Many of us have turned to new ventures since March 2020 as we were forced to adapt to a new way of living. For writers, this often meant entering the world of freelancing, which comes with a big learning curve and plenty of challenges. That’s why we reached out to Craig Cannings, co-founder of Freelance University.
Freelance University helps new freelancers set a clear learning path to go from unhatched business idea to thriving business in less time—avoiding months of frustrating trial and error. In this article, Craig shares his top tips for re-thinking your business in 2021. Over to Craig.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Charles Dickens’ opening from A Tale of Two Cities really summed up the past year for many freelancers and small business owners.
I spoke with some freelancers who had leveraged new opportunities during COVID-19 to have one of their best years ever. Some shared that they had a renewed closeness with family members during times of social isolation.
I also heard from others who faced many challenges both personally and professionally. Some lost clients or had an important networking event cancelled. Others battled distraction as family members began working or schooling from home and sharing their space.
While 2020 may have been a time of waiting and possibly taking a few steps back, 2021 is going to be a year of forward momentum. It’s a chance to reset, refocus and reignite our plans for success!
Let’s unpack seven key actions you can take this year to prepare your business for its best year ever.
Coming out of 2020, do you have a renewed sense of purpose for your freelance business? Are you optimistic about what 2021 holds for you?
In times like these, Simon Sinek’s idea of finding your WHY will sustain you and keep you on track during the difficult times in your business. As he explains, “The WHY is the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us.”
Did your “Why” change over the past year? Do you need to come up with a new “Why?” Here are some questions to consider as we embark on a new year.
- Will you continue with your current business endeavors?
- Do you need to adjust and move in another direction with a new niche, new clients, and new business structure?
- What do you require in order to continue (new software, new skills, advice from a mentor or mastermind group)?
- How will these actions contribute to your greater purpose?
In an article titled “The Science of Why,” Simon Sinek says,
“Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled and to better understand what drives your behavior when you’re at your natural best. When you can do that, you’ll have a point of reference for everything you do going forward. You’ll be able to make more intentional choices for your business, your career and your life.”
- Define Your Purpose (what will drive you in 2021) and confirm your ideal client. Create a purpose statement for your business:
“Business Name helps Target Audience to Overcome Challenge that Leads to Desired Results.”
Have you found it difficult to focus this past year? If so, you’re not alone. We’ve been inundated with untold amounts of information daily.
At times, it’s tough to know what to focus on when everything seems important. But according to Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing, “Purpose without priority is powerless.” So, you need to prioritize so you can put your “Why” into action.
Keller advises, “Your work should be divided into two distinct areas—what matters most and everything else.” Often it’s the “everything else” that keeps us from focusing. We don’t realize how much time we’ve lost until we stop and look around us. The key is to avoid multitasking and focus on one thing at a time instead of switching back and forth.
- Observe your level of distraction during the day and determine what types of distractions you’re dealing with.
- Categorize them and then strategize how you’re going to combat them (e.g. through boundaries, time tracking apps, or time blocking).
- Determine the “one thing” you need to focus on during certain time blocks.
In this rapidly evolving freelance economy, nothing stays the same, and circumstances are always shifting. So we need to be pliable, flexible, and willing to adapt in order to amplify our success. The ability to change on the fly shows our resilience and innovation.
Over the past year, many freelancers needed to move into new niches and establish creative revenue streams. For example, some wedding photographers transitioned to being course creators to tap into a new income stream to offset their loss of gigs. This involved learning new skills like online course software and reaching out to new clients. It involved assessing current skills and seeing how they could be added to or modified.
Where do you need some more “flex”? Even though you enjoy your current niche, you may find it won’t survive unless you’re willing to change. Adapting will help you remain competitive and retain clients whose businesses have also had to flex.
Reflect on your current business activities and make a list of areas where you need to flex. Beside each area, brainstorm ways you can make these changes happen.
In a year where physical distancing became the norm, we’ve all learned the value of relationships. And we’ve learned that we can connect in creative ways. The key to success in 2021 is to continue nurturing and deepening client relationships, building your referral system, connecting with your audience in online communities, and continuing to market your business.
How do you do this? The best way is to connect on three levels:
1. Existing Client Relationships
How can you deepen the relationship and build your revenues?
2. Past Client Relationships
Who can you reconnect with who might need your support in 2021?
