What can you systematize?

Let these seven tips help you end the year strong and ease into 2022 with confidence.
What can you systematize?

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The end of the year will be here in no time, and freelancing is stressful enough without the end-of-the-year scramble.

That's why I want to share a few pre-end of year tips to help you alleviate stress, regain sanity and maybe even enjoy some time off! This blog post is about what freelancers can do during the September timeframe to end the year worry free. I think you'll really get something out of it if you're looking ahead to the end of the year and want to finish strong.

Keep reading for proven ways you can finish out Q4 strong.

But, before we get to the first step...

Same old, same old: Why we continue to put up with the end-of-the-year scramble is a major question

Another year, and it's the same old song for most freelancers.

The end of the year is when freelancers face the same problems over and over again: last-minute requests from clients rushing around at the end of the year trying to meet deadlines, ‘gaps’ in their schedule, and planning for end of year taxes.

Let’s face it, the end of the year is stressful, no matter if you are employed or a freelancer. Those months leading up to the holidays are somehow filled with more activities than any other time of year. It seems every week there's some holiday party, concert, or engagement to attend. Not to mention shopping for gifts, the barrage of emails, phone calls, and tasks that need completing, and wrapping up loose ends at work.

Even though the holidays are the time to be with family and friends, it seems that time of year is also one of the most chaotic times of the year. 

In fact, a survey found 88% of people believe the holidays are the most stressful time of the year and 77% say “they have a very hard time relaxing during the holidays, and usually end up feeling more stressed and worn down than ever.”

It’s easy to see how people feel that way since during the last quarter of the year, most of our schedules become jam-packed with a never-ending list of to-dos.

For some freelancers, there is less work from November to December, probably because some clients are either taking a break or have exhausted their budget for the year. For other freelancers, the end of the year is when they're the busiest, but it’s also when stresses like taxes and year-end client reports begin to creep in. 

Are you getting ready for that quarterly meeting with your accountant? If the fourth quarter is typically slow for you and projects are scarce, what have you done to make sure your income rolls in? Are you ready for the end of the year madness? 

If you’re thinking to yourself that this year is coming to an end way too fast and how on God’s green Earth are you going to juggle all of it, don’t go into panic mode.

Then again, just because I promised you a handful of helpful tips, don't relax and stop worrying about it altogether. 

Do you want the 4th quarter to be your Waterloo?

Don’t freak out, but it’s September. That’s not a bad thing by itself.

But, it means the countdown to the end of the year is on. 

Let’s face it, the fourth quarter of 2021 will be here in a mere blink of an eye.

And, <tweet-link>if you don’t have a plan for the coming months, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Time flies when you’re having fun, but not when your business is suffering.<tweet-link>

If you don't manage your freelance business in an intentional, organized way, you may miss out on opportunities. When you’re working for multiple companies and juggling more than one project or job, it can go sideways fast if you don’t approach it strategically, especially with the U.S. freelance workforce has been growing three times faster than the overall U.S. workforce.

We all have too much to do, too little time, and the pressure is on to be more productive than ever before. But, Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 found knowledge workers spend 236 hours a year on duplicative work that’s later deemed a waste of time and 24% say switching between multiple apps leads to work being duplicated.

Now’s the time to get organized and put some automation in place. Once you automate some of your workflows, you can skip some of the repetitive and time consuming tasks involved with managing your business.

Data from McKinsey shows in about 60% of cases, at least ⅓ of the activities that make up a specific job could be automated. In situations like this, automation makes things much easier and less stressful. For example, instead of wasting hours creating custom proposals for every single prospect, why not create a template you can adjust as needed? Not only will you save time, you’ll eliminate human error and get rid of one more pesky task that makes running a freelance business seem overwhelming sometimes. 

Think about your day-to-day schedule and where you spend the most time. What tasks can you systematize or get accomplished automatically? Remember, when you eliminate the need to be involved with every single task involved in running your business, you’re freeing up your time for more important things.

Want a better freelance business? Set yourself up for success. Here’s how

In just a few months, it will be 2022. I know what you’re thinking: that’s still a few months away so why should it matter to a freelancer today? It matters because the coming year presents a wonderful opportunity to grow your business.

With the year winding down, here’s a list of pre-end of year tips to help alleviate some stress, regain sanity and maybe even enjoy some time off!

Lesson #1: Make sure you have enough work for the next few months 

Although it’s important to focus on the task at hand and give what you’re working on your full attention, you also need to make sure you keep an eye on your pipeline of projects.

