How to Prepare Your Business for Your Best Year Yet
By Jena Kroeker
In a time of uncertainty, how do you prepare your business for a great year? It may sound like an oxymoron. And it may even sound crass, especially if you’ve suffered personal grief and professional hardship during the global pandemic.
But when it comes to our freelance businesses, this quote from Jimmy Dean provides the perfect inspiration:
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
The freelance and virtual assistant industry has shown amazing resilience and opportunity during this time of adversity. It’s been a safe haven for those already working online — a chance for continuity in the midst of fluctuating circumstances. And it’s been a profitable new opportunity for those faced with job losses in other industries.
Reasons for Optimism in 2022
In an article titled “Freelance Statistics Show Freelancers are Happier & Wealthier,” Preston Lee shares some eye-opening facts that point to a profitable future. For example, “freelancers who started freelancing during the pandemic have reported a positive financial impact and a massive 96% of them expect to continue freelancing into the future.”
In addition, “65% of freelancers who left a typical day job to start freelancing report they make more money overall than they did working a 9-5 job.” And furthermore, “of the freelancers who make more than they did at their desk job, 57% of them reported they blew past their previous salary in less than 6 months.”
These statistics come as the freelance industry itself is experiencing significant growth. According to the statistics portal Statista, the number of freelancers in the United States has increased from 53 million in 2014 to 59 million in 2020. And the site further projects that by 2027, 86.5 million people (50.9 percent of the total United States workforce) will be freelancing.
7 Ways to Prepare Your Business for Your Best Year Yet
So, although we may still face challenges in 2022, we have fertile ground to work in. With agility and resilience, we can till the soil and sow the seeds for a successful year in our businesses. Here are some steps you can take to get ready for your best year yet in the midst of whatever challenges come your way:
1. Review and set goals.
If you set goals at the beginning of 2021, now is the time to review them and see how you’ve done. Look at where you were over the past year. Did you reach your goals? And if not, do you need to adjust them for the coming year?
In her article “How to: Make New Year’s Resolutions work for Freelancers,” Natalia Campana recommends setting “goals that evolve and grow with you as a freelancer.”
She also recommends setting goals that are measurable and achievable. One example is “getting five clients that pay above rate X and will give you work for at least a Y amount of weeks.”
Similarly, Ben Walker recommends setting achievable quarterly goals in his article, “8 things all freelancers should do before the end of 2020.” He stresses that it’s easier to focus on objectives when you set specific goals for the next three months rather than making resolutions for the whole year. After each quarter, you can then assess your progress and decide whether you need to make any adjustments.
2. Evaluate your niche.
This step is important for both profitability and fulfillment. As the year went on, did you continue to enjoy your niche? And were you able to find an adequate number of clients to serve?
In her article, “7 End of Year Business Tasks for Freelance Writers,” Elna Cain recommends reviewing personal, quantitative, and qualitative metrics at the end of the year. First, “rate your performance with pitching, marketing, networking and client satisfaction.” Then, evaluate your success by looking at the number of clients landed and income earned, for example. And finally, examine your “satisfaction level” and areas of weakness.
With these metrics in hand, consider whether you need to expand or niche down your services. As instructor and Freelance University co-founder explains in “The Fine Art of Niching Down” course, there are several benefits to niching down:
• Less competition
• Fine-tuned core services
• Your establishment as a specialist in your market
• The ability to charge more
Evaluating your niche will help you decide whether you need to move in this direction.
3. Evaluate your skills.
Hand in hand with evaluating your niche is evaluating your skills. Even if you stick with the same niche, do you need to upgrade or add new skills to adequately serve your clients? You may even need new skills to keep up with the back end of your business.
In a previous FreeU blog post titled “What It Takes to Be a Successful Freelancer (During COVID-19),” Sabrina Espinal offers this crucial advice:
“Never stop learning! Don’t let a week go by without learning something about your craft and how to run a business. Never think that you have learned enough. If you think that, you will put yourself out of business.”
