9 Ways To Prepare Your Freelance Business For The New Year

By Christopher Hawkins •  Updated: 12/05/16 •  7 min read

As the year draws to a close, it’s only natural to reflect a bit on what has transpired, and what is yet to come; this is true both in our personal lives and in our businesses. Problem is, far too few freelancers start a new calendar year prepared to do anything different or better than the year before. Let’s see if we can reverse that trend.

Every year over here at Cogeian Systems, I try to take some time to look ahead and make sure to be prepared for what’s coming. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment at my laptop with a cup of coffee, and other times it takes a bit more research, but finishing the year strong and having a plan for the new year is always worth the effort.

I’ve distilled my own yearly process into a series of 9 simple steps and questions, broken down into 3 broad categories:


Handle any big purchases

If you have the cashflow to do so, the end of the year might be a good time to handle any large purchases you’ve been putting off.  Everything is on sale, and the purchase might give you an additional deduction come tax time (I am not a financial advisor and this is not financial advice, please talk to your advisor/planner/CPA before you do anything).

Pulling the trigger on that purchase before the year is over may put you in a stronger position come January 1.

Get up to date on accounting, taxes & receivables

No business owner enjoys doing the books, but smart business owners make sure they’re always up-to-date.

Update your rates

It’s easy to get comfortable and forget all about our rates, especially once we’re past the early-career stage and into the mid-career or advanced stage of freelancing, making good, steady money.

Ask yourself:


Investigate automation

No business is administration-free, and administrivia costs both time and money! Personally, I’ve used Drip to automate some of my email marketing activities, and it’s been great. Look at your typical daily operation and ask yourself:

Organize your projects

Staying organized is a consistent pain point for freelancers, especially early-career freelancers who haven’t yet developed systems for keeping projects well-controlled.

Over here at Cogeian Systems, we’ve tried it all – FogBugz, Basecamp, Asana, Evernote, Excel, BugTracker.NET – heck, we even wrote our own project-mgmt system once. At the moment we’re eagerly awaiting the release of Kwoosh. The point is, which system you use isn’t nearly as important as having a system and using it consistently.

Set some goals

Despite what you may read on the various “productivity” blogs, many successful freelancers never set goals; however, they are successful in spite of this fact, not because of it.  Both early-career and advanced freelancers often fall down on this one, albeit for different reasons; advanced freelancers often coast on the momentum of business built and comfortable paychecks (I’ve been there), whereas early-career freelancers often don’t know enough about what’s possible to effectively goal-set. If you feel like you need more structure than making a simple checklist, I recommend Complice to help you keep track of your goals.

Sales & Marketing

Prep for Q1 follow-ups

Everyone has that lead. You know the one. They’re a good fit for your offering, they have a budget, they seem like nice folks, you have agreement-in-principle regarding working together, they’re on their 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th contact with you, but for whatever reason the deal just won’t quite close. Conversely, we all have that lead who says they’ll sign up as soon as their budget is renewed.

Compile a list and focus hard on these in Q1 of the coming year.

Update your marketing plan

First off, do you have a marketing plan? If not, get one! If so:

Audit your SEO presence

There’s an old saying – “the cobblers’ children have no shoes”; this refers to the tendency of people in “technician” type professions to ignore their own need for the very service they provide. Audit your site the same way you’d audit a potential client site. Make liberal use of tools like Moz Local and Varvy to guide your efforts.

After taking a look at your own web presence, you can imagine that you are your own client, and what changes would you recommend.


Take inventory

OK, I lied – the title says 9 steps, and here I am giving you ten. What can I say, you’re on the bonus plan.

Taking personal inventory as a business owner is always tough, and often tougher than working through the first 9 items on the checklist. Running a business is a very particular kind of life, reflecting a particular kind of values, and people change over time. The business that served you well as a human being 10 years ago might be completely wrong for you now.  The close of the year is a great time to ask yourself some pointed questions.

What do you want from business ownership? Are you getting it?
Is there any are in which you suspect you’re holding yourself back?
Over the past year, how have your desires changed, and can your current business satisfy those new desires?  If so, how?

None of this is easy. It’s tempting to skimp. I’m struggling through this process myself, right now, just like you may be. But to truly be in control of our businesses and careers as freelancers, this kind of work has to get done.

If you’d like to use the same simple 10-item checklist I use, please opt-in to receive the checklist using the form below:

Freelancing New Year Checklist

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