What steps are you taking regularly to ensure your calendar is full of client projects? 

Even though some data says 69% of freelancers have enough work to keep them busy on a daily or weekly basis, 54% say their biggest worry is lack of stability and their second biggest concern was lack of financial security. The same report shows freelancers spend about 25% of their time marketing, prospecting, or searching for new clients. 

In his book Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How To Make $85,000 A Year, copywriter, consultant, and author Robert W. Bly says, “most established freelancers probably spend 10 to 25 percent of their time on self-promotion.” The point is, whether you’re getting work through referrals, sending outreach emails, networking in person, or finding work on freelance platforms, you need to have a system in place to make sure you never run out of clients.

When you take a 30,000 foot view of business development, people are looking for someone with your talent, and your job is to use that scenario to create opportunities to land work.

No matter how experienced we may be as freelancers, we all run into dry spells or slow months. This can make it hard to make ends meet. That’s why you should be consistently establishing the relationships that lead to freelance projects. There's no magic formula to getting work — but it is a numbers game. So, look for opportunities, contact people, and be prepared to show how your services can help them.

This includes being clear on what kind of work you want to do and your ideal client. 

Systematizing your sales process lets you know exactly what actions you should be taking every day, week or month to grow your freelance business.

Lesson #2: Identify your most common tasks & automate as many as you can

Although every freelancer has a different routine - we all have to strike a balance between the billable hours that… well, pay the bills… and the non-billable hours we spend on necessary tasks that move our businesses forward.

One way to reclaim some of your precious time is to automate the tasks you perform that there’s no one you can bill for. For example, the time you spend invoicing clients isn’t necessarily something you can bill for. So, instead of letting invoicing eat up all of your time, set up an automated system that helps you stay on top of time worked and money owed. With the right tool -- like Moxie -- you can track the time you work, automatically convert hours worked into invoices, and even schedule, automatically approve, and accept online payments… all in one place. With payment confirmations and Stripe integration, invoicing with Moxie goes from being a burdensome administrative task to something you can handle with just a few clicks… from your laptop or your cell phone.

Or, as @farez says, "Your non-billable work is your cost. The best way to minimize that is by automation. Automate everything." 

When you make improvements to your business processes, you'll find that you have more room in your schedule for what’s truly important. According to a Smartsheet report titled Automation in the Workplace, “60% of workers surveyed estimate they could save six or more hours a week — almost a full workday — if the repetitive aspects of their jobs were automated.”

Building systems helps you in the long run because once these systems are put in place, you’ll be able to focus your time on the things that add the most value to your business and life. 

Lesson #3: Get on top of your finances 

This is the perfect time of year to focus on your finances.

35% of freelancers say they “struggle significantly with managing their money” and so putting tools and systems in place to track what money you’ve earned, the work you have scheduled, and how that compares to your actual goals is likely a good idea.

Instead of hand tracking everything, let technology do the heavy lifting. By automating your finances -- like using software and apps for managing and tracking expenses, setting aside money to pay taxes, and handling bookkeeping tasks -- you position yourself to get the most out of every dollar you earn as a freelancer.

You can manage your finances all from one place with Moxie. Everything from time tracking and invoicing to categorizing expenses and generating a profit and loss report. Plus, because you can view all your records and invoices in one place, when tax season rolls around, you’ll be ready!

A survey, Money Matters — The Freelancer Finance Report found 31% of freelancers would rather get stuck in line at the DMV than file taxes! The same survey found: 

  • Most self-employed professionals spend up to 10 hours each year filing their taxes.
  • 20% say they spend more than 10 hours and freelancers take 3x as long as traditional employees to file their taxes.

And, because tax preparation for freelancers is more complicated than average, freelancers are 50% more likely than employees to pay someone to prepare their taxes. 

Although it’s not the most fun activity in the world, setting up systems to handle your finances is a high-leverage activity. Separating your business and personal finances, maximizing legitimate tax write-offs and deductions, and keeping track of your important documents and information is an important part of keeping your freelance business operational. You can even set up systems to invest consistently and automatically on your behalf so you don't have to worry about retirement.

Remember, as Mark Steber, chief tax officer for Jackson Hewitt Tax Services,  says, “The IRS isn’t in the business of making sure you’ve got all your credits and all your benefits,” he says. “They’re in the business of making sure they get all their money.”

As a freelancer, your income can fluctuate a lot. That’s why it’s important to be able to easily review your financial activity year-to-date as well as look ahead to see if you’re on track or not.

