Every business needs regularly-scheduled tune-ups. Just like with automobile maintenance, tune-ups keep things running smoothly. They’re most effective in maintaining performance when they’re done regularly. They’re considered preventative maintenance. Think about that for a moment… performing regular maintenance helps prevent trouble down the road.
Tune-ups usually consist of a visual inspection, adjustments to timing, cleaning out accumulated muck, performance analysis and replacement of worn or damaged parts. We can apply these ideas to our creative freelance businesses. Regular maintenance is necessary to assess strengths and weaknesses, understand the effectiveness of marketing and project management efforts, and to simply clean things up.
It’s the little things that can slow you down without you even realizing it. Taking care of the small stuff on a regular basis gives you the ability to focus better on the larger concerns of your business. Here is an easy, 8-point tune-up to deal with some of the small things. It works well if you do a tune-up every 3– 6 months:
Reconnect with your motives
Reconnect with your purpose, vision and mission — both personally and professionally. Your reasons for freelancing relate to your overall life goals. It’s always 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.
Update your business plan
Begin by reviewing your existing plan. Assess what has worked, what you need to do more consistently, and what didn’t work. In adjusting your plan, consider what things you currently have in place are not working out. Consider why they’re not working, then decide whether to discontinue or adjust.
For those things that are working, do you need to tweak anything? If you’ve accomplished goals, what goals will you tackle next, and why? What outcome do you want?
If your business planning is sporadic or non-existent, write a goal and schedule its start and completion dates, with 2-4 reviews between on your calendar during the next 12 months.
Phone a friend
Where do you feel stuck? Do you need specific help? It is harder to build a freelance business on your own.
Consider working with a mentor. This can be an individual, a small group or a regular meet-up. It can be virtual or in-person. Is there a mastermind group, Facebook group, or membership platform you can join for business ideas and advice?
Identify people who have gone before you and have been successful over the long term and ask for their guidance. Join a mentoring program to help you identify problems and work out solutions.
Perform a stack attack. Look around your home, workspace, devices, desktop and car. Do you see clutter? Is there trash lying around? Are things out of place? Are there piles? Commit to a few hours of digital and analog de-cluttering. Here are some tips:
Run software to clean up duplicate files and free up storage space on your desktop. Run software to free up memory.
Back up everything to an external drive and to cloud storage. If you’re not using a back-up service such as Backblaze, it’s more than worth the nominal monthly subscription to automatically and safely stow your files, OS and software in the cloud.
Are there membership and social media sites you haven’t used in awhile? Consider closing your accounts.
Are you subscribed to too many email newsletters? If you haven’t seriously read a newsletter in 3 months, unsubscribe and declutter your inbox. Do this on all of your email accounts.
Zero-out your inbox. Invest the time to go through all your inboxes and delete, archive, forward or store email messages. Take it all the way to zero. You will not believe how an entirely empty inbox gives you a new perspective.
Update software and delete what you’re not using.
Plow through your drawers, shelves, boxes, cupboards, closets and car. What don’t you use anymore? Do you have too much of something? Donate, trash and give stuff away. Some extra cash can come in handy, so consider having a garage sale. Return anything you’ve borrowed.
Do this for your workspace and your living space. And don’t forget about your car.
Set new marketing goals
Are you getting the kinds of clients and projects you want? How have you been marketing your creative services? What has worked well, and what hasn’t? Consider including one or two activities that you haven’t tried yet (like face-to-face networking or direct mail promotions) and remove one or two activities that didn’t pay off. Are there new markets you want to pursue? Are there new services you want to add to your offerings?
Adjust your spending plan
Every business should operate on a budget and freelancing is no different. Your budget should realistically reflect your situation. A budget is simply a spending plan. It puts you in control of your income, outgo and cash flow.
Because freelancers do not earn a steady paycheck and income rises and falls month-to-month, careful management of cashflow is crucial to sustain your work. While your monthly obligations — rent or mortgage, phone and internet services — remain constant, freelancing income may not. So you need to plan in advance for lower-income months by setting money aside during high-income months.
When designing your spending plan for an irregular income, think first about annual amounts. For example, if you earned $2,500 each month for 7 months, and $6,500 a month for 5 months, total up your revenue for all 12 months to find you annual income ($50,000 in this case). Then divide the annual total by 12 to find your monthly budget ( in this case it’s $4,167). Determine to set aside funds from high-income months to make up for low-revenue months and equalize income per month.
Include all those little monthly fees and subscriptions that are automatic debited from your bank accounts. It takes only one forgotten $5.00 subscription to overdraw your account in a big way. Factor all your monthly memberships and SASS fees into your budget, whether you pay them monthly or in one annual lump sum.
Your budget should include building or growing a short-term emergency fund. Build up a fund of $1,000.00 set aside in a regular savings account. Keep this money liquid — 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 draw from the fund, 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 until it’s paid, and then do the same for the next one.
Maintaining debt is counterintuitive to the idea of FREElancing
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.
Update your portfolio
While I recommend doing this every 3 months, I generally make the biggest changes to my portfolio at the end of the year, mainly because that’s when I have time to focus on it. If you want to enter a new market, change your services offerings, or simply change out old work for new, you’ll need to overhaul your website, online portfolios (such as Behance, Creative Hotlist, Core77) and printed book.
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, even if you don’t have clients in that market yet.
Acquire new skills
What do you need to learn in the coming year? How will you learn it? Will you work with a mentor, take a class, attend conferences, join industry groups, degree or certificate programs? Do you need to take a class in marketing, branding or user experience design? Be sure to follow through with your educational plans, and of course, include them in your budget planning.
My last bit of advice is that you create your own tune-up list. What would you add to yours that I’ve not covered? And commit to regularly-scheduled tune-ups — every 3, 4, or 6 months — to keep your business running smoothly and moving forward.
What would you add to this tune-up list? Add your insights in the comments.