Christmas is over once again. You're feeling a little squishy around the middle, but you're back in the swing of things and are ready for anything 2017 throws at you. You mean Business. This is going to be the year of success for your freelancing. Whether that means more money, bigger clients or a better work/life balance – you're making serious plans to grow.
But what if I told you that you don't have to follow the herd to become a big hit? That you can break all the rules to rock your freelancing business in ways you never thought possible?
Speaking from experience, and seeing what others have done with their own companies over the last 10 years, here are five surprising ways to help you step up your game and make 2017 a year to be truly proud of:
1. Stay working from home
Who says you need an office to succeed in business? Ignore what's expected of you, and do things differently. Just present yourself in a different way. Get a virtual office address if it helps – Central Working offers this as well as co-working space. (Might be a good idea to have a separate business address anyway, because you don't really want people to know where you live.) And for telephone calls, use something like Vonage – you save yourself a fortune and endless headaches by avoiding people like BT Business.
Offices are tempting. They bring many benefits, certainly. But they're also expensive. And you have to ask yourself – do you really want to add a commute to your life? All those extra costs? More reason to stay on the hamster wheel? More pressure to earn money?
If you think clients are bothered about where you work – think again. The biggest corporations and brands in the world won't give a stuff if you're working in your PJs at home, as long as you get the job done!
However, if you're hankering after an office to escape working from home – have you considered splashing out on a garden office? It could be an insulated shed, or something a little fancier like a garden pod. And before you moan about prices, consider how much money you'd be losing over 12 months if you rented a space in your town or city. Isn't it better to invest in something for you and your home?
2. Know thy worth
If there's one thing that always surprises me about decent freelancers it's how little they charge. They're only naturally petrified of pricing themselves out of a competitive market, and perhaps being perceived as too cheeky for asking for more. But if they just adopted a little more confidence and self-belief, they'd be blown away by how much they could earn – if only they gave it a try.
You can earn seriously good money if you learn how to step up and present yourself in a way that clients won't flinch at a higher day rate. This obviously gets easier once you're established and have more skills and experience too. But you can take steps to earn more for less by slowly increasing your rate with existing clients, and trying out slightly higher rates on potential ones. Just spread the risk and take your time. Give yourself the next 12 months to see how much more you can command. And remember – you're worth it!
3. Build a network instead of hiring staff
Do you really need to hire staff to grow your business? Adding monthly salaries to your outgoings, along with the cost of an office, computer equipment, furniture, heating, lighting and other bills? In many cases, it makes sense. You're able to take on more work, have support and often enjoy juicier projects which lead to bigger things.
But hiring staff isn't the only route to success. I mean, how much do you really want to make? If your ambition lies in growing an agency, then go for it! You'll work damn hard but the rewards will be plentiful long-term, if all goes well. However, staying small can also bring many benefits – you might be able to work fewer days a week, for example, and enjoy a more relaxing lifestyle.
Of course, sometimes you really are best off presenting yourself as an 'agency' or small consultancy to attract bigger projects and more money, but there are ways you can bring a team together without hiring employees. Get out, network and team up with fellow freelancers to form a bigger offering. You'd be surprised how much you can increase your day rate if you present yourself as more than one expert.
4. Behave like you're skint
When we start to become successful, it's easy to start thinking about where all that extra cash could go. Bigger house, nicer car, luxury holidays. But success doesn't necessarily mean more stuff. Personally, I feel success lies in freedom, security and being able to retire early.
Could you get by with a smaller house for less? Do you really need a new car to impress clients – believe me, they won't care what you drive. Could you take shorter breaks or find better holiday deals during quieter times? Could you focus on what you need rather than what you want?
No matter how much money you earn in 2017, behave like you're skint and save as much as possible. The feeling of security is priceless and beats any new purchase or treat. It also helps you to be super fussy about who you choose to work with, ensuring that you only pick projects you care about and that will be good for your portfolio.
5. Take on a side project
Is there a side project you've been itching to try? Have you wanted to get involved in your local community and do something amazing? There are so many things you can do to challenge yourself and enjoy the benefits of making an extra effort in 2017. You'd be surprised how much you can grow as a result.
For example, illustrator Jane Bowyer launched Women In Print last year, bringing together a host of talented artists and illustrators to create prints that celebrate the life of iconic female figures who've made a significant contribution to Manchester. The event was a huge success, raising hundreds of pounds for Women's Aid, and helped Jane to raise her profile in the city as well as build a bigger network.
Then there's illustrator and animator Robert Lomas who organised Purple, an exhibition that brought together more than 30 talented artists to celebrate the one and only Prince. Another hugely popular event, it managed to raise heaps of money for Back on Track, a Manchester charity that enables disadvantaged adults to make positive changes to their lives. It also allowed Robert to make contact with some of the world's biggest and best illustrators, including Martin Homent – Prince's official art director.
Just think what you could do with a little imagination?