It’s part of the magic of the season — each new year is a chance for a new beginning. For those of us who freelance, this time of year is particularly important. It’s a moment to reflect on what’s going right in our businesses, what needs improvement, and what goals should shape the next 12 months. In short, it’s time to plan for the care and feeding of our self-made careers. With that in mind, here are eight New Year’s goals every freelancer should make.
1. Build your brand
No matter how small the enterprise, branding matters. If you haven’t established a brand for your freelance business, resolve to do it this year. Remember, a brand is more than a logo and tagline; it’s also the experience clients have with you.
If you’ve already established a brand, apply it consistently and flawlessly online, in all printed material, and in person. Remember, the goal is to make sure clients keep your business top-of-mind and recommend your services without hesitation.
2. Update your LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn has established itself as the social networking hub for all things employment-related. Its network connects professionals in nearly every field imaginable — and many of them are in desperate need of freelance help. If your LinkedIn profile is out of date, sloppy, or incomplete, it reflects poorly on you and your business. Update it ASAP. (See also: 7 Things You Should Never Do on LinkedIn)
3. Learn a new skill
Regardless of what field you’re in, markets never stand still. Changing technologies, new tools, and shifting tastes all demand that freelancers adapt or die. Stay competitive by sharpening your current skills; stay engaged by learning new ones. (See also: 10 Things All Successful Freelancers Do)
4. Expand your network
Freelancing can be isolating, especially for those who work from home. A strong network of colleagues will keep you engaged socially and plugged into new professional opportunities. Devote an hour or two each week to expanding your network through social media, blogs, and industry events. (See also: 11 Ways Freelancers and Telecommuters Can Make Friends and Network)
5. Ditch toxic clients
Take a critical look at your project list for the past couple of years. Are there clients who consistently paid late? Had endless demands and unreasonable deadlines? They’re likely costing your more money than they bring in. Free yourself by phasing out chaotic professional relationships. But be diplomatic; bad clients often employ good people and you never know where those folks may land.
6. Bump up your rates
For many freelancers, it’s tempting keep rates low to draw in more business. But over time, this loss-leader strategy can do more harm than good. Not only does it keep you at a financial disadvantage, it implies your services aren’t as professional or in-demand as your competitors’.
Assess what price the market can bear and adjust your rates accordingly. Communicate the increase clearly in writing and give your clients at least 60–90 days notice.
7. Make time for downtime
When you work for yourself, the boundary that separates your personal and professional world can get a little fuzzy. This year, establish (and stick to!) a more formalized schedule — one that allows for real downtime and breaks from client calls, email, and paperwork.
8. Save for retirement
Without access to employee-sponsored retirement programs, freelancers must take the lead on saving for the future. Roth, traditional, and SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRAs each have distinct benefits and limitations. Choose the one that works best for you and make regular contributions — starting now. (See also: A Simple Guide to Retirement Plans for the Self-Employed)