IMG_1577December is pretty quiet in the freelance world. Since I’m not racing to meet deadlines, I have time to crank up the carols, shake the presents under the Christmas tree, drink chai and make plans for the New Year.

In addition to sending cards to editors, planning new classes and writing queries (that I wait until January to send), I’ll conduct an annual review to get some essential information about 2013 that will help me set goals and make decisions in the New Year.

While it sounds like a boring exercise for MBA students, it’s one of the most important exercises a freelancer can do.

Here is the information I collect:

* Total income

* Income breakdown (a dollar value and percentage of income to calculate how much of my income came from magazines and websites (broken down into consumer, trade and custom publications), corporate work, teaching, coaching and speaking. I also calculate (again, as both a dollar value and percentage of income) how much work came from each client).

* Number of assignments

* Number of queries sent

* Number of LOIs sent

* Percentage of queries accepted

* Percentage of LOIs that led to work

* Investment in conferences

* Amount of income earned as a result of attending conferences


The information helps me determine:

The most effective means of finding new work: If I send 100 letters of introduction (LOI) and only land 10 assignments but have a 90 percent acceptance rate for queries, it warrants a closer look at the ROI on those methods.

Assignment/Income ratio: Using the example above, a 10 percent success rate for LOIs might seem low but if those assignments account for a significant percentage of my income, sending targeted letters of introduction to clients may make the most sense.

Clients that should be dropped: It doesn’t make good business sense to go into the New Year taking on work that provides minimal ROI. If my annual review reveals that one client assigned 50 percent of my work but only accounted for 10 percent of my income, I reconsider whether to take future work. Remember: a spreadsheet can’t measure passion. I have clients whose rates are low but writing for them allows me to cover topics I care deeply about.

Conferences to attend in the New Year: I’ve been attending the annual ASJA conference since I started freelancing in 2002. It’s a good excuse to spend time in New York with some of my favorite freelance friends but there is another reason I invest in travel and conference fees: It leads to work. I’ve met editors and made connections with freelancers that have led to referrals. In short, the return on investment is high.

Remember: a measurable ROI isn’t the only reason to attend/skip a conference. There is immense value in connecting with other writers, hearing about trends and learning new skills.

Between wrapping presents, eating cookies and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, set aside some quiet time to do your own year-end review. I’d love to know what you find out.