5 tips to setting your freelance business up for success

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With the first month of 2021 behind us, are you feeling like this year will bring success? Hopefully things look sunny, even though the horror of 2020 is still a recent memory. 

If you think you could be doing more to prepare for a full year of prosperity and business growth, we’ve got you covered. Recently, we caught up with our friends over at Rounded Accounting. They know a thing or two about freelancing success—they provide a whole suite of financial services for freelancers who want to maximise their profits and keep their income steady. 

We asked the Rounded team to give us their top five tips for running a successful freelance business this year, and here’s what they told us.

Tip #1: Reflect on the past year (the good, bad, and the ugly) 

Most of us are probably ready to put 2020 behind us, but before you forget about last year, it’s a good idea to reflect on what happened over the last 12 months in terms of your business. 

There are a number of questions you should ask yourself as you think back over the year. You might want to grab a notebook to write down your answers to these questions: 

  • What was the high point for my business last year? 
    • What did this success mean for my business?
  • What was the biggest challenge my business faced last year? 
    • How did I overcome this challenge? 
  • What was my total annual income?
    • Did this figure match my annual goal? 
  • What were the biggest costs for my business last year? 
    • Could any of these expenses be cut? 
  • What methods did I use to find new clients in 2020? 
    • Which of these methods were easiest/most enjoyable? 
    • Did I dedicate enough time to lead hunting last year? 
  • Who did I add to my network last year? 
    • What methods did I use to find these connections? 
    • How did these new connections add value to my business? 
  • Were there any surprises in 2020? 
    • Were these surprises positive or negative? 

You may have other questions that come to mind as you’re writing these down—simply use these as a guide to get yourself into reflection mode. When you’re done, you should feel like you have a good grasp on how the last 12 months went for your business, which means you’re now ready to start planning for the months ahead.  

Tip #2: Make a “goal map” for the rest of 2021

What do you want to happen for your business this year? Think carefully about how much money you want to make, what sort of marketing you want to do, how many new clients you’d like to pick up, what training you’d like to take on—don’t put limits on your goals at this stage. 

Once you’ve got a nice and healthy list of goals, it’s time to select a handful that you think will definitely be achievable this year. Choose a total of four or five to avoid overwhelming yourself. Your list might look something like this: 

  • To bring on three new retainer clients
  • To beat my 2020 financial goal by $10,000
  • To start publishing Facebook ads 
  • To redesign the homepage of my website 

Now that we’ve got a list of truly achievable goals, it’s time to break them up into smaller steps that we can spread out over the coming year. Let’s use the example of bringing on three new retainer clients. Your goal map might look like this: 

  • Quarter 1: Create a retainer package and feature it on my website
  • Quarter 2: Review existing clients for retainer opportunities
  • Quarter 3: Identify 10 – 15 businesses to pitch my retainer
  • Quarter 4: Refine retainer package based on my efforts

If you want to take this a step further, you can break each quarter up into smaller goals for each month, or even each week. Either way, once you’ve done this for all of your major goals, you’ll have a manageable framework to make progress every month.

Tip #3: Get a head start on organising your finances

It’s common for freelancers to cringe when they hear the word “finance”. Managing your income, expenses, invoices, and taxes can be a major headache, especially if you don’t have a proper system for keeping track of everything. 

Fortunately, there are a number of programs out there that can take a lot of the pain out of financial management for freelancers. These systems, which are usually quite affordable, allow you to send invoices and collect payments all through one simple dashboard. Some systems also allow you to pull in your bank account transactions, which you can then easily mark as income, personal expenses, or business expenses. (This saves you that horrible moment of panic when it comes time to file your quarterly taxes.) 

The best platform will depend on your personal business needs, but if the features listed above sound interesting to you, consider signing up for one of Rounded’s 14-day free trials. Rounded was designed by freelancers, for freelancers, so you may find it has all the features you need. 

Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a tax accountant in your corner as well. These professionals can help you organise your expenses, file your taxation documents, and potentially save some money for your business down the line. 

Tip 4: While the world is still in lockdown, focus on the digital face of your business

It looks like at least the front-end of 2021 will be a lot like 2020—many places are still in lockdown, and workers around the world are still working from home. Even later in the year, when everyone is vaccinated, we expect to see quite a few businesses hiring freelancers and remote workers for the long term. 

Once life begins to return to normal (hopefully later this year), you’ll probably want to spend a lot of your time out socialising, traveling, and doing all the things we haven’t been able to do over the last year due to the pandemic. So for now, it’s a good idea to focus on sprucing up the digital presence of your business. 

You may choose to focus on building a website (or refreshing the one you already have). But don’t forget about social media—how you present your business on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and elsewhere can make a big difference to the overall wellbeing of your freelance career.  

Tip 5: Reframe how you think about work-life balance

Work-life balance is a double-edged sword for freelancers. On the one hand, you have control over the hours you work. On the other, it can be hard to switch off and take some time for yourself. 

To make sure you don’t burn out, here’s another exercise you can do to reframe how you think about your work-life balance. Start with a sheet of paper and write down four or five things you really want to achieve this year, but here’s the trick: they can’t have anything to do with your career. 

For example, you might list things like: 

  • I want to take a week-long family vacation
  • I want to buy a new Playstation
  • I want to move to a bigger apartment 
  • I want to play tennis every week 

Next to each item, start listing out the things you need to achieve these goals. For example, you might jot down a rough budget for your trip, or note that you need to clear up Saturday mornings for tennis time. 

Now it’s time to put these plans into action. How will you go about achieving the things you need for your personal life? What changes do you have to make to the way you work to get there? 

These personal goals are just as important as the professional goals you listed, so treat them with the same respect. Your mental health and happiness are vital to a successful year. 

About the author

Oliver is Co-Founder & COO of Rounded. – Simple Invoicing and Accounting for Freelancers and Sole Traders. His main responsibility is ensuring the continued satisfaction and success of all Rounded users and he’s a passionate supporter of  Freelancers and solo business owners.

Next up, read up on The Best Advice You Could Ever Get About Goal Setting from three of Freelancing Gems resident business coaches.