Some people look at the approaching New Year with bright eyes, a thirst for champagne, and a newly-purchased treadmill in the basement. Others regard it with a bit of optimism… and a whole lot of avoidance techniques.
These people are probably freelancers.
When there’s no boss to send you a W2, and no designated break time for the holidays, it is so easy to let the important stuff pile up at the end of the year. That last week in December can suddenly turn overwhelming, and has a good chance of sullying your holidays with stress.
We’ve said this again and again: freelancing is a gift that requires a delicate balance in order to thrive.
You’ve got to be able to balance the sometimes-intoxicating freedom with the sometimes-incapacitatingly mundane.
If you can afford to set aside a couple of days in December (even one day is better than nothing) to prepare for the new year, you’ll be able to enjoy the holidays with significantly less stress, and hit the ground running after flipping that new calendar open to January.
1. Organize Your Expenses.
Chances are, if you’re rolling your eyes over the coming new year, it’s probably because of taxes. Tax prep is an essential part of owning a business, and is, unfortunately, an often-neglected part for many freelancers.
Whether you do your own taxes via services like TurboTax or pay an accountant, you’re going to need a report of your business expenses for the past year. A report via an accounting program like QuickBooks or FreshBooks is ideal, but even a simple spreadsheet containing a list of your expenses will help you or your accountant greatly when it comes time to file.
Freelance tax prep is no small undertaking (especially if you haven’t done a great job of it throughout the year), and deserves some serious thought and priority. It’s also extremely important to keep track of receipts, should your filing trip a red flag with the IRS. One way to make this simpler is to opt for receipts via email whenever the option is available.
2. Organize Your Mileage Reports
There’s also a good chance you’ve undertaken some business-related travel over the past year. It’s actually possible to deduct the mileage you’ve incurred for this, so keeping a mileage log in your vehicle is an easy way to keep track of it as you go. Each year, the IRS publishes the standard mileage rates that can be deducted from your business taxes.
The other option for deducting business travel is to keep your gas receipts for each business trip (this does not include simply driving your car to the office and back home) and use those to record the exact cost.
3. Make Some Last-minute Business Purchases
This one’s not too complicated, but can be super-helpful when you file your taxes… and, let’s face it, it’s kind of fun!
Need a new printer? A special lens for your camera? Are you desperately in need of binder clips? Buy them! Any business-essential purchases you make before the end of the year will count toward your expenses. Don’t go too crazy, though; give it some thought. Subscriptions to services and online products count, too, so you might want to read this next tip before you start buying.
4. Target Your Organizational Deficits and Make a Plan
After you’ve gone through your expenses, I’m guessing that you’ll have found some holes in your methods and organizational skills… and I’m not just talking about tax-related things, either. The end of the year is a good time for reflection. What did you do well? What could you have done better?
In this case, a really good question to ask is, “Which freelance tools can help me do better?” If organizing your expenses is a concern, try out one of the accounting programs mentioned above. If your organization in general was lacking last year, start researching planners or scheduling apps. Freelancers have an incredible amount of helpful tools at their disposal, and most of them are totally affordable.
Don’t forget to reflect on your well-being, either. Do you feel healthy? Did you devote enough of your time to personal development and self-care? A happy and healthy freelancer is a lot more productive than one who is stressed out and sick.
5. Evaluate Each of Your Clients
Since you’re already going to be in reflection-mode, it’s a great idea to spend a little time with your client list. Have they all been properly taken care of this year? Do you expect them to be with you next year? Can you possibly get more work from them?
It’s not uncommon for clients to say something like, “I’ve got an idea for a monthly feature, but I’m not sure I’m ready to focus on it yet.” In these cases, you can absolutely seize the end-of-year opportunity to remind them of their ideas and see if they’re ready to flesh them out.
Were you forced to turn down any extra work this year due to a busy period? If you’ve got the time, let those clients know that your plate has cleared, and that you’re available for whatever they’ve got to throw at you. If you can enter the new year with some solid leads, you’ll be able to rest a little easier.
6. Holiday Gifts
One of those ways is to send out holiday gifts to let your clients know you appreciate them.
Now, before you freak out and say things like, “I’m a freelancer, not Oprah!” And “I can’t even REMOTELY afford to ship gifts to people,” remember that a gift doesn’t have to be epic. A gift doesn’t have to be six-packs of personally-branded craft beer complete with your logo on the bottle caps (although that would be pretty sweet.) A gift can be a handwritten note of thanks on a nice card from the stationery section at the grocery store. The point is that you put forth the effort to show your appreciation, and the effort of a handwritten note can go a long way.
7. Send Out a Newsletter
If you’ve got a newsletter with subscribers, go ahead and send out an end-of-year message. It doesn’t have to be a two-page update like the ones you get from your Aunt Trudy, but a quick “thank you for reading” and a blurb on your plans for the new year is an easy way to remind people that you’re still around, and that you’ve got awesome things to offer.
8. Schedule Some Maintenance on Your Social Media Profiles
How long has it been since you’ve updated (or even looked at) your LinkedIn profile? Google Plus? Your life is going through constant change, so why would you keep your business profiles static throughout the years? Add some new pieces to your portfolio, make any necessary changes (like phone numbers or adding “LLC” to all of your profiles, if you made that upgrade this year), and find out if social media platforms have added new features that will help you market yourself.
9. Set Goals
What’s life without growth? And what’s growth without goals? Take advantage of all of this reflection and financial review to set some goals for the coming year. Setting financial, career, and personal goals will give you both the direction and motivation to improve and evolve the quality of your services and business as a whole.
10. Research Conferences and Events
Since we’re talking about growth, I can’t think of a better time to talk about conferences. One of the single-most effective way to both network your freelancing business and expand your industry knowledge is to attend conferences and meetups within your industry or niche. By sitting down and choosing some of these events ahead of time, you’ll be able to budget around entrance fees, and possibly even snag early-bird discounts.
(BONUS) Clean out your inbox
It’s a simple solution. It’s a mind-numbing process. It’s one of the most freeing things you’ll have done in a long time. A full inbox might seem like a minor annoyance, but it can severely affect your productivity and efficiency. If you can turn on some of your favorite music, fill up your coffee mug, and hunker down for an hour of email organization and decluttering, you’ll be able to start the new year with a clean slate that will make it much easier to find what you’re looking for.
Just do it. Seriously.
I’m sure there are much more professional-sounding ways to say this, but staying organized when you’re the only one in charge can be hard. Getting sloppy and ignoring the unpleasant tasks is only going to land you with a stress-induced ulcer or a headache that never goes away.
Even if all you can manage is to tackle three of the ten items on this list (and for goodness sake, let them be the tax ones), you’ll wake up on the morning of January 1st with lighter shoulders, and hopefully, less of a need for those avoidance techniques.
Good luck! Save a little champagne for me?