Planning is necessary for any business owner. Going through an end-of-year assessment in order to set up for the next can lead you into more successful outcomes. Freelancers who want their businesses to prosper will engage in some sort of year-end planning for the upcoming year.
Prosperity is another word for success success. It it includes financial gain but beyond that, it’s about overall health and growth. You want your creative business to thrive so that you can do your creative work.
Planning gives us a road map to follow. Instead of launching the new year with a few resolutions, we have clear goals, strategies and tactics to pursue. We have a purpose in mind. With a solid destination and purpose — and if we’ve written them down — we’re far more likely to achieve our goals than if we choose to wing it.
Be deliberate about planning
Planning is best done in advance of the time period being planned.
Set aside an entire day. If you give over a full workday for your planning session, you’re going to walk away with a solid plan you can execute. Businesses and companies set aside day-long or multi-day retreats to plan. Independent creatives should do the same thing. Scheduling a defined block of time ensures you’ll get it done, and within that time frame.
Choose a different place. Get away from your studio or office. Go someplace where you are comfortable. Going off-site from your workplace provides “space” for reflection and vision. Getting away helps to set the planning session apart from your regular work, and allows you to focus without distractions.
Try going to a coffee shop for the day. Or book a room at a hotel or retreat venue. Since I like being outdoors I usually head over to a nearby state park for the day. I pack coffee, water and food along with my planning materials and laptop. A friend of mine who works from home spends her planning day in her backyard.
Once you’ve arrived at your planning place, take a few moments to gather your thoughts, then lay out your gear and get to it. Some items that people often use in their planning include:
- color pencils, pens, markers and highlighters
- sticky notes
- graph paper
- paper calendar
- dry erase board and markers
- laptop loaded with Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers
Take a whole-life approach to planning
The planning process should encompass both your business and personal life. Since these are aspects of your life and they affect each other, they both should be considered in your annual plans. Instead of trying to balance both aspects of your life, integrate them.
Instead of trying to balance both aspects of your life, integrate them.
A step-by-step planning process is a good idea, and if you establish one, you can follow it every time you plan. Following a process also means you won’t miss anything in your planning. Get my business vision and planning guide here.
Seven steps of good planning
Focus on a 6-month stretch. While long-term goals are necessary, if you try to plan a full 12 months all at once you may find you won’t achieve as much as you hoped to. Shortening the stretch means that you plan a couple times each year, but you’ll have more flexibility in executing your plans. Use the mid-year review to plan, refresh and regroup.
Step 1: Review and Evaluate
Go back over the past 6 months. What worked out? What were your wins? Where did you lose? Did you have more victories than setbacks, or the other way around? What did you learn? Write out your observations and insights. Here are some things to review:
Client relationships. Who do you need to release? Why? Who do you need to nurture more? What kinds of clients do you want and need more of? Why?
Money: How much did you earn over the past 6 months? What was your average profit margin on each project?
Time: Where did you waste time? Did you take sufficient time to rest and refresh? Is your project scheduling on target with the amount of time you spend on a project?
Equipment and tech: what do you need to grow? What software services and hardware do you need to acquire?
If what you were doing didn’t work, stop doing it. Shift gears. It’s important that you understand what’s not working for you. Why? You want to be productive. You want to thrive.
Some seasons are really tough to get through. We work hard but inch along, get sidetracked or stall out. When you review these less-than-stellar periods with an objective eye, you can determine how to avoid similar situations in the future. Always be learning. Build your success on what you learned not to do.
Always be learning. Build your success on what you learned not to do.
Step 2: Imagine and brainstorm.
Now that you’ve got the review out of the way, imagine the possibilities. Brainstorm the things you could do if failure wasn’t possible. If the upcoming year is your best year yet, what would it look like? Write it down. Use bullet points, lists, paragraphs, adjectives, pictures and doodles. Here are some examples:
Create a 5-part email campaign to acquire new clients.
Take my daughter out to breakfast every other Saturday.
Acquire 4 new retainer clients at $1,500 per month each.
Step 3: Decide on your policies.
These are your non-negotiables. What things will you no longer do, and what will you continue not to do. Everything you do requires time spent on your part. What will you refuse to spend time on? Here’s a link to my don’t-do-it list article. How about:
Step 4: Money
How much do you want to earn in the next 6 months? Don’t stop there. Phrase the question this way: How much profit do you want to make in the coming 6 months? Profit is your motive after all.
Step 5: Your working bliss
What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on? What do you want to do more of? What’s your best type of client?
Here also you want to plan and strategize how you will promote your work, including direct mail, email, social media and networking. What trade associations should you join? Where should you volunteer? What causes will you support?
Step 6: Diversify
As we move into 2018, we’re in a very prosperous economy in the USA. It is prime time to diversify your income streams.
Consider, in addition to your creative work, what can you monetize? Where can you expand your service offerings? What new services and products can you offer? Examples here include e-books, podcasts, fine art prints, calendars, affiliate marketing, workshops, etc.
List all the ways you will make money in the next 12 months. Highlight those items on your list that you’ll develop and implement in the next 6 months. Be realistic in your choices here.
Step 7: Schedule it.
Get out a calendar and map out your due dates for your plans and projects. For each item, figure out how long you will need to develop it from start to finish and add those start dates to your calendar.
It’s best to use an annual overview so that you can see the entire year at a glance.
Use a project tracker to list the steps you’ll need to take to get the thing done from start to finish (launch). List the resources you’ll need. List the people you’ll need to help you get it done.
Example: Launch my podcast by March 1.
Commit to making your plans happen
For every project and goal, make a commitment to get it done. Make an action plan for each project outlining the steps, resources, people and time you’ll need for each step. Break larger projects into smaller ones. Take small steps toward large goals. Keep moving forward. Ask for help when you need to.
Realizing victories doesn’t happen without planning in advance. Everyone who engages in battle prepares in advance of the engagement, and moves out with the intention of winning. You need to have the same mindset with your year-end planning. Planning is not just an exercise. It’s preparation for your victories, both personal and professional. If you don’t plan and set goals, you won’t know when you’ve achieved something, you won’t have clear direction, and you will have a difficult time.
Don’t run your freelance business on a whim. Be deliberate in building your success.
Other articles and resources about planning by Alvalyn Lundgren: