Designing a Successful Year

Each December I take a couple weeks off to celebrate the holidays and go through a visioning and goal-setting process in preparation for the new year. It’s a comfortable and convenient time for me to review the past 12 months and decide how to move forward with new goals and renewed purpose. My approach to this planning is holistic: I look at my WHY, read through my BHAGs, and revise my plans based on what worked in the current year and what didn’t. I include personal and professional goals, because I consider life as an integration rather than a balancing act. I also note the areas where I didn’t accomplish things because of my own shortcomings: did I waste time here, did I fail to follow through on something there, was I unprepared for the unexpected? I want to be honest in assessing my successes and failures. What can I carry forward without change, and what did I learn from my  failures? My answers to these questions form the foundation for my planning.

Planning is design. Anytime we plan, we are designing (not visually, of course, except in how we map, chart and record our plans). In a sense, I am designing my year. Most of us go through a planning process without making the connection to design, creativity and problem-solving. To get anywhere, to accomplish anything, we first have to make a plan. Accomplishing goals is very much about solving problems.

I think it’s crucial for creative freelancers who want to succeed to plan well. Here are 5 key areas areas which I believe should consider in their year-end planning:

Review your vision and mission, personally and professionally. Your reasons for freelancing relate to your life goals. It’s a good idea to have a vision for your life and to live intentionally. If you create a vision statement for yourself (your WHY), and you write it down, you can tie everything — professionally and personally — to it. When you anchor your goals and actions to your WHY, you are more likely to accomplish your goals because they become meaningful.

Not sure how to discover your why, create a vision for your life and set meaningful goals? Wondering if you can really design your life? I participated in Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever in back in 2015 and it truly changed how I approach visioning, planning, and living on purpose. I came away inspired and made significant changes to how I design my life. I recommend it to you. Check out Michael Hyatt’s free webinar!

Update your business plan.
Begin by reviewing your existing plan. Ask what worked, what you need to do more consistently, and what didn’t work. In adjusting your plan, consider what things in the previous plan were not feasible or that need to put onto your “someday” list. Look at the deadlines you set in your existing plan. Were they reasonable?

In revising your business plan, consider working with a mentor to advise you. Is there a mastermind group or Facebook group you can join for business ideas and advice?

Set new marketing goals. What worked for you over the current year, and what didn’t? Consider including 1 or 2 activities that you haven’t engaged in yet (face-to-face networking, direct mail promotions) and remove 1 or 2 activities that didn’t work well. Are there new markets you want to pursue? Are there new services you want to add to your offerings?

Adjust your spending plan (budget). Here you need to be practical and realistic. Most freelancers do not earn a steady living. Income rises and falls month-to-month. So careful management of income and outgo over the entire year is crucial (I’m still learning this), and you need to think first about annual amounts. For example, if you earned $2,500 a month for 7 months, and $6,500 a month for 5 months, total your revenue for all 12 months and then divide by 12. Plan to set aside income from high-income months to make up for low-revenue months so that you equalize income per month.

While your monthly obligations such as rent, phone and internet services remain constant, freelancing income does not. So you need to plan for that and watch out for the little budget-suckers — all those little monthly fees and subscriptions that are automatically deducted from your bank accounts — things like Creative Cloud membership, Evernote, Freshbooks, Backblaze, etc.

Your budget should include a short-term emergency fund. Build a fund of $1,000.00 set aside in a savings account. Keep this money liquid and easily accessible should you need it. Bonus tip: be sure you define what an emergency is, and use the money from your fund only for emergencies. If you use it, build it back up as quickly as possible.

You should also include a debt payment plan if you carry any debt. How much will you allocate toward paying off your debt each month? Paying minimum payments on credit cards will only increase your debt over time, especially if you continue to make purchases. Plan on reducing credit card debt in the coming year. Stop using credit cards and switch to debit cards. Select your lowest-balance credit card and start paying more than the minimum payment on it. When you pay it down to zero, go to the next lowest-balance card and attack it.

Debt is a burden that will impede your progress and reduce your profit. Maintaining debt is counterintuitive to the idea of FREElancing, since you are obligated to your creditors until you pay them in full.

Revise and update your portfolio. While I recommend doing this every 3 months, I generally make the biggest changes at the end of the year, mainly because that’s when I can make time to do it. If you want to focus on a new market, change the creative services you offer, or simply change out old work for new, do the overhaul in preparation for the new year. Update your web site, social media profiles and online portfolios. What you don’t use on a regular basis, cancel.

Your portfolio is part of your marketing efforts, and is your primary means of proving your value and obtaining new work. If you want to enter a new market, create work appropriate for that market and include it in your portfolio. Design time in your schedule to do this.

Acquire new skills. What do you need to learn in the coming year? Where do you want to expand in skill and knowledge? How will you learn it? Will you work with a mentor, take a class, attend conferences, join industry groups? For example, I plan to focus more on illustration work, and have joined a special interest group and joined my membership in a professional association for illustrators. Or perhaps you need to take a class in marketing or user experience design. Be sure to follow through with your educational plans.

Get a mentor. Where do you feel stuck? Do you need specific help? Do you need to work with a mentor? It is very difficult to build a freelance business all on your own. Identify people who have gone before you who have been successful over the long term, and ask for their help. Or, join a mentoring program to help identify problems and work out solutions.

As you work through your plans, be sure to write them out. Schedule time each month at least to review your plans and check your progress. Year-end planning should set you up to move forward on the next leg of your freelance journey, but you need to make some pit stops to tweak and tune up along the way. As in design, planning your life means that you critique your progress and make adjustments where needed.

Here’s to a successful, adventure-filled year ahead!

Disclaimer: The link to Michael Hyatt’s free webinar is an affiliate link. I will receive compensation when you register for the free webinar and then join the Best Year Ever course.