How can we get 2021 off to the best start possible?

Goals, sourcing help and financial planning

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We’re now in the final week of January so congratulations everyone, you survived it all: the mundanity, the home schooling, and the freezing weather. Trump is out, the vaccine is being rolled out, and spring is just around the corner.

So how can we make sure that 2021 gets off to the best start possible while also putting measures in place to prepare for yet another unpredictable year? For me, it's begun with a bit of admin and retrospection into how last year went. I'll be planning for the worst and hoping for the best, and getting my freelance business in good shape so that it can withstand any more unprecedented changes that come my way. 

Last year was unlike any other and if nothing else, it taught me not to sit on my laurels and to be agile and brave where necessary. And, while 2020 felt like survival was every freelancer’s main aim, 2021 promises to offer more hope and opportunity than that.

So how can we start 2021 as we mean to go on?

Save, save, save

On a normal month, I tend to earn a similar-ish amount. I have regular clients and a retainer, so this helps in knowing where I am financially to some degree. But during the first few months of the pandemic, this dropped quite significantly for two to three months. This scared me and made me question everything. I completely lost work from a major publication, and others just stopped commissioning freelancers, I was left clutching at dregs of work here and there, which isn’t how I’ve ever freelanced. 

What did this teach me? First of all, it will pass and it did. But second of all, having savings is crucial when you're freelance. I've always been pretty good at saving but after coming back from maternity leave and starting work again, I didn't have the kind of savings I had before. I just hadn't had the money coming in for long enough. But my goal is for this to change in 2021 and I plan to save all the money I get from one client that pays well but sporadically. Once I receive that money, it'll go straight into my savings account and I can rely on other quicker-paying clients for things like nursery fees and general living costs. I’ve also set up a savings account with Moneybox - an app which allows you to transfer money each week from a main current account while also rounding up your debit card payments. It’s a passive way of saving that you can do without really even thinking about it. Having this buffer will take a load off my shoulders and give me better security during another unpredictable year - should the worst happen again.

Get a support network in place

I’m going to be dedicating an entire newsletter to this subject over the next couple of weeks, but finding extra sources of help can be vital to survive rough patches (such as illness and home schooling) or for when you decide to grow your business and need more hands on deck. Help can be sought in a number of ways such as finding a work experience student, a virtual assistant, calling on the experience of another freelance buddy or asking for advice from a mentor - it all depends on what exactly you need help with. Having others to offer moral support, brainstorm with, and take some work off our shoulders can make all the difference when things get busy and it’s all on you. As parents too, we’re up against it more than ever right now, so having a support network in place can help to take some of the strain off right away, while preparing for other unprecedented problems.

I’m practising what I preach by taking on Jessica Morris (previous TFP intern) as a virtual assistant for a few hours each month. She was such a help to me during her work experience placement that it made me realise the difference a little bit of extra support can make - to my business and my stress levels.

I’ve also just taken on my second work experience student as part of the Freelancing For Journalists’ Work Experience initiative: Rebecca, a final year fashion journalism student based in Newcastle! Welcome Rebecca.

Do something that scares you

Before I became freelance and I worked in a full-time salaried role, I always used to dread annual reviews. But the one part that I did really enjoy, was setting challenges and goals for the year ahead. I remember my editor at the time encouraging me to aim for something that took me out of my comfort zone and scared me a little bit. It’s something that’s stayed with me and that I try to think about at the beginning of each new year. By setting ourselves a goal like this, it can help us feel that we’re progressing and moving forward in our freelance career - it’s also a great way to maintain motivation and achieve those dreams.

Last year, my scary goal was launching my newsletter and I’m so glad that I took the plunge. I took so many webinars before going for it and there was a fair amount of self-doubt. Would anyone but my friends and mum read it? Turns out, yes they would. Creating this community has really helped me personally and I hope it’s become a source of support to you too. I also can’t recommend launching your own newsletter if it’s something you fancy doing. No matter how scary it feels. 

My personal challenge of 2021 is to launch a webinar and I’m chatting to a collaborator to see if we can make it a very real thing in the next couple of months. Stay tuned for that. I’m also letting you all know this, so I have some accountability. Now I’ve said I have to do it, right?

So what do you want to achieve in 2021 and how can you make things work better for you? Maybe you want to increase your rates in order to take on less work, or land a new client you've always dreamt of. Whatever your goals are for the year ahead, I wish you all the best in reaching them.

P.s My son is leaning on my shoulder as I proof read this before sending and he requested I add two funny faces. So here you are. 😜😋

Until next time.

Cat x

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