Lesson #4: Assess which skills you'll need to ramp up

Every freelancer wants to be “in demand” and have so many people interested in their services they can pick and choose which projects to work on.

To put yourself in that position, it’s important to keep your skills current. This includes soft skills and technical skills. Research by the World Economic Forum suggests the half-life of a professional skill is only five years (meaning every five years, that skill is half as valuable as it was before). 

One source claims 60% of skilled freelancers have done skill training in the last six months. While another reports 70% of full-time freelancers took skill-training in the past 6 months, compared with only 49% of full-time workers who don’t freelance. The bottom line is you have to update your skills regularly to make sure you stay competitive.

One way to do this is to pay attention to trends impacting your work and career. Although you don’t have a crystal ball, it doesn’t take a fortune teller to see which way the wind is blowing and put together a plan to acquire the skills you’ll need to have in the future today. 

You can schedule and dedicate a certain amount of time each week to professional development. Even if you only carve out 30-45 minutes, this is something that should be planned out and scheduled every week. 

Maybe you've decided you want to do more public speaking to build awareness for your freelance services. Joining Toastmasters to master public speaking and build connection with audience members may be a good investment of your time.

Where can you get help leveling up your freelance skills? Consider:

  • listening to podcasts
  • taking Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
  • attending workshops
  • attending Meet-ups
  • attending conferences, or seminars
  • taking online courses (like on LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, and Udemy)
  • self-study like reading books and watching tutorials

And, the good news is you may be able to deduct work-related education expenses.

Lesson #5: Update your portfolio

Have you taken the time to create a portfolio of work samples to attract more clients?

Freelancer Austin Iuliano says, "Many freelancers don’t even have their portfolio together in a single place. This blows my mind because it is your single greatest asset."

A portfolio may not be the be-all, end-all, but it’s a really important jumping off point since you never know when having an up-to-date portfolio may be your ticket to the client-freelancer dance.

Plus, sometimes portfolios, samples of work or even positive reviews on LinkedIn can help you attract high-paying clients. Like Scott Fultz says, "Your freelance portfolio gives potential clients a sample of your work. They can see if your style matches their needs and get a sense of how much experience you have working in their industry. Your freelance portfolio is also your chance to show your skills off to potential clients."

When’s the last time you updated your freelance portfolio? When Tobias van Schneider ran a poll on Twitter asking people whether they keep their portfolios updated or only update them when looking for work, 68% of people said they keep their portfolio online while they have a job, but don’t update it. Of the remaining 32%, 11% said they take their portfolio offline completely and only 21% said they actively keep it updated.

Whether you’re a writer, designer, photographer, or some other kind of freelancer, it’s in your best interest to update your portfolio with new work. A simple system for keeping your freelance portfolio updated could be a monthly calendar reminder you set to remind you to add your latest projects.

When you systematize how you showcase your skills, keeping your portfolio current shouldn’t take up too much time.

Lesson #6: Update your pricing

When you're freelancing, there are no automatic raises or cost-of-living raises.

That means periodically you should be reviewing your situation to make sure your freelance rate is earning you the salary you want to earn and covering all your overhead.

After all, you want to make sure you're not underpricing yourself.

As Dorie Clark says, "Price is often a proxy for quality, and when you put yourself at the low end, it signals that you’re unsure of your value — or the value just isn’t there. Either can be alarming for prospective clients."

For example, Justin Samuel's company did a survey of freelance design and development professionals and found many of the respondents' hourly rates simply didn't match up with the market rates. 

As The Art of Freelancing guide reminds us, "It’s important to remember that your costs as a self-employed person are much higher than the average worker. From taxes to tools, you have more annual costs than an employee, so you also need to charge more."

At this point in the year, you should be able to review all of the projects you've worked on so far. Take some time and research the going rate for the services you provide. Are your rates in line with the current industry rates? If you're thinking about raising your rates, freelancer Tom Ewer has some good advice on negotiating your rate

You should also check out Robert McGuire's expense formula for setting your freelance rate if you want to make sure your freelance business is profitable.

Lesson #7: Set goals for your freelance business in the new year

You don't have to wait until New Year's to make goals for 2022.

You can start right now. In fact, setting goals for your freelance business today, will allow you to hit the ground running once the new year starts.

You've probably heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals before (If not, get up to speed with this article from the Freelancers Union.) According to many experts, setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound increases your odds of success.

These could be income goals, goals for volunteering and charitable donations, or goals to meet and engage with other freelancers.

