Three years old. That’s how old my self-employment business turned this past September, and I couldn’t be more shocked. When I left the 9-5 desk job world in September 2012, I never imagined I’d make it this far. I had a rough sketch of a business plan to make it as a self-employed creative, but most importantly, I had an exit strategy: If I couldn’t make at least minimum wage living my dream, then I had to quit and go get a “real job” again. Under those terms, I hoped to make it at least one year, preferably two, just to say that I had indeed taken time in my twenties to live out my dream. But I never expected or planned to still be living my dream life three years later, meaning we’re in uncharted territory here y’all. That’s both exciting and frightening.
Why an annual performance review?
One of the things I remember most from my stint in the world of corporate America was being eager every year for annual performance review time to roll around. As a former financial analyst, my brain is wired for hard proof that improvement did indeed happen. Luckily, there are a ton of tools out there that can help you track pretty much every aspect of your life. Thanks to these tools, I have data-backed proof of successes and failures for almost the entirety of the year.
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. – Arthur Conan Doyle
Annual Review Tracking Tools
- FitBit (daily steps and mileage)
- Strava (running and bicycling mileage and speed)
- Toggl (work hours)
- MileIq (automatic driving mileage tracker)
- FreshBooks (financials)
Annual Review 2015, By the Numbers
For a monthly summary, please check out my Monthly Highlights blog series.
- 183 Photo shoots completed (Did not track in 2014)
- 3.25 Months traveling (About the same as 2014)
- 1464:29 Hours worked for part of the year (Excluding Jan & Feb 2015; did not track in 2014)
- 1605.53 Miles walked (430.5 miles more than 2014, but only tracked 9 months in 2014)
- 259.80 Miles Ran (Did not track in 2015)
- 49.6% Annual income increase from 2014 (Compared to 16% increase in 2014)
- 44.36% Purely freelance income
- 12 Websites built (9 more than 2014)
- $8,000 Semi-passive income from Belize ($1,000 more than 2014)
- $585.15 Purely passive income generated (Compared to zero last year)
Higher Overall Net Income
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
During my first 2 years of self-employment, I was incredibly cautious with my money. Not having a clue how much cash I’d need on hand, I didn’t have savings accounts, and definitely wasn’t in the right headspace to be investing in my IRA. This year, all of that changed considerably and I feel much more comfortable with my finances.
While crunching numbers at the end of the year, my jaw literally dropped when I realized this year’s total income had increased by a whopping 48.9%, compared to the amount I made in 2014. This is quite a bit more than last year’s 16% spike in annual income. Digging further into the details revealed that 44% of that income was derived from my own networking efforts, compared to the 12.2% of income that came from photo agency referrals. That is to say, being represented by a photography agency (in my case Getty Images) has its perks, but for most of us, the income isn’t enough to even consider it a part-time job.
This year of higher income was essential to cover a boat load of unanticipated expenses including a brand new laptop (the new retina displays are worth every penny), new cell phone, numerous lens and camera body repairs and replacements, and a new car. Despite these unanticipated expenses, my net worth is up 30% thanks to having the confidence to invest more of my money into savings accounts and my IRA.
Working on My Fitness
“It’s not about time management. It’s about energy management. That is everything.”
― Peter Voogd,
I started hitting the gym regularly when I was 13 years old and rarely took any time off until I became self-employed. In some ways, it was good to redirect my obsessions to something other than health and fitness, but in turn, my physical fitness had begun to fall off. Until this past year. Regular work meant a more predictable schedule allowing for more gym time, and more income meant feeling comfortable investing money into new running shoes and half marathon registration fees. This year I finally got back into my habit of running at least 1 half marathon a year and even got back into snowboarding. I’ve really begun to realize how much health and leisure are really dependent on performing well professionally, and vice-versa.
Building Passive Income Strategies
“The moment you make passive income and portfolio income a part of your life, your life will change. Those words will become flesh.” – Robert Kiyosaki
As a self-employed photographer, you’re not privy to employee benefits such as commissions, bonuses, sick time, overtime, etc. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways out there to supplement income in ways that don’t have to do with investing in stocks and bonds.
For the past 2 years, my main passive income source has been through my side business in Belize, which this year generated $8,000, banking enough total income to buy a brand new car in cash. Not bad for a business that took up a little over 40 hours of my time in 2015.
