No Boss? No Problem. Here’s How to Conduct a Self-Review as a Freelancer

By Suzanne Boles May 25th, 2022

For most freelancers, our workdays are filled with deadlines and marketing, but setting clear objectives for assessing our career growth and goals often gets lost in the shuffle.

Unlike full-time employees, freelancers don’t get monthly one-on-ones with their bosses or intensive annual reviews. But goal-setting is just as (if not more) important when you’re operating on a team of one. Taking the time to assess your short- and long-term objectives, including whether your business and personal goals are aligned, pays off in the long run.

Here are a few important things to monitor, as well as a couple of different ways to approach your assessment.

Keep track of your income and hours

First things first: Many freelancers measure “success” in financial terms. So when conducting a self-review, you’ll want to factor in your earnings—and if/how they’re evolving year over year.

Health and science writer Ilima Loomis noted it’s important to be proactive about goal-setting in this context. She sets annual and quarterly income goals for her business. She uses a spreadsheet to track her assignments, the hourly rate per project, the average hourly rate, and her monthly income. Having everything in one place gives her a quick snapshot of her pipeline, as well as insights into the type of work that’s paying off.

Record how you’re generating work

Rochelle Melander, an author and writing coach, conducts quarterly reviews and a more extensive annual review of her business using a bullet journal. She has several facets to her business including coaching, teaching, and editing, and she’s also passionate about writing books. Her analysis breaks down income from each of her business sectors, and it gives her valuable information about which lead-generation tactics work best.

For example, this year Melander discovered that most of her new coaching and editing clients came from her newsletter list. Many of these leads had been following the newsletter for years. She’d been thinking of dropping the newsletter from her workload—but this information revealed how crucial it was to her business.

Be S M A R T

Melander is a proponent of the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) goals approach. In addition to setting these goals, she encourages her coaching clients to dig deeper and ask themselves:

  • Is your goal connected to your purpose? If you’re not making progress on a goal, is it because it isn’t connected to your personal mission?
  • Are your goals intrinsic (originating from internal hopes and values) or extrinsic (being set by other people or external factors)? In general, people work harder and perform better with intrinsic goals versus extrinsic ones.
  • Are there any challenge goals you want to try? Sometimes, a difficult goal can help you uncover a new skill, talent, or area of interest.
  • Do your goals work together or are they in conflict with each other? e.g., if your goals are to meet 20 potential clients in the next quarter and dedicate 10 more hours a week to creative writing, are both these things feasible?

Don’t forget the fulfillment factor

Goals also include factoring in your personal life and interests. It’s important to weigh your financial success with your mental health and work-life balance—which looks different for everyone. Loomis, for example, recently capped her working hours at 36 billable hours per month after she started feeling overwhelmed by her projects. She now sets aside one day a week to work on creative projects like writing children’s books.

Thorough tracking also helps Loomis identify the clients who pay the best. This allows her to take on less work for clients who aren’t worth her time—or phase them out completely—in order to accept more projects from higher-paying clients.

Break your goals into manageable chunks

Susan Regier, a copywriter, brand storyteller, and business transformation coach, admitted it can be overwhelming to consider the big picture. If you’re having trouble with an ambitious goal, she suggested breaking it up into smaller, more digestible chunks.

For example, if you’ve got a gap of $1,000 a month to meet your annual income goal, you’ll can reframe this as an extra $250 a week—which might feel more achievable. On the fulfillment side of the equation, if you’re looking to break into a new beat, you might aim to add two or three relevant projects to your portfolio each quarter.

Celebrate the wins and analyze the less-successful projects

Regier also conducts annual reviews for her business. The first things she looks for are successes, and she advises her coaching clients to do the same, calling this an “attitude of gratitude.”

Focusing on the wins, Regier noted, helps you move forward rather than getting hung up on things that have gone wrong. This approach can even lead to revelations about your passion, the clients you enjoy, and the projects that give you the most intrinsic satisfaction.

When a project isn’t successful or feels like it wasn’t worth it, however, you should evaluate the contributing factors. Conducting a project postmortem evaluation by jotting down short notes about what worked well and what didn’t is another tactic for streamlining future assignments. If you can identify a common theme among difficult projects, you can figure out the type of work to avoid in the future.

Regardless of the method you chose, compiling self-feedback once a quarter or at least once a year can help you identify both accomplishments and areas of improvement—financial and otherwise.

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