As the year winds down, freelancers are wrapping up client and personal projects as well as planning time off for the holidays. They’re also laying the groundwork for a successful year ahead. If you’re new to running a small business or simply want to overhaul your year-end routine, this checklist is for you!
I’ve been running my writing business full-time since 2009, and freelanced as a side hustle to my daytime newspaper job before that. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.
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1. Update Your Accounting Files
Set aside time to review your invoices, client files and accounting reports. Do you need to follow up on any delayed payments? Have any addresses, contacts, phone numbers or emails changed? Make those updates!
I also use a feature in QuickBooks to apply tags to each of my clients and payments so I can pull reports that allow me to see my income/expenses by category and clients. For example, it’s nice to know how much I’m making from content marketing versus affiliate marketing. This helps me understand where I’m making money and influences how I want to spend my time in the year ahead.
2. Communicate With Your Clients
Let your current partnerships know if/when you’re taking time off for the holiday season and where you’re at with booking projects. Let them know if you’re still accepting projects with December deadlines, or if you’re booking into January and beyond. (It’s nice to come back from time off with projects filling your calendar.)
At the end of the year, I’ve seen clients scurry to get work done at a fast pace to meet end-of-year goals, or they go cold because they’ve depleted their content budget and won’t have any work until January – a new year, with a new pot of funds set aside for freelancers.
3. Do an Audit of Your Business
Every fall I pause and take a high-level look at how the year is going. I’ve written about this several times and still find value in this practice, even though I’ve been freelancing for many years. If you don’t have an audit process in place, maybe these articles will inspire you:
- Take a Peek Inside My Annual Business Audit: Changes I’m Making and Why, written in November 2021.
- 11 Questions to Evaluate Your Writing Business, written in November 2020
- Setting Writer’s Boundaries: Engaging in Deep Work Matters, written in September 2020
- 6 Reasons You Need to do a Blog Audit ASAP, written in December 2016
Or, start simple and ask yourself what you enjoyed about work this year. And, what didn’t go so well that needs to be changed for next year? Think about your business, rather than working in it!
4. Prepare for Tax Season
I work with an accountant to be sure I organize and file everything correctly for my small business. Each spring we meet to prepare my annual tax return. I bring him reports from QuickBooks that show my income and my expenses, receipts for my quarterly self-employment tax payments, receipts for business purchases, a list of home office expenses, a log of my business driving mileage and more! If you want to learn more about tax prep, you might enjoy my article, “Let’s Talk Tax Deductions for Freelancers.”
If this is your first year filing as a small business owner, I highly recommend working with a tax professional so you can get all possible deductions and understand how to pay self-employment taxes.
5. Connect With Old Clients
If you’re looking to ramp up your workload in the year ahead, the end of the year is the perfect time to check in with people you partnered with in the past. Follow up with your contacts and let them know you’re planning for the new year. Share what services you can offer them and that you’re booking projects for January. This keeps you top of mind as businesses are also planning for Q1.
Be sure to also share your holiday time off schedule and when you’ll be back at your desk so they know when to communicate with you.
6. Keep Marketing Your Business
It’s tempting to simply go dark during the last few weeks of the year, but for small business owners, it’s best to continue having a presence with your clients, readers, customers, etc. so you don’t lose momentum.
When I’m away from my desk, or am taking a day off, I use an app called Buffer to pre-schedule social media posts. I continue sharing things I’ve written, links to my writing portfolios, updates on my availability and information about the services I offer. Why? Everyone isn’t taking time off in December. And some content marketing agencies and clients are in hardcore planning mode for the year ahead, so I want to be found!
I’ll also take a few minutes each morning and afternoon to check my email for anything critical that needs immediate attention. Of course, sometimes I go completely offline to rest and recharge, but not during the end-of-year holiday season. I live in the US, and many of my clients are global. For example, during Thanksgiving week in the US, my overseas clients and editors were still buzzing along, so I maintained a minimal presence to keep projects moving forward even though I was traveling and taking time off to visit my family on the other side of the state.
7. Reflect and Rejuvenate
Finally, I like to take a little time to think about where I’m at in work and life. Sure, this is partly addressed in my business audit, but I like to go inward and check in with myself. Do I like what I’m doing? What personal goals do I want to set for the next year? Are work and life balanced and integrated in a healthy way to support my needs?
I also like to plan for downtime away from work to let my mind relax and wander. Ironically, those long walks in the forest and time away in a rustic cabin are when I get some of my best business ideas or work out the answers to tough questions. There’s nothing like giving the brain a break from daily work to allow it to untangle the tough stuff! I’m a big fan of meditation and finding clarity in the silence.
Here’s to finishing out the current year well and laying the foundation for a successful year ahead!
Do you need a reliable writer on your team? I collaborate with marketing and advertising agencies to create content for blog posts, web pages, social media and newsletters. Learn how I can help your clients HERE.