It’s that time of year when an annual review is due! I’ve been doing annual reviews since 2011, but many of these previous versions were image-based, sort of like a checklist of all the things I’ve photographed throughout the year. While I definitely think there’s merit to doing these sort of annual reviews, I didn’t think that was appropriate this year given the expansion of my business into other fields. So this year’s annual review has changed focus to be more specific about the lifestyle behind the freelance life and how the freelance life can pan out in reality. The goal behind this annual review was to do an honest self assessment as a way of tracking progress and seeing where improvements can be made. At the end of the day, the review is for my own personal records (accountability of sorts), as well as serving as a model or source of motivation for other aspiring freelancers.
This year’s lessons were pretty straightforward and highly personal. It is pretty word-heavy, inspired by those done by Chris Guillebeau; at some point I’ll likely do a photographic year in review, but not today 😉
Annual Review 2014 Summary
My main highlight of the year was being able to travel for a total of three months in 2014 and still increase my net income by 16%, earning the most money of my entire life. The travel was important not only to maintain my motivation, but also to make important business trips and most importantly see my immediate and extended family on the West Coast. Around the middle of 2014, I also joined the quantified self movement by getting a FitBit tracker, resulting in over 2.8 million steps (or 1,175 miles) of walking in 9 months. So cool to be able to put effort and progress into numbers. In terms of things to improve upon, my main struggles were in inconsistency in scheduling thanks to my hectic and random freelance life, which caused some commitments to be compromised. Many of these shortcomings have resolutions attached to them, which admittedly were hard to come up with without resorting to some rather generic statements.
One very important trend I’ve noticed is that a lot of qualities I used to be successful at when I was working for someone else have now become my failures, and vice-versa. I suppose that demonstrates just how much of an impact being self employed versus working for someone else can be when it comes to your professional personality and development.
Successes of 2014
• Finances: Financially, year number two of my freelance self employed business saw huge improvements in every aspect. My net income increased by over 16%, freelance photography work brought in more revenue than the year before, I successfully made all of my quarterly business tax payments, and I finally have a growing savings and retirement account that I contribute to monthly. Additionally, one of my main clients in Belize is seeing a 25% increase in revenue in their second year, and we’ve just sold out of accommodations for the entire month of January 2015. None of these were true in 2013, which was the year when my main goal was simply to survive. It’s a huge relief to be in a secure place financially where I can not only survive, but grow.
• Photography Skills: Expanded my photography skills to include more food photography. Believe it or not, but despite being a restaurant photographer, shooting food has always been challenging for me. My focus has always been exclusively on restaurant interiors rather than restaurant dishes, but this year I began taking on more food photography projects. The result was not only overcoming my fear of food photography, but becoming well known for it too.
• Increased Local Connections: Along the lines of the point above, my work over the past 2 and a half years has paid off in terms of local exposure. Towards the middle half of the year, the volume of photography inquiries from local architects, designers, chefs, and restaurant owners increased dramatically. Many of them had seen or even been following my restaurant photography work and sought me out to shoot images for their menus, websites, marketing material, etc. This has been a large factor in increasing my freelance photography revenue for the year, and it has also provided a surplus of photography opportunities, which I’ve been passing on as much as possible to other local photographers.
• Videography Skills: Speaking of acquiring new skills, I used my downtime throughout the year to tread into completely new (to me) field of videography, mainly in the realm of simple interviews to enhance the marketing of some clients in Belize. Some results can be seen in my YouTube channel, as well as on the site of this work-in-progress documentary project I’m working on.
• Automating Processes for Increased Productivity: A big milestone of 2014 was incorporating a new set of process automations for clients, namely Hanna Stables in Belize. Prior to this year, I had to spend at least one full day a month doing bookkeeping and wiring money internationally to Belize. It was a headache and the main reason why I began looking into automation tactics. For most of this year, I’m happy to report that thanks to automation, my bookkeeping responsibilities are minimal, and wiring money is no more! Bottom line: always be looking for ways to cut down on the manual work you do, for the sake of yourself and your clients.
Failures in 2014
Despite some pretty hefty successes in 2014, I’m also left feeling disappointed in some things that didn’t go so well this year.
