As the year comes to a close, it’s time to grab some eggnog, reflect on the year past (and the year to come) and complete a crucial piece of self-assessment.
It’s time for your annual review.
When you work for a company, you typically have an annual review that reflects on your year’s work, accomplishments, areas for improvement, career trajectory and goals for the next year. These reviews are often tied into compensation and raises.
A freelance writer’s annual review is no different.
Except this time, it’s not a boss peering across a boardroom table at you. It’s just you sitting somewhere comfortable and thinking about your writing and all the exciting things to come.
There’s nothing intimidating about conducting your own annual review. It’s a gateway to growing as a writer and setting your own trajectory. It’s a useful exercise for everyone from novelists to part-time freelancers to those who write for a living full-time.
Prepare for your review
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of emails, social media messages, client phone calls and the demands of the holiday season. But take an hour or two, block it off on your calendar, and find a place where you can avoid distractions.
Whether you prefer a sunny nook in your home or a corner table at your favorite coffee shop, find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Turn your phone on silent, block alerts and notifications, and settle in with a cup of coffee or some eggnog and get ready to reflect.
Get your materials together
Be sure you have everything you need for your review.
If you conducted a self-review last year, be sure to bring it with you along with any lists of goals or accomplishments you may have.
Bring your digital or physical calendars, assignment lists, profit and loss sheets and accounting or bookkeeping information. Also bring your computer or a journal and pen to reflect and plan for the year to come.
How to begin
I usually begin my annual review by going over last year’s review.
It’s always interesting to see where you were a year ago and where you are today. I often find that my priorities and aims shift over the course of the year. Some projects find their way to the back burner while other projects emerge and take a prominent role.
If you don’t have a written review from last year, that’s fine, too. Instead, take some time and go through your calendar or assignment list from last year and reflect on your clients, deadlines, and projects.
Take a few moments to write about how you felt the past year went. Start by writing about your biggest successes of the year and your biggest challenges. Looking at calendars and records from the past year often helps to jog your memory. Then, you can move on to specifics.
What should I evaluate?
A few categories to consider evaluating are:
- Did you make as much money as you had hoped to this year?
- How much did you make over the course of the year?
- How much did you bring in each month? What were your busy seasons and your slow seasons?
- What is your target income for next year?
- How would you like to meet that target? Evaluate your current clients and see if it makes sense to raise your rates.
- Did you find time to balance your work commitments and personal life?
- Did you have enough time to devote to your mental and physical health, relationships, hobbies, pets, etc.?
- What would you like to do to improve your work/life balance in coming year?
- Did your business grow, shrink, or stay the same this year?
- Would you like to grow next year, reduce your business in some ways, or stay about the same?
- Are there certain clients you would like to focus on?
- Would you like to find new clients? If so, what kind of clients? What are the most important characteristics for clients to have?
- Would you like to reach out into new areas or fields (such as writing about business or medicine)? What can you do to establish a foothold in those fields?
- What did you do for professional development this year?
- What would you like to do next year? Professional development can include attending conferences, cultivating new contacts, networking, writing retreats, service in your field, applying for grants and fellowships, earning awards, finding a mentor, or joining professional organizations, among other possibilities.
Administrative practices and bookkeeping
- What worked well this year in terms of administrative practices and bookkeeping?
- Do you need a new process to receive and keep track of payments?
- Do you need a new system to keep track of assignments?
- Is your calendar system (physical or digital) working well for you, or would you like to revamp it in the new year?
- Also, consider your tax situation. Do you have any major business changes you need to consult your tax professional about? If so, it’s a good time to schedule a meeting before the rush.
- Evaluate how your tech systems are working. Will you need a new laptop soon? Do you need a new flash drive or two?
- Is there software you’d like to buy or upgrade? Consider what you need and think about whether it makes sense to make these purchases before the end of the year, and consult with your tax professional to see if you can write them off on this year’s taxes.
Social media, website, and branding considerations
- Consider your social media presence. Are you pleased with your frequency in posting, followers, shares, likes, etc.?
- Would you like to branch out to new social media networks?
- How about your website? Does it need a revamp?
- Is it time for a professional headshot?
- Do you need new business cards?
Now that you’ve taken some time to consider the past year and think ahead to the new year, make some goals.
Set both short-term (monthly, quarterly, yearly) goals as well as longer-term (5-year, 10-year, etc.) goals. Set some easy-to-reach ones, but also reach for the stars and pick a few aspirational goals, things you would love to achieve but won’t be easy.
It helps to make your goals SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-sensitive) and set dates to check back in with them and evaluate your progress.
Now that you’ve set goals and are ready to work towards them, take out your calendar and set a few times to check in with yourself and review your goals. Some people prefer monthly while others prefer bi-monthly or quarterly check-ins.
Keep your goals at the forefront of your mind by either printing them out and putting them somewhere you’ll see them often or even creating a crafty display to remind yourself what you’re hoping to achieve in the year to come.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, and successful new year!