Freelance writers, raise your hand if your inbox is looking a little empty these days.
It’s a common scenario: As many contacts and businesses go into holiday or vacation mode, your assignment list starts to look a little light and you find yourself with a little extra time.
Seeing a shorter to-do list can inspire feelings of panic, but quiet that voice in your head that says you’ll never work again — the assignments will start flowing again once people return to their offices. Instead, take some time for yourself to read a book, spend time with family or squeeze in a mini-vacation. Many freelancers burn the candle at both ends and don’t enjoy much downtime, so make the most of this opportunity.
Then, it’s time to take advantage of this “slow” time by planning ahead and getting organized so you can hit the ground running in the new year.
1. Use a system to organize client work
Creating a folder for each client on your desktop or in your Google Docs is the first step; make sure to keep all files for that client in one place.
Within each folder, create a subfolder called “2015.” Inside, create a subfolder for invoices and one for each different type of work, such as press releases, blog posts or About pages, and add all the files from this year.
I do this for my largest client and have folders going back to 2008. In each folder, my subfolders keep invoices, news releases and other projects organized. Finding a particular invoice or file quickly is a breeze.
2. Check your payments and expenses
Now that your client work is organized, look back over 2014 and determine whether you’re missing any payments. Has everyone paid your invoices? If you’re missing any income, now’s a great time to chase it down.
Check which clients owe you a 1099 — anyone who paid you more than $600 will need to send you one. Make a list of 1099s to expect, then mark them off as they come in and keep them in a single folder so they’re organized for you at tax time (or a simple hand-off to your accountant).
Track your business expenses for the year so it’ll be simple to deduct them from your taxes in April. Remember to include office supplies, web hosting fees and advertising costs; there’s a great line-by-line explanation of potential deductions on the Freelancers Union blog.
3. Outline your goals for 2016 and create actionable plans
Now that you’ve organized this past year, it’s time to look ahead. What do you want to achieve in 2016 — or to break it down further, in each month or quarter? What do you want your business to look like at this time next year?
Let’s say your goal is to contribute an article to Forbes.com. Your plan would include steps like:
- Develop a great story idea
- Write an awesome query
- Determine who to contact
- Send the pitch and follow up if necessary
- Write the article (unless you like to write before querying)
Outlining specific, meaningful goals and concrete steps to attain them makes taking action that much easier.
4. Network with other freelancers
Now that you’re clear on your goals for the new year, look at how you can connect with others on similar paths.
Get in touch with other freelancers in your community and see if you can meet for lunch or coffee in early January. It’s great to get together other freelancers to share your successes and frustrations; I’ve found such meetings to be inspiring and motivating.
Another option is to investigate local networking groups, such as those specifically focused on writing or entrepreneurs. Make plans to attend a meeting to see if the group is for you.
5. Clean out your inbox
Do you still have emails from last January? It’s time to hit delete.
If you don’t use an email folder or tagging system already, take time to create one and move files into the appropriate location. A system makes it much easier to find that email from a source when you need to make a last-minute edit. I use Gmail and take full advantage of its tagging and folder system, using different colors for various clients.
6. Cull your email subscription list
You’ve taken care of the messages in your inbox, but you’ll also need to look at the ones coming in.
My inbox quickly fills up with writing and business hints from nearly a dozen websites and professionals. I’ve found that many of them feature the same types of information, and some aren’t even relevant to the type of writing I do. So why am I still on these lists?
If you’re in the same boat, the solution is simple: As each newsletter or weekly dispatch comes in, ask yourself if you really need it. Is it helping your business? Are you learning new skills or information? Does it fit with the goals you’ve outlined for your writing?
If not, unsubscribe. You’ll end up being more productive, and preventing future inbox clutter.
If you’d prefer to stay on email lists but don’t want newsletters or retail offers clogging up your inbox, try using Gmail filters to make them skip the inbox and go straight to a folder called “Not Important.” You’ll still receive the information, but it’ll be out of sight until you choose to spend time on it.
7. Freshen up your website
Does your landing page copy need to be updated to reflect your goals? Do you have new testimonials to share or new projects to add to your portfolio? These small changes can have a big impact on your business.
While you’re at it, think about what you want your website to be: Is it place to display your work and encourage people to hire you? Or do you use it as a home for your blog or passion project?
If you don’t have a website, consider launching one. Every writer should have an online home, even if it’s just a place to link to a few pieces of work and provide contact information. For inspiration, check out these examples of great writing websites.
8. Update your social media profiles
Does your LinkedIn profile accurately reflect your experience and goals? Are you making the most of your short Twitter bio?
Use some of your downtime to freshen up your bios and profiles, since they may the first things prospective clients find when they search for you. If you’re not sure what to say, look at other professionals in your niche for ideas.
While you’re logged in, check out your Twitter feed. If it’s cluttered with unhelpful information, you might also want to clean out the list of people you follow or start using Twitter lists to filter important updates.
Make the most of the time you have while business is slow. By taking time to relax, get organized and focus on future goals, you’ll be invigorated and ready to tackle the challenges of 2015.
Does business tend to slow for you over the holidays? What do you do with your extra time?
This post originally ran in December 2014. We found it so helpful we’re sharing it again!