3. New Prospects
Who is on your CRM (Customer Relationship Management, e.g. Honeybook Pipeline) that you need to reach out to? What new networking opportunities can you tap into in the midst of COVID (e.g. Facebook Groups, Zoom networking meetings)?
- Review your list of contacts and categorize people into the three levels of connection.
- Strategize how you’ll reach out to each person and make a schedule for when you’ll pursue these connections.
We’re often at the mercy of our systems and processes. If we consider the analogy of dog walking, sometimes our tech tools are taking us for a walk. We may have initially purchased them to make our lives easier, but instead they’re creating more work. Or maybe we haven’t embraced enough tools. Sometimes we’re doing too many things manually when certain processes can be effectively automated.
Given that each of us will still only have 24 hours per day in 2021, how are we going to streamline things in order to save time and make more money? To set yourself up for success, start by streamlining your freelancing tools so you can fine-tune your productivity practices.
First of all, consider adding new tools or replacing unnecessary ones. For example, our students really appreciate ProWritingAid as it’s like having “a grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.” It streamlines your editing by delivering spelling, grammar, and readability improvements in real-time while you’re writing. As a freelancer, you're writing all the time—even if you're not a writer. From contracts to social media posts, ProWritingAid will help you write well at every stage.
Review your current suite of tools and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your current tools saving time or adding more time to your tasks?
- Do your tools play well with each other and integrate effectively?
- Did you enable the correct settings to streamline your tools’ functions?
- Have you researched tools well before choosing them?
- Do you require training in order to use your new tools successfully?
As mentioned above, it’s important to know when to flex and adapt. When you began your freelance career, you may have chosen a specific niche. Give the choice of generalizing or specializing, maybe you chose to specialize. And at the time, you built a solid client base around your specific skills. Maybe it was a small target audience that yielded an abundance of work.
But along the way, and especially in 2020, you may have discovered that you needed to spread the net wider. Your current client base may have decreased and made it difficult to find enough work. When this happens, you can regain success by amplifying your niche.
For example, if you work in the content space as a copy editor, but also have writing skills, you can amplify your niche to include blogging. And since blogging often involves research skills, you can offer services as a content researcher. You can further expand your niche to include content management, helping clients map out their content calendar and ensuring regular publication. And on top of that, you can expand the types of content you create, moving into tasks like eBook creation.
For example, if you’re a graphic designer specializing in logos, you can branch out to offer other services such as social media images, eBook covers, book illustrations, and product labels. And you may wish to expand your tech skills to offer website design.
The big question here is “What complementary services might you add to your existing offering that will yield the quickest return on investment”?
Take an inventory of your current services and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which services are most in-demand right now?
- Which ones are less profitable?
- What tasks do you enjoy doing?
- Are there others you can add to your current niche that complement your existing services?
- Do you require training to add new services to your niche?
As Warren Buffet says, “The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself… The more you learn, the more you’ll earn.” As you’ve seen throughout the previous steps, new actions often reveal a need for new training to take your services to the next level. To remain competitive and achieve success, you need to continuously update, add to, and hone your skills.
The internet changes at breakneck speed, and your skills can’t get left behind. You need to future-proof yourself by pursuing up-to-date training at places like Freelance University. And it’s important to learn both hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills help you fill a technical gap for clients. You can learn how to use new tools or existing tools in a more effective way.
Soft skills, like clear communication and project management, help you sustain and develop client relationships long term. Clients will often choose freelancers based on who they think has the most current skills. So, you can set yourself up for success and turn those skills into income by continuously developing them.
- Assess your current list of skills and decide whether it’s time to update them.
- Seek relevant courses, virtual events, workshops, and resources that will help you learn.
So, there you have it—seven actions you can take to set yourself up for success in 2021! Success has many definitions. Often we associate it with monetary gain. But in a year like 2020, we faced challenges that may have interfered with growing a sustainable business. If you’re facing that challenge, take heart as better days are ahead.
Another measure of success is the ability to persevere in the midst of great challenges. As Winston Churchill said, “It is the courage to continue that counts.”
If you were in a holding pattern in 2020, or feel that you were falling behind, embrace the chance to reset, refocus, and reignite your success in 2021! Turn the vulnerability and uncertainty of 2020 into certain actions that propel you into a new year full of possibilities!