When do you start planning for the next calendar year?

We’re getting ready for the fourth quarter of 2016, which means it’s time to think about where my freelance career might be in 2017 — and the work I need to do now to prepare myself for the year to come.

Here are my numbers for August:

Completed pieces: 67

Work billed: $8,449.91

Income received: $8,553.89

I wrote a little over 44,000 words this month, although that number is starting to make less sense to me as a metric because half of my workload is now longform writing that involves multiple drafts and revisions – and I only track the words I turn in on the first draft, not the words I add/delete/revise.

So that’s a metric I’m going to want to rethink for 2017. Is it worth it to keep a running count of the number of words I write every month? If so, do I need to start tracking the number of words I add or change during revisions?

I like keeping a word count because it’s a useful metric for clients. Saying that you write 44K words a month establishes that you’re producing content at a certain level, and it also implies that you can turn around a lot of assignments quickly. I also like being able to say I write the equivalent of a short novel every month.  

But if my workload is changing, the way I track word count needs to change as well.

Upgrading my bookkeeping

My word-count system isn’t the only thing that needs to change for 2017. Ever since I’ve started freelancing, I’ve kept my books via a series of handcrafted spreadsheets — and I’m at the point where I want to invest in a better tool.

Right now, I spend a lot of time setting up spreadsheets, making sure my formulas are correct, typing in numbers, tracking paid and unpaid invoices, and comparing all of this against the money that goes into my bank account — not to mention the hours I spend trying to figure out why I’ve made an error! I’d like to outsource this to an online system, in the hopes that it will streamline not only my day-to-day income management but also my quarterly and yearly taxes.

I know that The Write Life recommends both FreshBooks and Harvest, so it might be time to start exploring small business software and see what tool I want to use in 2017.

Planning for 2017’s workload

When I started freelancing, I thought it was a huge deal to have assignments booked two weeks in advance. As you might remember from last month’s earnings report, I currently have assignments booked through the end of 2016.

This means I need to start thinking now about what might happen in January 2017, when those assignments end.

I’m guessing that my current clients will continue to offer me new assignments, and that we’ll probably start discussing those assignments at the end of the year — which will be an ideal time for me to open a conversation about renegotiating rates. (I try to have this conversation annually, usually in early December.)

If something happens and I don’t have enough work to fill my time, I have a list of clients I’ve written for who have expressed interest in working with me on future projects. I’ll reach out to them to see if they’re still interested.

I’ve also been saving money to make sure I have an income buffer in case I see a drop in my workload. I just met my three-month emergency-fund goal, so I have enough money to go three months without earning any income — although I hope that won’t be the case.

The big question is whether I want to change anything about my workload for 2017. I’m happy with my current clients and the assignments I’m completing; the work is interesting, I get to work with great people, and I’m getting it all done in 40-hour weeks.

I’d like to keep this balance for as long as I can, which means I’m not thinking about changing my workload as much as I’m thinking about how to sustain it — and in my mind, that means doing the best work I can and maintaining those good client relationships. That’ll set me up for the rest of the year and give me a good foundation for whatever comes next.

Three questions for this month: Have you started thinking about 2017? How do you track word count on assignments, especially when several rounds of revisions are involved? Also: what’s your favorite bookkeeping software?

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