One big benefit of freelancing is the control it gives you over all aspects of your life, from the projects you do every day to how you schedule your personal time. But, as I’ve learned in five years of freelancing, running a business you love does not happen by accident.
As freelancers, it’s easy for us to get into short-term thinking, where we’re focused on meeting this week’s deadlines and little else. But to achieve bigger goals, whether it’s writing an important book or building a business that can sustain a family, it’s important to take a breather several times a year to focus on what you want your business and life to look like.
Last year, for instance, some of my work assignments were interrupting time I wanted to spend with my kids. So this year, after asking some of my freelance buddies for ideas, I started getting up at 5 am every day and plunging right into work, so I’d have the majority of my work done by noon. It was something I’d done when I first started freelancing but stopped doing as often after having my son, because I was too tired at dawn to wake up. Now that he’s almost three, it’s possible again (with a strong cup of coffee or two)–and this year has gone much better.
Here are some key questions to ask as you do your planning for 2013.
1. How happy am I with the work I did in the past year? Was it personally meaningful or important to others? Am I proud of the quality? Did I like the mix of projects I did? Do I need to rebalance my portfolio of work next year, so I’m doing more of the work I love? Was there any project that was a big disappointment? If so, why? And how can I avoid that happening again?
2. How do I feel about my clients? Did I enjoy working with them? Did I find that the experience was stimulating and helped me grow professionally? Did our collaboration help me to branch out into new areas I wanted to explore? Did all of my clients do business with me in a way that was above-board, ethical, and fair? Are there any clients whom I should stop working with?
3. How do I feel about the advisors and vendors who helped me? Did they do a good job and help me run my business better? Did they deliver their services in a way that was timely and top-notch? Were their prices fair, relative to the value they provided? Are there any advisors I need to replace this year? If so, what went wrong with the last person I hired and how can I avoid it happening again?
4. Did I achieve my income goals? If so, did I do so in a way that still allowed me to enjoy life–or was I working around the clock? If I didn’t meet my own goals, what was the roadblock? Did I count too heavily on opportunities that did not pan out or invest too much time in projects that were not profitable enough? Did I diversify my business enough to recover quickly if steady work dried up? Was I doing enough networking and marketing to keep new work coming in?
5. How was my quality of life? Did I take on projects that allowed me to follow a work schedule that I liked–or was I constantly running into scheduling conflicts? Did I set appropriate boundaries with clients so that I was available when they needed me–but not “on call” 24/7? If I had to travel for work, was the travel manageable? Did work commitments allow me enough time to spend with my family and other people I want to see? Was there time for fun, exercise and other things I want to do? How did work affect my overall stress level?
6. Did I manage my time well? Did I treat it as my most precious commodity–or squander it? Did I budget the right amount of time for each project–or did I find myself breathlessly plowing through an overly long to-do list? Do I have any bad habits that are eating up my work time, like surfing the web when I should be working? Do I need to set limits with people who are taking up valuable time I need to work?
If I’m working at home, how is that affecting my time management? Am I overextended in areas outside of work–and cutting into work time to deal with those responsibilities? If so, how can I fix the situation? Do I need to say no to volunteering for a while? Would it make sense to outsource some household tasks that I’m struggling to manage? Do I need more childcare help–or would it make sense to switch to a different kind of childcare that works better for me?
7. What do I want to achieve this year that I didn’t accomplish last year? Should I set the bar higher for the types of clients I win or my income goals? Is it time to take on bigger projects and hire help? What lifestyle goals do I have? Am I happy, overall, with the life I’m leading–or is it time for a big overhaul?