I know many freelancers do yearly recaps and I thought I'd start too. Mainly as a way to remind myself of the good that happened over the year and also to stay accountable for things I want to do in the future.
The biggest reason I went freelance was to own my schedule, my income, and more of my life. Working for someone else just didn't work for me any more (ha!) so I needed to make a drastic change.
I've been freelancing for 10+ years now and I wouldn't change it for the world.
In the words of Brian Clark, I am UNEMPLOYABLE. ✌🏽😁
This is the year that the economy finally came for tech companies. After not dealing with much change in work or income over the last 4 years, things changed dramatically for me this year.
I'd been increasing my client roster by 2-3 every year and my income by 5% or more. While I'd not been expecting continual growth like that as I maintained my service levels, I didn't expect the drop off to be so significant.
Income & clients
- Client roster to start the year: 6
- Client plus minus: +5
- Roster at the end of the year: 6
- Income change for the year: 25% or so
Huh. I hadn't thought that I'd end up with the same number of clients at the end of the year with all the changes.
I actually expanded my work with one client (a marketing agency) and I now write for 4 of their clients. That's been interesting and rewarding work, both professionally and $$$-wise. But it is a large part of my income so I definitely want to expand my roster a bit more this year so I'm not as dependent on them.
The income drop was the most dramatic of all. I'd actually been growing between 5-10% annually the last few years, so to drop 25% was a shock. It was more than that but I managed to pick up some of that sweet end of year budget spending in the last couple of weeks. I should be able to close it to 20% or a little less by the end of the month.
The summer is my traditional slow time as everyone takes vacations and whatnot but for me, the slow period continued into the fall. It only started to pick up again in November as everyone realized they still had 2023 budget $$$ to spend.
Another thing I noticed this year is the way my clients assigned me work. They used to reach out in the last couple of the weeks of the quarter to schedule me in. This year, they waited till the start of the quarter to reach out. Some even waited till a full month into the quarter.
All the internal flux they were dealing with made it hard for them to know which way to turn or if they still had budget to spend.
I actually interviewed for a full time copywriting position at a well-known hosting company that was expanding their product offering and were staffing up a new marketing team. It took nearly 9 weeks and multiple interviews with 5+ people before the HR person told me they were on a hiring freeze. 👀 Then I see a few weeks later they laid off the Marketing Director and Manager I interviewed with. Ouch.
(You might be wondering why I bothered applying for the job when I said earlier that I was unemployable? Well, I do apply to F/T jobs that look interesting, either because of the work, the people, or the company. And this was definitely that. I was initially intrigued by the work and then once I started interviewing, I was excited at the thought of working with these people. Cultural & people fit is big for me and this company & team definitely were IT.
But alas, the ground shifted under the company's feet somehow and they had to rein in all their expansion plans. Too bad as I think it would've been interesting to work there. Oh well! 🤷🏾)
The slowdown in the summer and fall gave me a chance to work on some side hustles and creator things I've been mulling over for the last while.
As a freelancer, I'm always looking for new revenue streams I can spin up. I've been considering something other than the classic niche website or course option but couldn't really land on anything.
So I went to CEX in Cleveland in May to hang out with other creators. Let me tell you, that was just the ticket. Talk about getting inspired!
There were so many different creators there, from newsletter owners to podcasters, video creators to book authors. And everything in between. I learned a lot and enjoyed meeting some people IRL that I hadn't seen before.
I've been following these people online for years and chatting over email and social media. It was so nice to meet up in person and chat. While I'm still not a fan of huge crowds these days, smaller events like CEX are perfect. Good info, good people, and good times.
Things this year were pretty good for me health-wise. I managed to keep up my regular exercise schedule, which consists of power walks in my neighbourhood and light strength training & stretching when the weather's bad.
I also hit a milestone birthday this year so I had to hit up my doctor for some baseline checks like a colonoscopy and mammogram. Ick, but I know they're good for me, especially the colonoscopy as my mom died of colon cancer. Gotta make sure everything's all good down there! (And it is.)
Regular exercise also helps me keep my anxiety in check so I don't go spinning off like an over-excited little kid. (That's how my anxiety manifests. My emotions bubble over and I'm a crying, blubbering mess. Sigh.)
I know the types of situations and emotions that can send me spinning out of control so I'm trying to learn how to deal with those better. Sometimes it is a matter of just powering through the situation, while other times I do have to remove myself so I can calm down thoroughly. The exercise helps me melt off the extra nervous energy so my levels don't get too high.
Plus it helps me deal with some other things like the stupid hiatus hernia I've developed that's giving me GERD and other fun stomach issues. (I know that's TMI for you but I mention it in case you're suffering from something related. You can ask your doc about it if you're stumped on your issues.) I had never thought it was a hernia given my family history of GERD and other stomach issues but here we are.
As my friend Wil Wheaton likes to say on IG:
If you know what this is, it's time to schedule your colonoscopy.
Here I am on one of my power walks recently...
As far as my freelance business goes, things were proceeding nicely, until they weren't. (See above.)
My usual marketing tactics weren't working any more. No more inquiries on my site from organic search. Fewer outreach messages on LinkedIn. I wasn't sure what was up for a while there. Then I realized that the industry/sector had shifted a bit this year so I had to change too.
I spent the first half of the year oblivious to the changes that were coming but then took advantage of the slowdown to work on a few other things.
- I refreshed my site.
- Ported over my blog to the new site.
- Spent some time in the summer thinking & pondering some new creator products.
- Decided on a couple of new angles for my writing business.
- Marketed the hell out of my freelance copywriting biz.
- Study up on AI and how I could use it in my biz.
Using AI in my biz
Yes, yes, AI took the world by storm this year. Egads! It was everywhere.
I already used some non-AI tools to help with some of my weaknesses (headlines, mostly) but I did play around with some of the generative AI tools to see how they worked.
I hopped off & on a paid ChatGPT sub a couple of times and played around with Grammarly AI. I already had a sub to Rytr so I tried that out again as I'd forgotten all about it.
My take: Generative AI is a good tool to have in my toolkit but I'm not worried about it every replacing me. (At least not for the next 5 years or so. LOL)
I use GenAI just like I use Grammarly. It's something that helps make my writing better but I don't use it to write FOR me. I might take something AI's generated for me and then massage it and make it my own (or my client's own, as the case may be.)
I would never use it to generate LinkedIn comments or a client post. I might use it to help generate ideas for a post if I'm having trouble landing on an angle, but I still would do the writing.
In fact, I use Authory for my online portfolio and I've earned the "Human Writer" badge for this year. 🤣 Don't believe me? Here's the proof!
(For some reason this always reminds me of Sheldon Cooper on THE BIG BANG THEORY saying, "I'm not crazy. My mother had me tested!" 🤓)
Goals for 2024
As far as 2024, I'm hoping for a few things.
- My freelance technical copywriting biz gets back to previous levels.
- I launch 1 or 2 Geek creator products.
- I launch 1 or 2 other digital products.
- I keep up with my regular exercise.
- I send out my newsletter more often, and regularly.
That's about it.
See you next year!