• Did Not Make Any Improvements in Language Learning: For the holidays last year, I gifted myself with Rosetta Stone for Korean language learning, but only used it for about 2 weeks before giving up. It’s a loose goal of mine to learn some basic Korean so that I’m able to communicate with my birth father in Korea and possibly find my birth mother, but language learning takes more time than I was willing to give it this year. Resolution: Learning Korean is still on the shelf, but not in this-coming year.
• Inconsistent with Weekly and Monthly Blog Posts: I recognize that there’s not much value to a blog that isn’t updated regularly, which is why I set out to write at least one new post for Intrepid Freelancer every week, and summarize my progress in Monthly Recaps. Unsurprisingly, I could get into consistent rhythms when I was steadily living in Seattle, but those schedules all but disappeared when I traveled. Resolution: Make a committment and stick with it! Back to resolving a once a week IF post and once a week Monthly Recap post. It will happen. I promise.
• I’m in the Worst Physical Shape of My Life: When following the blogs of other self employed lifestyle gurus, nearly all of them report having this problem with fitness. I swore this wouldn’t happen to me, but alas, I admit defeat. Similar to my struggles with being consistent with blogging, workouts have been canceled or put on hold way too often this year, namely due to my inconsistent work and travel schedules. On the one hand, the 2 hours a day I used to spend at the gym are going toward running my own business, but on the other hand, I’m ashamed at not taking care of myself. Resolution: I will continue my late term solution of learning to embrace alternative forms of exercise, such as walking, and combine more physical activity with other things I do throughout the day, such as taking walking breaks at lunch and getting a standup desk. I may not be Iron Man ready like I was hoping to be at this age, but that will come with time after I establish my business more.
• Lots of False Starts with Projects: When a feasible project idea hits me, I begin working on it immediately, determined to bring it to life. While this sometimes resulted in successes (ie. learning and incorporating new skills), it also resulted in a fair share of failures, disappointing not only myself but any others I happened to team up with. Resolution: In 2015 I will only commitment my time and resources to project ideas that I can realistically work on, and I will continue to pass on these opportunities to others who would benefit more.
• Breaking and Losing Important Devices: Until this year, I prided myself on never breaking a camera or losing a phone. That record was shattered in November when I dropped my Canon 6D DSLR in Sedona, destroying the lens mount, and in December when I lost my phone while photographing an event. Luckily, the camera has been fixed and the phone replaced, but my resolution is to be more diligent when it comes to guarding my electronics.
• Struggled with Maintaining International client Relationships: Doing business with partners abroad is incredibly challenging. This is something I’ve always known, but have been overly optimistic about conquering. Admittedly, there were a couple of business relationships with overseas clients that started out well, but could have ended on better terms. Resolution: I now heavily pre-screen clients and make sure we are a good fit before agreeing to do business with each other.
Goals for 2015 (a Shortlist)
• Learn more CSS and HTML and take on more web design clients.
• Continue taking my videography skills to the next level.
• Continue to establish myself as a local architectural, events, and food photographer.
• Strike more business partnerships with American businesses, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
• Earn a six figure annual income.
• Travel to my 25th country.
Lessons of 2014
• Make sure your heart is in the work that you do. I struggled with some business relationships that went bad and projects that went unfinished, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t get involved with them for the right reasons. The lesson here is to only commit to what you are truly passionate about and can follow through with.
• Don’t be afraid to set high goals. Every goal I set last year, I knocked it out of the park this year. While that can be seen as a success, I also wonder if maybe I’m not setting goals that are high enough. Hence, my very specific and hefty shortlist of goals for 2015.
• Remember that even small steps count. If you have a FitBit or fitness tracker, this applies literally and shows you that indeed walking to the grocery store instead of driving is improving your health. Keep this idea in mind not only for fitness, but when it comes to education as well. An hour of podcasts or tutorial watching a day will add up over time, keeping your skills sharp and relevant.
• Take time to invest in the things you value the most, but make sure you are meeting your bottom line financially. This year, despite vowing to cut back on travel so I could save and invest more, I was still able to satisfy my core value of traveling while exceeding my financial bottom line. Remember to meet your core values, but only when it’s realistically within your means.
How About You?
No matter where you’re at in your freelance journey, how far did you get? What are some things you’re looking to improve on in 2015? Please share them in the comments below, or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you, and help out in way I can.