Indeed, the article above stresses the need to “welcome the new year with a ‘growth’ mindset.” And in addition to learning new technologies, seek new literature that relates to your freelance business.
4. Assess your online presence.
Just as you may be assessing your home to welcome holiday visitors, take time to assess your online home, in particular, your website. This site is the hub for all your business activities, the warm, inviting presence that draws your ideal clients to you.
Katie Jenison shares some helpful advice in her article “7 Ways to Prepare Your Freelance Business for the New Year.” She recommends performing a “website audit” by asking the following questions while viewing your site through your potential client’s eyes:
• “What aspects do or don’t appeal to you?”
• “How easy is your website to navigate?”
• “Is the call to action on each page clear?”
• “Are there any broken links?”
• “What changes would you recommend?”
And in addition to your website, don’t forget to review your online marketing materials, portfolios, and social media profiles to ensure the content is fresh and up to date.
5. Manage your finances.
Now, this step might elicit a great big “ugh” from some of us. But it’s another necessary step to prepare your business for the year ahead. First, evaluate your income and expenses so you can make a budget for 2022. Then, organize your documents and information to get ready for tax season. That way, you won’t need to rush at the last minute.
And most importantly, review your rates and decide whether you need to raise them. As the article above says,
“If you’ve been thinking about raising your freelance rates, the new year is the perfect time to do it. Most companies begin calculating their annual budget towards the end of the year or right at the start of the new year. Your new freelance rate will be much easier to add to their budget than in the middle of the year.”
If you’re nervous about taking this step, remember Craig Cannings’ advice from our recent blog post, “How to Raise Your Rates the Right Way.” He emphasizes that because inflation is already part of our economy and culture, clients won’t expect you to charge the same amount indefinitely.
6. Audit your tools, systems and processes.
Depending on your passions, this step could be either exciting or tedious. But it’s another necessary component of preparing your business for success. Tools, systems, and processes should ideally make your life easier, but sometimes they complicate matters. To ensure they’re benefiting you and your business, consider the following questions:
• How many of your tools are you currently using?
• Do you need to add, subtract, or integrate some of them to enhance your productivity?
• Are enough of your processes automated to save you time?
• Have you documented a list of procedures to systematize business activities like admin, marketing, content, and client management?
For instance, in an article titled “New Year Resolutions of a Freelance Writer for 2021,” Chayanika Sen recommends automating billing and payment collection using tools like FreshBooks, HoneyBook, and WaveApps. If you’re already using a financial management tool, decide whether it’s working well for you and change it if necessary.
And when it comes to automation, she recommends that you “make your new year’s resolution to work smarter, not harder.” Specifically, decide whether you can streamline business processes by creating templates for documents and possibly outsourcing “time-consuming and tiresome tasks” if they can’t be automated.
7. Plan your self-care strategy.
Last but certainly not least, take time in December to rest, reflect, check-in with yourself, and unplug so you can head into 2022 refreshed and healthy. Here are some self-care ideas will help to nourish your body, mind, and spirit:
• Plan a daily schedule or strategy for taking breaks during work hours.
• Research hobbies and activities you can pursue that bring you joy.
• Schedule time away from your computer (an extended holiday or simply a day to unplug).
• Review and/or adjust your daily routine to ensure a healthy balance of work and rest.
• Determine whether you’re maintaining healthy boundaries with your clients, friends, and family.
• Pick one or more favorite holiday traditions to enjoy with your phone off this season.
Final Thoughts and Encouragement
While we can’t predict exactly what 2022 will be like, the future is bright for freelancers. You can take comfort in the fact you’ve made a great choice of career. And taking these strategic steps will prepare your business to reach a whole new level in the new year.
Above all, remember to adjust your sails if the wind changes, and you will surely reach your desired destination.
And now we’d love to hear how you’re preparing your freelance or virtual assistant business for the year ahead. Please share your thoughts in the comments below and let us know any additional steps you’d recommend!