Around the holidays I typically subject myself to a “Where Am I Going” exercise, where I invest a weekend reviewing the prior year’s work, revenue, clients and yes — my satisfaction level.
In simple terms, I figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and what I’m going to do about it. There may be more interesting ways to spend a weekend, but not many that offer a better return on your effort.
The numbers behind this year’s review were easy; I worked less due to the arrival of my second daughter, and made no sudden moves regarding clients or contract matters:
- Four clients dominated my job list
- I stopped accepting new gigs after the first quarter due to the arrival of another daughter
- My numbers — given the state of semi-retirement imposed by our daughter’s arrival — were OK
So what were the issues? What has to change next year? What’s working well?
Let’s take a walk around my brain.
Problem Area #1: Nice Client, Bad Situation
Over the last two years I invested a lot of energy in a client. I like their mission — enough that after we built their racy new website, I took a contract deal to manage their online presence that paid a bit less than normal.
Sometimes you calculate return on investment in terms other than money.
Unfortunately, the communications issues that plagued us have grown worse, and a quick review of my timesheets tells me I’m now spending more than 75% of my contract time putting out fires or handling low-level online tasks.
In simple terms, instead of writing, I’m supporting other people (in one case papering over a lack of online marketing experience).
That’s good for the client but only occasionally gratifying for the freelancer, and when a client relationship starts to give you an uneasy feeling, you have to ask a few questions:
- Am I producing new, high-profile or groundbreaking work?
- Am I learning, or getting anything more substantial than a paycheck?
- Is the paycheck (or satisfaction level) big enough to offset the hassles or lost opportunity costs?
- Is it furthering my career?
Freelancers are always tempted to stay with the devil you know, but remember, you’re not just working for the next paycheck.
You’re building a career.
Jobs that don’t move that career forward should be viewed with suspicion, the idea being you’re creating something lasting, not crafting the freelance equivalent of a series of one-night stands.
Problem Area #2: Not Pitch Perfect
I lost a competitive project pitch despite being uniquely qualified, the kind of thing my wife describes as an AFGE (Another F*ing Growth Experience).
Do enough of these and you realize 1/3 to 1/2 of the Requests For Proposal (RFP) you read are decided before the RFP is written, though in this case I’d suggest the prospect’s personal relationship with a less-qualified competitor doomed our proposal.
Still, I realized my proposal wasn’t sharp. And I’m having trouble defining my business, the description of which largely lacks the accomplishments of the last four years.
These include efforts like building (from scratch) an organization’s online presence and revitalizing another’s stagnant email program.
In other words, my “story” has changed, but my approach (and website) haven’t.
The moral? It’s easy to drift, and even our own perceptions may not match reality. I’ll fix it before the next pitch.
Time To Play A Little
What us geezer types used to call “multimedia” holds a growing fascination for me, and the technology is so ridiculously cheap and simple I decided it’s criminal I haven’t mucked around with it yet.
Screencasts, podcasts, videos. They’re ripe for experimentation.
In other words, stop learning, start dying.
I file this under the “Things to do because they seem fun” category instead of the “Things to do because they could lead to revenue” niche, but it’s surprising how often the former translates to the latter.
Big Win: Writer Gear
In 2012 I finally cobbled together something approaching the friction-free writing environment I’ve long wanted.
It’s damned efficient (though not beautiful).
I write 95% of my work in the very fast, hugely configurable Sublime Text 2 text editor, which — after the addition of a couple free plug-ins — allows me to write in a simple text markup language (Markdown), then copy and paste HTML for online use. If I want a document, I can create a formatted version (in .docx, .odt or .rtf formats) with one simple command.
Ahhhhhhh. (The sound of a happy writer.)
The 2013 Manifesto
After two years of minimal client prospecting, I’ve identified two organizations for pitches and a whole industry for exploration.
I’m giving myself until April to whip the supporting bits (website, collateral, pitch, etc) into shape.
For the last two years, it’s safe to say my wife and I have been in a state of overwhelm at the hands of our two adopted daughters, but a freelance career is a little like a shark; stop moving forward and you might just die.
Anyone else endure their own year-in-review exercise?
Keep writing (and working, and changing, and evaluating), Tom Chandler.