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Storytelling Communications

5 Tips Freelance Writers Can Use to Plan for 2017

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Imagine this scenario: you purchased a home in the summer (let’s not even talk about the hoops freelance writers jump through for a mortgage), and worked all fall to renovate it, while also staying up late every single night to finish your freelance work. The holidays, like usual, appeared out of nowhere and the amount of money you spent on gifts for your children was rather embarrassing, which isn’t a big deal until—last minute, of course—your partner decides that you’ll host the big holiday dinner this year. Fast forward; it’s January 2, and you finally have dedicated time to focus on your business. (Though, let’s just be honest with each other: you’re slouching on the couch and scrolling through your social media feed instead of motivating yourself to work.)

And then it happens.

You see not one, but two freelance competitors’ Facebook ads, and their new promotions are genius. Their calls to action are so well designed and executed that even Santa probably signed up for their services. These promos are everything you’ve been dreaming of doing, but haven’t found the time for.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity and jealousy, you think: You know what? It’s a new year—time to start fresh. I’m going to make some goals and plan out how I can really boost my bottom line this year.

I hate to tell you this, but you’re already too late. Once that clock strikes midnight on December 31, it’s action time. Freelance writers need to plan ahead so no time is lost once the year begins. Here are five suggestions on where to start.

1. Set Business Benchmarks Based on a 2016 Performance Audit

The first and possibly most important step in annual business planning is reviewing your recent history. Want to know how I do it? I ask myself an insane amount of questions. For example:

  • How has 2016 treated me?
  • How did I feel at different points of the year, and what was it that influenced those emotions?
  • What business analytics did I track throughout the year?
  • How have my finances played out month by month?
  • What are my current social metrics?

The answers create your business benchmark which will guide your coming year.

2. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

If you ask writers what their business goals are for 2017, the most common answer you’ll hear is “to make more money.” Finances are a significant factor in business planning, but they shouldn’t be the only consideration. Here are four of the most important KPIs solopreneurs should consider when analyzing and strategizing their business needs. Remember, that which gets measured, grows.

coins on a table

A. Money

Measuring money is such a significant and multifaceted KPI in business planning that it’s honestly too overwhelming to consider or break down for many freelance writers. To help yourself set personal goals that will grow your business, ask yourself: How much money do you currently have? How much do you want? How much are you spending? What about saving? Oh, and don’t forget about taxes, health insurance, emergency funds, and retirement planning. If you originally thought planning for 2017 in November of 2016 was silly, these questions will make you see the light. Planning is not a one-night operation, so take the time you need to sort all your money concerns and wishes out.

Bottom line: before you move on to any other analytics, get your financial house in order.

B. Clients

When you daydream about your future, do you see your current clients in the picture? The end of the year is a good time to reprioritize your workload. Sometimes we stay on with clients who either pay well or have history with us—even though they aren’t our ideal clients. Often, that means working with them doesn’t necessarily make us feel good. What’s the point of being a freelancer if you feel awful while you’re working? It’s time to say goodbye to any clients who aren’t the right fit, so you can make room for new ones that are.

If you’re happy with your current workload, but wish your income was higher, renegotiate payment terms. According to the Freelancing in America: 2016 survey, “Nearly half (43 percent) of full-time freelancers raised their rates in the past year, and more than half (54 percent) plan to raise them in the next year.” Don’t just do nothing because you’re afraid to raise your rates. If you’ve proven your worth, your fee is comparable with your skill, and your clients have the budget to accommodate your request, they’ll gladly agree.

C. Visibility

Do you know your social media metrics? Every month, keep track of how many people follow you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other network you use regularly. Then, dive deep into metrics. Each network has stats that can tell you how your content is performing and how your audience is engaging with you—for example, here’s Twitter’s version. Use this information to formulate a marketing plan to get your business in front of the right decision-makers. According to marketing strategist Danielle Tenconi, “A well-thought-out marketing and communications plan will help you choose, prioritize, and focus on the ripest areas of opportunity, also ensuring you target the right people, at the right place, at the right time.”

Social media isn’t the only way to measure or plan for visibility. How will you structure your communications strategy in the year ahead? Will you be investing in a CRM? Taking a course on email marketing? Does your website look like it was designed circa 2006 and you need a rebrand? Communications in marketing are a major for a company’s success—so make sure you’re happy with your visibility.

D. Time

If you aren’t currently measuring your time, make this a priority for 2017. Writers often charge per project, per post, or based on word count. Because of this, many don’t know how much they are making on an hourly basis. I’m not suggesting that you charge an hourly rate (I usually don’t!), but it’s important to understand how time factors in to your actual payment methods. If you spent three hours writing an article for $300, you’ve made $100 an hour. However, if it takes you the same amount of time to write an article that pays you $75, you’re only making $25 an hour, and these numbers are before taxes. Notice how varied the worth of your time is between those two examples? Plus, don’t forget the incidental moments that don’t usually get accounted for, such as the time it takes you to find sources and interview them or those hour-long check-in meetings for which you aren’t getting paid.

3. Be Realistic

Have you caught the planning bug? Are metrics and ideas swimming in your head? Remember what Ice Cube said: “Chickity-check yo self before you wreck yo self.” The goals you set for 2017 need to be realistic or they’re simply not going to happen. When analyzing time spent in 2016 and planning for it in 2017, did you factor in your personal life, self care, and all the unpaid business activities you’re responsible for? Are you capable of meeting KPIs on your own—or do you need to hire a virtual assistant to streamline your processes, a graphic designer to work on your branding, or an accounting consultant to help you with your books? Ask for help where you need it, and take the steps to set yourself up for success. Don’t dig a hole for yourself.

Nicole Hoglund, small business and confidence coach says, “Being overwhelmed and burnt out just by the thought of the goals small business owners have and want to achieve is totally normal. The best piece of advice that I always like to give with this roadblock is to break down the large goals into smaller ones—like really small mini goals—to keep moving forward and to make sure they are realistic to the time frame that is set out, so that the big picture does not get lost. I also encourage everyone to celebrate every time goals are meet to keep the momentum going.”

4. Keep Your Plans in Plain Sight

Once you’ve analyzed how you performed in 2016 and created a strategy for 2017, put it in writing. Once your plans are on paper, a whiteboard, or staring back at you from a computer screen, they become actionable and hard to avoid. It doesn’t matter if you bullet journal your major goals and all the steps necessary to complete them or use a vision board on your office wall. Putting them where you’ll see them every day makes you accountable to the standards you’re setting now.

“When you are working for yourself, you are the person holding yourself accountable. Period,” says Being Boss cofounder Emily Thompson in a podcast outlining the chalkboard method, a highly customizable way to make large goals visual and measurable.

Cheers

5. Just Do It

Strategizing is the easy part. The tough part comes with the action. But here is what I know about freelance writers: We’re a hardy bunch. It doesn’t matter how fierce the competition, how hectic our personal life, or how busy we are with work—we get it done.

So grab a notebook, hang a chalkboard, and get to work. Come January 1, I’ll be raising a glass, for me and for you, to celebrate a fresh start. 2017 is our year to shine.

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Erin Ollila graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. After a 12+ year career in human resources – specializing in employee health and dental benefits, as well as wellness programs– she's jumped headfirst into digital strategy and content creation. Erin believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She lives in Southeastern Massachusetts, neighboring Providence, Rhode Island, one of her favorite small cities. Learn more about her at www.erinollila.com.

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