New Year essentials: how to boost your freelance life

It’s January again. Oh yes.

And because it’s January, I’m afraid I’m going to have to importune you with an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ piece.

(Well, at least I didn’t title it ‘New Year, New You’. I wouldn’t even consider offending you with that degree of cliché!)

Let’s acknowledge one thing for a start. Returning to the grind in the new year can be a genuine shock to the system. I don’t know about you, but how many people actually spring into work mode, raring to go, after a couple of lovely, indulgent weeks off?

If they can, they’re fortunate. Most of us are still in a post-holiday brain fuzz, mildly panicked by the next 364 days.

When it comes to getting back to a structured schedule, mentally we’re not quite there yet.

Time for change
Still, the new year is a great time to look at what we’re doing – and how we’re doing it – with a clean slate. We can use this period to pause and reflect on what we might like to achieve in the next 12 months, and how we could set that in motion.

While, dear reader, you already know I’m not a massive fan of goal-setting (life tends to happen while we’re making other plans, etc.), and I’m not even necessarily keen on the idea of sweeping, wholesale change (unless it really will benefit your situation), there is something to be said for taking an annual step back and checking in with ourselves.

Every six or so months I like to clear out some possessions and donate them where they can benefit others. Unless an item really has reached the end of its natural, there is always somewhere it can enjoy a second, useful life. It’s a process I’ve adopted since becoming attracted to minimalism.

What makes you happy?

You don’t need to sign up for starkness or self-deprivation to live by essentials; just a willingness to remove unnecessary excess from your environment. It reduces stress, helps you to focus on what makes you happy, and guides you not only to be more mindful of what you value, but what you actually need.

It can be incredibly freeing, both in terms of your mental space and your bank balance.

Similarly, to allow fresh energy into your work life, it’s relevant to consider some of the stuff that might be getting in the way.

The January Reboot
How to do this? Try this exercise.

Grab yourself a cuppa, get some large, blank sheets of paper or a notebook and pen, and find somewhere you’ll be undisturbed.

Use the balance wheel here to portion out your satisfaction levels with the following. Allocating a score to each one can give you a visual steer as to potential scope for adjustment:

  • clients
  • rates
  • project management and workflow
  • amount of work, operating hours and efficiency
  • bookkeeping and admin
  • income, budgeting and finance
  • strategy and planning
  • knowledge-building, training and CPD
  • connecting with others, networking
  • marketing and prospecting for business
  • expenditure, bills and outsourced business service costs
  • contentment in your work
  • self-care, quality time, holidays

If there is anything else relevant to your business life, add it to your wheel.

Next, try asking:

  • Am I working smart – in the above areas, can I identify what to improve?
  • Do I need to adjust my approach, or change the situation?
  • Are there any persistent bugbears I need to address?
  • What might be holding me back?

What’s the cost?
Analysing our finances is an obvious and practical way to shake things up. As freelancers, our existence can be precarious: even for experienced solo flyers, feast or famine can strike at any time.

The responsible approach is to keep costs down and plug expenditure leaks, because the more streamlined our operation, the more secure we can feel.

Do a money makeover

Personal finance journalist and consumer campaigning superhero, Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com, advocates taking a day out every year to do a money makeover. This includes reviewing banking and running all your bills and services through price comparison sites.

January is an especially good time for this task, because many companies offer new year deals that encourage consumers to switch providers. Canny freelancers work out what they’re spending on their current services, find out how much the competition is charging, then use this information to haggle.

For example, although overheads are tax deductible (the two words in the English language which every businessperson adores), doing a money makeover can still mean serious savings. It can even mean the difference between shivering under a blanket at your desk, and sporting a Hawaiian shirt in a positively tropical home office while it’s snowing outside.

(I exaggerate, of course – we should all try to keep our thermostats down to save the planet, but you know what I mean.)

The joy of seeing hundreds of pounds – thousands, even – clawed back and unnecessarily high costs banished from your balance sheet cannot be underestimated.

These are just some ideas to get you started.

What are you planning for 2020? Is it a grand scheme, or just a few tweaks to make your freelance life healthier and happier?

Whatever you do this year, be savvy, be well – and enjoy the time to come!

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