At the end of every calendar year one of my favorite things to do is page back through the months and weeks of last year’s planner (yes I have a physical, paper planner and I’d be lost without it!). It’s almost like going back through old journals from high school. Trying to decipher my shorthand and what the heck I was thinking at the time. So as I’m sitting here with last year’s planner open looking at all my handwritten to-do lists and meeting notes from the past year, I’m reflecting and I thought I’d take this time to jot it all down and share it with all y’all. I was inspired by one of my favorite newsletterers, Paul Jarvis (who faithfully delivers his every Sunday to my inbox) to do a state-of-the-union-style recap — so here we go!
What worked well in 2017?
Quality Over Quantity
Overall I ended up taking on quite a bit fewer clients than in previous years. My goal was to schedule about half of the clients that I did in 2016, and by doing that it allowed me to devote much more time and energy into each project. Which ended up producing what I feel were much higher quality designs. By doing this I also was able to take the time to dig even deeper into and increase my knowledge in a lot of my skills (especially when it comes to Squarespace web design!).
Being a freelancer, it’s the nature of the beast that you end up spending a lot of time alone. That’s why I’m so grateful that in 2017 I had a couple of business besties in my local area. So I was actually able to get out of the house a couple days a week and cowork with them. First of all I got some extra human contact that I probably was in desperate need of, second I got used to working with a lot more hustle and bustle going around again (just like in the ol’office days) , and it’s even opened up some incredible doors for me because not only have I gotten the chance to cowork but I’ve also gotten to collaborate on some client projects with one of my biz besties. And I have to say it’s been real real great.
I have to admit that I am a bit of a penny pincher when it comes to my business. I pretty much won’t pay for anything unless I have to and I’m the person who’s always looking for some sort of free alternative on sketchy websites. But 2017 was the year that I invested in a couple paid programs that have made a huge difference in my day-to-day business. The first is a project management and invoicing tool called 17hats. I don’t actually use the project management part of it, but the ability to send contracts, quotes, invoices, questionnaires, + keep track of all of the above has made my digital paperwork about 1,000% easier. Second, I started using Acuity to schedule all my calls with clients and potential clients. It’s changed the way that I go back-and-forth with clients to schedule meetings, it’s made for much less confusion (hello timezones!) and I’ve found that by making it easier to schedule, people have been much like more likely to book a call.
Process Process Process
I’ve been freelancing for over three years now and every year I seem to change + tweak my processes along the way, sometimes even the mid-project. But 2017 was really the year that I hammered out every single step in my process for each package and stuck to my guns. It’s made a big difference in the way that I work and even in the way that I’m able to communicate with my clients. Knowing that my process works makes me confident when I talk them through it, and I can always let them know what’s coming up every step of the way.
What didn’t work in 2017?
Wedding Invitation Shop
This time last year I was scrambling to get a wedding invitation shop up for reasons only God knows. I got it stuck in my head that I was going to be able to run the shop easily on the side without putting much effort or thought into it. Needless to say I was so so wrong. I made a handful of sales (at least enough to pay for the expenses), but other than breaking even, all I really did was sink a bunch of time and energy into something that I didn’t really care all that much about. Oops.
Even though I ended up taking on less clients in 2017 and it’s been my best year in business yet, I ended up doing it at the expense of my own health. And I’m not talking about the kind of self-care that involves getting massages, going to the spa, or taking elaborate vacations. I’m literally talking about the simplest things, like putting on lotion every day or remembering to get up from my desk once every seven hours. It’s something that I’m working on for 2018 in the hopes that by taking care of myself, I will be able to serve my clients even better. But I’m gonna be honest with you, it’s a daily struggle.
Taking Time Off
As in, I didn’t. See the previous paragraph.
You guys, I’m really embarrassed about this one. One of the things that I wanted to do in 2017 was find a meaningful place to volunteer at since I have such a flexible schedule. I did my research, found a place that I loved, met with the people there and got on the schedule…and then had a massive anxiety attack and had to back out. I felt pretty bad about it for a while, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that with all the things going on in my life right now, apparently volunteering is just not something I can commit to. So in lieu of physically volunteering, I ended up making good sized monetary donations to a couple organizations that I strongly support. In the interest of my sanity, volunteering just isn’t something I’m able to do right now. And I’m working on being OK with that.
Not Following My Process
OK, I know that I literally just listed it above as something that worked for me last year, but there were still a couple of instances where I got cocky and thought I could stray from the process with no consequences. Boy, was I wrong. I always ended up spending at least twice as long on the projects when I didn’t just follow the damn process. Lesson learned (hopefully).
What’s coming in 2018
Keep Focusing on Quality Over Quantity
It was definitely something that worked for me last year, and I plan to continue with it even more this year. I want to take on even fewer clients to produce even higher quality work. I’ve noticed that when I put an emphasis on this, not only does my work get better, but I tend to attract clients who jive with me better because they appreciate the quality of work (whoda thunk?!). Plus I’ve got some things going on the side that I want to be able to devote some time to. Like…
Pre-Styled Logos + Websites
I’ve been thinking about this for a few years and I’m hoping that this will be the year that I finally put together a shop with prestyled logos and websites. It’s definitely not going to be completely hands-off for me, but I think it’ll be really great for people with smaller budgets who can’t afford a completely custom brand, but still want a professional design and the support of a designer that will come along with it.
It’s still in the very beginning phases, and I’m hesitant to even mention it, but I would absolutely love and am planning to host some in-person, in-real-life workshops for business owners to help them get a bomb-ass website up and running. There’s so much to do and think about, but I’m SO excited for what’s in store.
Most of all, I just want to say thanks so much to everyone for sticking along with me on this weird and amazing journey that they call running your own business. I love keeping in touch with each and every one of you, so please comment below and share some of your high and low points from the past year. I’d absolutely love to hear from you!