a free service called MyHours.
OK. I know it’s not quite tax time yet but it’s helpful to also have an eye on your expenses for the year. I track expenses in FreshBooks but you could simply download your business credit card statements and do some math.
You’ll take a closer look at your expenses when you sit down to figure your taxes. For your purposes of a year-end review, you just need broad strokes. How much do you have coming in versus money flowing out of your bank account as it relates to your business.
This is where you’ll do the heavy lifting and parse all the data you’ve prepared. I like to create pie charts representing my client mix, the type of work I did and year-over-year increases or decreases. It’s helpful to put similar charts for several years next to each other so you can easily pinpoint trends. Then, you can determine what shifts need to be made in your business.
If you look at the data close enough, it will show you trends and help you decide what you need to do in the future in order to earn more money and work fewer hours (a pretty universal goal of all freelancers).
For example, in 2015 I saw that one of my anchor clients made up more than 50 percent of my revenue. I wasn’t completely comfortable with having that much revenue tied up in one basket so I adjusted and brought on another major anchor client in 2016. That way, I was able to spread out my revenue over a greater number of clients and projects.
Likewise, in 2015 I also determined that writing projects are my least lucrative. Why? Simply due to the amount of research, organization and writing time involved versus the hourly and/or project rates offered by my clients. I made a conscious decision to take more editing jobs and was able to better align my mix of work with my income goals. Making this change also allowed me to work fewer hours in 2016 and 2017 while simultaneously earning more money.
Once you’ve considered client feedback and reassessed your business, it’s time to write down your goals for next year. An income goal is important, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. Make sure you have some realistic goals that you can reach and then throw in a few “reaches.” I’m a huge fan of going for the gold so don’t be shy! Write down those dream clients and start making a plan to connect with them!
Want to earn six figures? Take advice from a freelancer who does. Andrea M. Rotondo is a project manager with expertise supervising remote editorial teams. She’s also an editor/writer with more than 25 years of experience working with top brands like Ancestry.com, Fodor’s, the National Education Association, and Cruise Critic.