To increase your chances of reaching your goals, they should be written, actionable, measurable targets that lead to outcomes. Then, you want to make a plan and create systems to make sure you actually make progress. Best-selling author James Clear says, "Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior." 

Maybe your goal is to earn $20,000 more in 2022 than you did in 2021 by getting 3-4 more clients than you did this year. Well, now you need an action plan for getting those clients. Break your goal down into manageable "mini-goals," or actions you can take consistently. This could include sending a cold email campaign or making a certain number of new LinkedIn connections every day with potential clients.

As Evan Jensen says in this article about process goals, "It’s the daily actions and habits you take that help you achieve success, NOT the one-and-done wins. What are you doing every day, week or month to move up and earn more as a freelancer?"

No matter what your personal freelance goals are, Make sure you have systems in place that deliberately and consistently move you in that direction.

Seth Godin says, "The goal of a freelancer is to have a steady job with no boss, to do great work, to gradually increase demand so that the hourly wage goes up and the quality of gigs goes up too."

Systems help you simplify your life: Here's how Moxie can help

Whether you're trying to earn your first dollar freelancing or have been in business for years, you can run your entire freelancing business with Moxie - with unlimited clients.

When you’re juggling multiple gigs, it’s challenging to keep up with everything you need to do for each client. Moxie allows you to stay on top of everything and focus on the projects at hand. To understand why, let’s step back and take a look at a real-world example. 

When you’re planning your day (or diving into your work for the day), you can quickly see what you need to pay attention to using our all new calendar feature. That’s where you’ll find easy-to-scan information on when invoices are scheduled for payment and what projects have upcoming due dates. 

Now, let's say, as part of your efforts to systematize your business you've decided to update your pricing policy and start asking for a deposit upfront before you begin a project. You can easily collect a predetermined amount or percentage of your project fee up front using Moxie.

Here's are a few more ways Moxie can help you function more efficiently on a day-to-day basis: 

  • When you set expectations up front through your proposals, systems, and contracts, your projects will run more smoothly which leads to better client relationships.
  • Using Moxie to implement workflows and processes helps you stay on top of important backend business functions. That means happier clients, and a happier freelancer too!
  • Your client pipeline is the lifeblood of your freelance business. Use Moxie's forms, agreements, and pipeline manager to automate your lead generation process so that it works (almost) on autopilot. 
  • Moxie's time tracking feature can help you avoid setting goals that are overly optimistic. That's what scientists call the “planning fallacy,” a premise first explored by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Basically, it's when we “display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed about how much time will be needed to complete a future task.” By tracking the time spent to complete various tasks, you'll have a baseline you can use to create realistic project timelines.
  • Moxie gives you the power to create, collaborate and organize everything for your business from wherever you are. Check your schedule on-the-go, send invoices while you’re out on business calls, and pay subcontractors or collaborators for their contributions to your project. 

You already understand the benefits of using software and tools to make your job easier and eliminating the small time sucks that tank your productivity. Like contracts, project management, pricing, and all the other “business stuff”... the stuff that's the difference between freelancers that struggle and successful freelancers with meaningful, profitable businesses. 

Moxie can help you manage all of that in one app. 

So, unlike the average employee who switches between 35 job-critical applications more than 1,100 times every day... or the 56% of app users who report switching between apps makes it harder to get essential work done… you’ll be able to manage your pipeline, projects, priorities, and paperwork all in one place.

What's next?

Now that you have a few ideas for building systems in your freelance business,  experiment with setting up a few of your own that will do the work for you automatically ─ you set them up once and you’re good to go. Combine that with a sense of urgency and you can take action to end the year on a high note.

Not sure what to systemize? Consider this advice from Neil Gaiman, "You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, ‘What if...?’" So, ask yourself "What if?," and explore the possibilities that open up when you systematize your business.

And remember that systematizing your most important workflows, reduces time spent on repeatable tasks and creates a structure in your business for managing multiple projects with ease. By doing so, you’re able to reclaim your time. In most cases, you'll find things that used to consume big chunks of your calendar now require less of your time, with the same (or likely better) final result.  Not bad 😉

Close the year out by adding smart systems to your freelance business and make the coming year your best year yet. Let's do this!

Learn more about the Moxie mobile app, a single digital workspace with all the tools needed to start, manage and grow a freelancing business...anytime and anywhere or view the guide “Freedom to freelance” here to learn how to run your freelance business from your phone.

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Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills is the Founder & Content Strategist at Professional Pen. He helps SasS and tech companies create marketing content that measurably attracts more customers using proven strategies, tactics, and frameworks.
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