In about an hour it will be 12:12, 12-12-12. With the end of the year looming, this seems like a good time to begin an annual evaluation process about the things you did right in 2012, and what you want to work on in 2013. Don’t put it off – there’s little time for reflection in the runup before Christmas and New Year’s. Set some goals now, so they can be refined later and implemented immediately.
This list is meant for Creativindies: people who make their own money through creative work such as art, design, writing, self-employment or small business.
1) Count your eggs.
See how much money you made, on average, per month. Was it enough to live comfortably? Are you happy with the amount of work you were doing for the wages you earned? Were you able to save any or did most of it get spent?
When you start out working for yourself, you may be so thrilled that people are willing to pay you and the dream of independence that you work too hard and charge to little. This can lead to burnout and frustration. Once you’re established, find a way to raise your prices or cut back on your work load.
2) Do more of what works.
Early on, you might have done a lot of experimentation to find out what people want and are willing to pay for. Find the thing that you do that most people want – the thing that has sold quickly. That’s the thing you want to focus on making more of, and selling harder. Forget pleasing everyone, and focus on doubling or tripling your output and finding the customers. Usually doing this will free up a lot of your time, and since your business efforts will be focused and concentrated, allow you to sell more.
3) Fix your website.
There is usually room for improvement. If most of your sales come from online leads, either through a personal website, or facebook page, or twitter, or etsy – this is a good time to take a break from work and tune up your online portolio, bio, pictures and images, and brand image. Pay a graphic designer to make some nice headers or banners. Making a good online impression is a must, and even little tweaks can lead to a big increase in sales.
4) Thank your clients.
The holidays are a good time of year to thank the people you work with. Your clients and customers trusted you with their money, and you delivered. Make sure that relationship stays strong and satisfied. Don’t sell or pitch, just thank them for choosing you and helping to support you. Wish them luck and let them know you’re grateful and that you hope they had a good year.
5) Renew your friendships.
Success, especially online, is strengthened by friendships. There are probably a lot of people you’ve never met face-to-face, but who you’ve developed friendships with through email, blog comments or social media. Tit for tat relationships that are always asking to exchange favors rarely last. You need to build solid, personal friendships with people in your field. These can be other writers, artists, craftspeople, bloggers, fans, or other people you care about and appreciate. The holidays are a good time to send them a simple message of support and friendship.
6) Don’t forget about your real life.
If you’re like me, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by what’s happening online and not take enough time to appreciate what’s going on around you. In December, make sure you take weekends off. During the holidays, maybe you should take a break from emails, websites, social media, and spend quality time with your friends and family. Get back in touch. Reach out. Although these people may not be a part of your current profession, goals and dreams, and income stream, they are the backbone of your life and the time you spend with them in the real world will be far more important to you later than the time you spent in front of your computer.
7) Dream Bigger.
Hopefully you’ve grown a lot this year and have figured a lot of things out about yourself and what you want out of life. Small successes should give you a bigger appetite for meaningful victories. Now you can raise the bar, dream bigger, set higher goals, and support them with positive affirmation and willful determination. There is nothing you can’t have, be, do or achieve. Find your ideal lifestyle, livelihood, apartment, economic position, and keep that in mind as your new target. Figure out exactly what you’d need to get there. Calculate how many widgets or services you’d need to make/sell/give every month to make it happen. Then take steps to make it real. (The picture is of an apartment in Mexico I plan to live in soon….)
8) Find new Role Models.
Find a few people who are on the same path you want to be on, but a little further ahead. Analyze their success: deconstruct their website, their sales pitch or blog copy, their personal brand and image. Pay attention to what they are doing, what tools and software they use, how they express themselves, how much they charge. Take as much as you can without obviously copying, and change things around just enough to suit you. Copy, combine, make it better. In no time at all, you will be where they are at now, and then you can find new role models again.
There is a long, long tradition of sacrificing things you care about to get other things you want. While we might have progressed beyond virgins for sunshine, choosing something to give up can be a powerful motivating factor for self-starters and entrepreneurs. If you are worried about having enough money, give some away.
Although counter-intuitive, it is usually your anxiety about money that keeps it away from you. Choose an amount that you feel a little uncomfortable with and uneasy about, and willingly give it away to a charity of your choice. Donate anonymously if possible. Kickstarter is also a great option – you can support other would be artists, writers and creatives fulfill their own dreams; Kiva is another a good choice, where the money will be paid back and can be loaned again. Get in the habit of giving out of your comfort zone. It will put you in a more positive state of mind and allow money to come more easily to you.
If not money – think about clearing out your house, donating your old clothes or stuff you don’t need. Go through the boxes and get rid of the stuff you’ve been holding on to. This can be painful, but it is also regenerative.
You can also make promises to yourself, or a god you believe in, to give up something for awhile in exchange for reaching a specific goal. For example, “I won’t eat chocolate until my book is published.” Or “I won’t watch TV until I’ve finished 20 new paintings.”
10) Reward Yourself.
On the other hand, make sure you do celebrate the successes you’ve had this year. Analyze your 10 best winning moments, huge windfalls, relationships made, projects completed, goals met. Make sure you pat yourself on the back for being so awesome, for sticking with it, for achieving what you set out to do. Allow yourself some new toys, a dream vacation.
Then set rewards for next year: want to go to Turkey in 2013? Make it happen – give it to yourself as a gift for increasing your income by 20%, or getting 50 book reviews, or finishing a new book. Make the carrot as big and as tasty as you can, and work towards it.
11) Educate Yourself.
The lower you are on the ladder, the more you have to learn. If you are just starting out, or thinking of beginning a creative, location-independent, freelance business or career in the visual arts or in publishing, you’re going to make lots of mistakes. Some of the things you think you should do, like blast email everybody in the world, or email more established bloggers asking them to help you out, are probably bad ideas.
You may do some stupid things, like try to promote your book before it has any reviews on amazon. You won’t realize at first what you’re doing wrong, and you’ll get frustrated because things aren’t working and success remains elusive.
Unfortunately, very few authors or artists or smallbusiness people take the time to learn how to do things. We often see ourselves as pioneers, doing something that’s never been done before, and we feel that having a plan or following rules isn’t necessary – because people will simply see the genius of our work and naturally want to share it.
Things that go viral on the internet are rarely of substance or value; they are cat pictures and funny videos that are worth a chuckle and can be digested in a minute. Your work is probably more complex; people need to invest the time really appreciate it – that means it is up to you to convince them it’s worth it.
Invest some time and money at getting better at presenting and selling your work.
12) Get Creative.
But let’s say you’re already amazing. Your books or art rock. People love them. But you want to get them out and seen by a much larger audience. Getting the word out about yourself, your books or art or small business, is mostly about creativity. You need to do what works, but do it in a way that is refreshing and novel.
You need a gimmick, an attention-grabber, a heart-warming emotional story, something powerful and immediate that is newsworthy. This is the thing that will launch you into the press and the public. If your work is good enough, getting this kind of viral exposure will be good for you. If it isn’t, you’ll soon learn.
What did I miss? How do you think 2012 went for you? What are your plans for 2013?
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.