This was the first year when I began to dig into passive income, only to discover there are tens of hundreds of ways to go about it. I skimmed the surface with minimal efforts that generated $585 in total, and I have plans to make this number grow even more in the coming year. Once I have proven strategies, I’ll blog more about this topic later, but for now, it’s purely experimental!
Starting a New Business in Web Design
“Websites promote you 24/7: No employee will do that.” ― Paul Cookson
Due to a desire to work on bigger projects and teach others how to build their own websites, I dove into small business website design. In some cases, I teach others how to maintain an existing website, or I take the reigns and design one for them from the ground up. Being a one-person website design agency and full-time photographer has been incredibly challenging. Perhaps the biggest challenge was realizing that web design is much more time-intensive than photography. However, I’ve really enjoyed working one-on-one with clients for longer stretches of time and producing a project that I can proudly say I built from the ground up. In my first year of business as a web designer, I designed and delivered 12 client websites. I’m hopeful that 2016 is equally as fruitful.
Continuing to Have Fresh, New Experiences
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
While expanding my business is always the goal, I also try to have as many unique experiences as possible every year. 2015 was full of them including attending the U.S. Open of golf, photographing Taylor Swift, traveling to Las Vegas for a photo shoot, adding some big corporate names to my client list (Smithsonian, REI, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Harper’s BAZAAR, American Express), visiting Bulgaria for the first time (my 25th country!), and going home to Hawaii twice, among many other experiences.
More Travel Time
“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” ― Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
This year I spent a total of 91 days, or 3.25 months traveling to 15 destinations, far exceeding my typical 2 months out the year goal. From Whistler, Bend, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Hawaii (twice!), Bulgaria, and Greece, it’s been a crazy year of travel. These visits have paid off as I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my now-retired parents, and with my growing nephew. But I felt especially thankful for my flexible travel time this spring when I visited my maternal grandmother for what would end up being the last time. I can’t imagine the regret I would have if I hadn’t made that trip home earlier this year.
Many trips were centered around family, such as seeing my extended family in LA, attending my grandmother’s memorial service, and meeting my boyfriend’s family. Other trips were purely recreational or work-related, and some even combined the two such as my very first attendance of the World Domination Summit. On the whole, I continue to take full advantage of my main reason for being a freelancer: being able to travel wherever and whenever I desire, without having to choose between family events and exploring the world.
Growing my blog and business to help others
“I imagine a world where 80% of the world love the work they do. I mean, what would that look like? What would the innovation be like? How would you treat the people around you? Things would start to change.” – Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend
In case you can’t tell, I love to write. In an effort to keep my writing skills fresh and also record my freelance journey, I set a goal this year to write at least one blog a week. Achievement: unlocked! Okay, there may be a week or two somewhere that’s missing a post, but generally speaking, I kept my word! And as a result traffic to this site continues to grow. I even have an email list, after resisting it for years.
Blog-wise, you may have noticed that my personal blog has been steering toward instructional “how to” sort of articles lately. This is due to the surge in emails I’ve gotten from readers. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading about other people’s similar experiences as they write to tell me stories. I used to write novels in personal emails answering “how to” questions and figured, why not make these replies public so that more people can benefit from them? The response has been pretty phenomenal according to Google Analytics and the resulting personal emails I’ve gotten from readers. Why give away free tips and advice? Because I love living a life according to my own terms and I want others to do the same.
“By taking the time to stop and appreciate who you are and what you’ve achieved – and perhaps learned through a few mistakes, stumbles, and losses – you actually can enhance everything about you. Self-acknowledgment and appreciation are what give you the insights and awareness to move forward toward higher goals and accomplishments.” – Jack Canfield
Goals for 2015 – Achieved or Failed?
- Earn at least $2,000 per month. [/fusion_builder_column]
- Travel at least 2 months out the year. [Exceeded!]
- Learn more CSS and HTML and take on more web design clients. [Achieved!]
- Continue taking my videography skills to the next level [Failed. No progress.]
- Continue to establish myself as an events, and food photographer. [Achieved!]
- Strike more business partnerships with North American businesses. [Achieved!]
- Earn a six figure annual income. [Failed. But one step closer!]
- Travel to my 25th country [Achieved! Bulgaria!]
Goals for 2016
- Earn at least $2,000 per month.
- Travel at least 2 months out of the year.
- Run at least 1 half marathon.
- Read a book a month.
- Write a book. Or two.
- Grow the web design business so that profits are at least 25% of total income.
- Generate at least $5,000 in purely passive income.
- Earn a six figure annual income.
- Travel to my 26th country.