Why did you start freelancing in the first place? Was it an external factor such as downsizing at your company or becoming a new parent? Were you attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit of freelancing or the greater control you would have over your work-life balance?
Whatever the reason for being a freelancer, it's important to keep those initial benefits and goals in mind and be sure that you remain on track throughout your career. Here are five self-evaluation questions that freelancers should ask themselves at least annually to be sure their career is healthy, sustainable and moving forward!
1. Do I love what I do?
When you are first getting started you may have to take work wherever you can get it, but ultimately, freelancers get to pick the clients and projects that they want to work on. If a client seems to be difficult to work with or a project is just not whetting your creative appetite, then you can say "No." This means you should really like or perhaps even love the work you're doing. Blogger Trent Walton makes a good point about loving what you do in a post called "You Are What You Eat." Walton points out that as a freelancer you'll be using your current samples to land new clients in the future. So if you love working with nonprofit clients and build samples in that niche, it is more likely you'll get more nonprofits as future clients. If you don't like what you're working on, you risk pigeonholing yourself in a niche that you don't enjoy.
2. Am I a well-rounded and healthy individual?
It is really easy to lose sight of the fact that freelancing is a privilege. After months and months of freelancing it's easy to feel like you are chained to your desk for eight hours a day, just like a 9-to-5 worker in a cubicle. I know there are only so many hours in the day, but be sure to take advantage of the flexibility of freelancing to work on your physical and mental well-being. Why not go outside and work, or take a break to walk around the neighborhood, do yoga or exercise? The ability to take these kinds of healthy breaks is one of the top benefits of freelancing. Keeping your mind and body happy will also improve your productivity and the quality of work when you do sit down at your desk.
3. Am I covered?
To be a healthy freelancer you need to act as your own human resources department in terms of insurance, retirement, taxes and record keeping. You don't want to be bankrupted by a burst appendix, and you don't want to be out of money and working at McDonald's when you're 65, right? Maybe there is an appropriate industry association or union that can help you get affordable health care? There are also online health insurance aggregators such as ehealthinsurance.com that can help you sift through different providers and levels of care. For retirement purposes, start investigating investment options such as IRAs and 401ks that you can set up independently and contribute to regularly. Find a good small-business tax professional who knows how to help freelancers to save on their expenses and pay quarterly tax estimates. Finally keep records of all business receipts and invoices. Many freelancers I know turn to helpful software solutions such as Freshbooks.com to manage their billing needs.
4. Do I use my time wisely?
This question goes hand-in-hand with No. 2. In order to run your own freelance business and still be a healthy and well-rounded individual, you need to develop great time management skills. The PsPrint blog has written about time management techniques, time management software and productivity in the past. Employ a time management technique to keep yourself accountable. At the end of each day you should know exactly what you accomplished and how long it took. This will also give you a greater sense of satisfaction at the end of the day and make it easier to walk away from work and focus on family time or personal interests and activities.
5. Do I have forward momentum?
I spend all day writing about small business marketing, social media marketing and design. Sometimes I ask myself, "Do I apply these best practices in my own freelance career?" You need to be able to step back and analyze what you are doing at the big-picture level. Look for ways to improve your business development, online presence and client relationships. It's not just about landing more clients and work, but better clients and better work. You want to get those jobs that you are proud to feature as samples. Also be sure that you are on top of any software or technical trends in your industry. Attend continuing education classes, conferences or webinars to remain an expert in your field. If you feel like you are in a grind doing the same things day in and day out, then you are not tapping into the unlimited potential of freelancing!
What are your tips for self-evaluation? What do you do to be sure your freelance career is on track?