Well, the holidays are officially over. The confetti and pine needles have all been swept up, and my Christmas decorations are now in the garage, just waiting to bring up to the attic. (Fingers crossed that they’ll make it there by Easter!)

I learned so many lessons last year that are making a HUGE impact on the way I do business in 2017, so before we officially bid the year adieu, I’d like to share my top 6 freelancing tips from 2016.

Make a Business Plan.
I’ve always made plans for my business, but I’ve never actually made an honest to goodness business plan – the kind that includes a detailed strategy where your success can be measured. I love making plans like a dog loves his bone, so it can be easy to get distracted with shiny new ideas that make me think “Whoa, I need to do this! No wait, I should definitely do that!”

Having an official business plan really helps me minimize distractions and stay on track. Sure, it’s still in my nature to always be on the hunt for new ideas. But at least now when I find one, I can ask myself if it will fall in line with my master plan. If the answer is no, then it’s probably a good idea to leave it behind.

 

Squirrel

 

Diversification is your Friend.
At the beginning of 2016, about half of my workload came from one big source. I adored the women I worked with, and it was so nice being able to rely on the steady income stream. Until I couldn’t. As it turned out, the workload grew to the point where management decided they were ready to invest in an in-house designer. Just like that, half of my income was gone. It didn’t take long to build up my workload again, but now I’m careful not to put all my eggs in one basket.

 

Join the Wonderful World of Networking.
There can be a very fine line between being a home based business owner and a social recluse. My old office had just a very small window, and each afternoon when I’d go outside to pick my daughter up from school, I’d feel like a blind little mole finding its way out of a hole.

I decided to step away from the computer and get out in the real world every once in a while, and there’s nothing like trading your yoga pants and flip flops for a skirt and heels to make you feel like a professional (because guess what, you are!).

There are so many different ways to network, be it one-on-one or in group settings, and once you get over the initial terror of *gulp* introducing yourself to strangers, you just might come away full of confidence and shiny new ideas.

 

Find a Great Cause to Donate your Time and Talent.
This goes kinda hand in hand with networking because really, there’s no better way to get to know good people in your community than to volunteer together.

That said, your time and talent has value, and when you give it away there will undoubtedly be times when you feel that your efforts are taken for granted. For this reason, it is important to take the initiative and seek out a cause that speaks to your heart rather than simply saying yes when someone approaches you to help theirs.

 

Don’t be Afraid to Pursue Awards.
This time last year, one of my clients was pulling together some entries for our local Advertising Federation Awards and asked if I wanted to go in on a couple we’d worked on together. I was a bit “meh” on the subject. Sure it’d be nice to win an award, but would it be worth the entry fee? And what are the chances we’d actually win anything? I met her halfway and we entered a couple together, and wouldn’t you know it, one of them actually won!

As I continued to network, awards were a little more on my radar. In a marketplace that is saturated with so many sources that offer the same services that you do, having a few awards under your belt can help earn the trust of prospective clients make you stand out from your competition.

 

Find a Way to Make your Income more Sustainable.
I saved this one for last because to me, it made the greatest impact. I met a fellow creative entrepreneur this summer for coffee, and we spent an hour sharing our backgrounds and comparing notes on what it’s like to be a designer in our town. I admitted that my biggest struggle as a freelancer is having such an unpredictable income.

Most months I’d keep the same average, which always astounded me because it was completely by coincidence – with a huge project from a one client this month and dozens of tiny projects from others the next – but there were occasionally times when I was so swamped with work I’d barely sleep in order to get it all done. Then there were times that my inbox would remain completely silent, and I’d worry about the possibility of a dry spell.

His advice was to find a way to turn my work into a sustainable income so I’d be able to count on what I need to keep the lights turned on and minimize the amount that fluctuates. As a confessed shiny new idea lover, I was constantly brainstorming ideas of how to translate this into my business, and eventually I stumbled on an idea that is right now in the process of becoming reality. (And if you check back in a little bit, I can’t wait to tell you more!)

 

So there you have it, the best lessons I learned while freelancing in 2016! And while they’re perfect for self employed professionals like myself, I’m sure many of these lessons can be useful in for any business.

Now I’m curious, are there any life-altering lessons you learned in 2016? Let me know in the comments below!