December can be a slow period. Or it can be intensely busy. I’ve experienced both scenarios in my 20+ year career as a freelance writer.
This year has been insanely busy for me. Not only have I written a record amount of client work, but I launched RN2writer as an educational hub for nurses who want to become writers. It’s all been so rewarding! I feel privileged to live this life – and especially to serve as a mentor and coach for so many awesome nurses.
But no matter how busy the year has been or what my work schedule looks like in December, I try to complete 12 tasks by year-end to help me roar into the new year with success. It’s like the 12 days of Christmas, wherein I give myself the gift of strategic planning instead of 12 lords a-leaping. I use the following exercises to help me set my goals for 2021.
Here’s my master list of tasks to tackle at year-end. I hope you find them as valuable to your success as I do to mine.
1. Review Your Business Finances
If you’ve already launched a freelance business, now is a great time to look over your books. Make sure you billed every client for every project. If that sounds stupid, please allow me to raise my hand to say I have forgotten to invoice clients on several occasions. Hey, in the crush of multiple deadlines throughout the year, it can be hard to remember mundane tasks like invoicing. You might also forget if you work with clients who have weird invoicing procedures.
If you did forget to bill someone, don’t feel embarrassed. Simply send an invoice now with a note that says something like, “I enjoyed working with you on this project! Here’s the invoice. Let me know if you have any questions.” There is no need to apologize, say you forgot, or even comment that the invoice is late. Just send it.
As you review your books, you also should evaluate your actual revenue versus what your budget’s income projections. Did you meet your goal? If not, what can you do in 2021 to hit your revenue targets?
Of course, don’t forget to review your expenses, too. Yes, business expenses are deductible, but they’re also cash out of your pocket. Never use ‘deductibility’ as a way to rationalize unnecessary spending. Look over 2020’s expenses with a view toward trimming them where it makes sense.
2. Review Clients
How many clients did you serve in 2020? Are they all in the niche you want to be working in? Which of them do you want to continue working with in 2021? How much revenue did each client contribute? Which was your biggest client, in terms of revenue, and which was the smallest?
When you look over your client list with a critical eye, you can figure out which clients to cut in 2021 to make room for better ones. Never continue to invest in poor caliber clients. That’s called the “sunk cost fallacy.” Learn about this and avoid doing it!
3. Analyze Your Time
I hope each of you is using a time-tracking tool. Personally, I use OfficeTime (not an affiliate link), but free options abound.
Tracking your time is crucial to analyzing how much time you invested in your business over the previous year. Most time-tracking programs allow you to slice-and-dice data into lovely pie charts and other graphics that conceptualize where your work time went in 2020. A few key data points I’d urge you to examine closely include:
Time per project based on type. In other words, if you tracked 18 blog posts over 2020 and spent 46 total hours doing them, then your average time per post equals 2.5 hours. This invaluable business intelligence will allow you to craft better proposals for blog posts in 2021 because you now know, on average, how long one will take you to write.
Time per client. You can compare how much time you invested in a certain client’s work vis-à-vis how much they paid you to calculate your effective hourly rate. Taking the example above, let’s say you wrote 18 blog posts for three clients (six per client). For Client A, your time tracking report shows you invested 20 hours on six posts, while they paid you $150 per post, for a total of $900. That amount divided by 20 hours equals an effective hourly rate of $45. What does this tell you? Either you need to negotiate your rate up with that client, or you need to drop that client altogether and find one who pays more.
4. Perform a SWOT Analysis
If you have never done a SWOT analysis, now is a good time to do it. If you’ve done it in the past, now is a good time to review it to discover if anything has changed, internally or externally, that affects your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities or threats. Based on this intelligence, you can plan your marketing better for 2021.
5. Write a Formal Business Plan
You can’t get where you want to go without a roadmap. A business plan is your roadmap to future success. Without a business plan, you might accomplish some things and find modest success, but trust me when I tell you writing a business plan can launch your business to the next level in a big way. Going through the exercise also will help you cement the mindset of your business as a business.
6. Write a formal marketing plan
While you’re in business planning mode, write a marketing plan, too. Here’s a template for a very simple marketing plan that uses the nursing care plan as a guide. Writing a marketing plan provides a roadmap to get you where you want to go. It also helps you avoid wasting time and effort (read: $$) on marketing efforts that won’t contribute to your success.
7. Draft a Tight LOI
Now’s a great time to review your LOI and tighten it up. Make it irresistible.
8. Make a List of Prospective Clients
During your December downtime, spend a few hours researching prospective clients, finding contact information, and putting it into a spreadsheet. You can choose to start sending LOIs right away, or just squirrel this information away for January.
9. Freshen Up Website
If you don’t have a website, consider spending a few hours in December to put one up. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. If you already have a writer website, ask yourself when was the last time you rewrote your homepage or added fresh clips to your work samples page? Review each page of your website with a critical eye to see if it serves your SEO needs and also strikes a chord with prospective clients. Are there any pages you need to add? Any you can get rid of?
10. Review Your Business Tools and Processes
I pay for several tools to help me operate efficiently and professionally. For instance, I use Quickbooks for my bookkeeping. As I noted above, I use OfficeTime for time tracking. But every year I review all of the tools (paid and free) and processes I use to find out which ones contribute to business efficiency and which ones detract from it. Where processes can be standardized in your business, do it – but don’t invest in software tools just because they’re cool. Don’t fall prey to “shiny object syndrome!”
11. Plan Your Office Hours and Vacations for 2021
For several years I’ve worked a four-day work week: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. This year, I blew my schedule out of the water. I not only worked five days of the week for most of the year, but I frequently worked Saturday mornings, too.
Don’t do that.
If you work too much, you’ll find your schedule controls you, and you’ll become resentful of your business and your clients. Sit down this December to plan out exactly what days and hours you will work on your business – and don’t work on unscheduled days. This strategy will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or consumed by your business.
12. Enjoy Some Time Off
Lastly, this December I urge you to enjoy taking off a solid block of time to rest, recharge, and spend time with loved ones. You’ve earned it! Personally, I’m taking the last two weeks of December and the first week of January off (though this newsletter will continue to publish). If you have deadlines, hurray for you! But if you don’t, take a relaxing year-end vacation and savor it guilt-free.
Drop a note in the comments to let me know what you’re doing, business-wise, this December!