The Born Freelancer on Spring Cleaning for Freelancers

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.


With the coming of Spring (sorry, Maritimes, but your Spring will eventually arrive too – I hope) there is no better time to reappraise and reevaluate our freelancing life – to take stock and have a thorough spring cleaning.

Refreshing your brand

Nothing says more about your commitment to serving others than your commitment to serving yourself. This is a great time of year to look at how you are representing yourself in public and – when appropriate – taking action to reenergize that presentation.

Revitalize your website

Are your graphics the same ones you have been using for years? Is the promo blurb about yourself still making reference to the work you did on shows that have been off the air for most of the current century? It’s time to update and revitalize your site.

What do you want your graphics to say? Don’t think that generic graphics are just space fillers – they say more about you and your brand than you will ever know. Are you a humorous, upbeat, irreverent sort of freelancer? Then a cartoony or offbeat sort of unconventional graphic might be suitable. If you are doing heavy corporate work, you will want your graphics to reflect this attitude. You want them to say (without words) that you are solid, dependable, trustworthy. Remember – so much of your brand must appeal on an emotional level to get through the clutter of worthy competitors. Of course, any prospective client will also want to read what you have to say. But an appropriate icon might first attract their attention – or turn them away.

I once knew a talented freelancer with a keen insight into the stock market. He also had a fantastic sense of humour. He created a cartoony character brand which he promoted heavily. It was supposed to advise clients on stock market tips – but failed, big time. Why? Although brilliantly executed, most people wishing to pay for such advice were not prepared to trust a cartoony character brand. They wanted someone who appeared to be reliable, solid and down to earth. They didn’t want to laugh. They wanted to make money. It was a case of a service and a great branding concept that didn’t mesh at all.

Look at the layout and fonts you use. They should be easy on the eyes. Also – your site should be a joy to navigate. How many sites have I gone to and given up on in utter frustration when the navigation to the specific information I wanted was a form of torture? Yes, I’m looking at you, various governmental sites!

Revise other social media

Likewise, take a look at your other social media. Is your Facebook photo still showing you unwrapping Christmas presents? From 2010? Are there embarrassing posts made in haste? Delete them now! That goes double for your Twitter account. You may have forgotten you tweeted about how rocking it was to down fourteen shots of tequila on New Year’s Eve but a potential client seeing it for the first time might have second thoughts about hiring you. (The fact that they probably envy you your fun New Year’s won’t get you the gig.)

The ultimate solution would be to completely separate your personal and professional social media accounts. So many I have seen seem to combine the two, to the detriment of both.

Update your mailing list

I’ve already written about revising your direct mailing lists in order to conform with the new(ish) CASL legislation. (See my posts about CASL, starting here.) But many of us still have fragments of a mailing list here, and another bit over there. Now is the ideal time to consolidate, delete and update. With the CASL legislation now a reality there is no excuse. With potentially draconian penalties for those even accused of breaking CASL regulations, finally updating your mailing list could save you massive financial hardship.

Renew contacts

As part of your mailing list renewal, it is also a golden opportunity to touch base with old clients. Say hi, find out what they are up to and if you could help them out with any problems. It may be hard on the ego but we freelancers are rarely at the top of any employer’s mind. They may need the services you once provided but may not always remember how to contact you.

Clients that I have had a particularly good relationship with in the past may also be willing to set up some facetime – over a coffee or an after work drink. Even when no work is promised, such opportunities should always be taken up. It will renew your client’s emotional connection with you and remind them why they liked working with you in the past.

Follow up outstanding accounts

I also use this time of year to investigate old clients who still owe me money. In many cases there may be no hope (which can eventually be noted on your income taxes) but I almost never give up. I continue to email and phone them. Of course, I refuse to do any further work until the outstanding account is settled. I’d also consider public naming and shaming when appropriate.

If you feel it might help, as a final measure, you could take them to Small Claims court. Look up Small Claims courts procedures online to see if you would be comfortable doing it yourself or if you would prefer to hire a paralegal. Of course, many of the companies that owe you may also owe everyone else. Even a Small Claims court judgment would be useless if they have gone bankrupt. You must judge if it is worth your time and effort.

Spring cleaning the home office

Tax receipts

Is it really that time of year again? Yup. Tax time in Canada is just around the corner. You can find some of my past advice here. Sort through all your receipts now. Drag them out of that old shoe box and make a complete inventory using old fashioned paper and pen or your latest software. (Don’t forget to do the same for your HST calculations, although you probably won’t owe them anything – if you owe them anything – for another month or so. Be sure to fully collate a list of all your deductible ITCs). You might find that’s there’s a refund due to you. Whoohoo! So why not get it all done now and beat the rush?

Clear out your hard drives

Is your computer slower than ever? There’s probably a reason. Too many files may be slowing things down. Why not delete those that are unnecessary or put them on a less used external hard drive for storage. You may have also inadvertently downloaded unwanted malware or worse. Update your antivirus software (if it doesn’t do so automatically and even if it does.) Run any diagnosis software to see what is what. Are you running the latest versions of your browser? Of your favourite applications? Have you downloaded all the latest patches and fixes? Now is a good time.

And – if you do not do so automatically – use this time to back up everything you value. Back up your main drive then back up your back up. External hard drives have come down in price so much in the last few years. There is no longer any excuse for losing your most valuable files when you suffer a fatal hard drive crash. And trust me, you will. One day.

Clear out your physical space

Similarly, I use this time of year to look at my home office space. So much paper. So many books. Do I really need them all? Donate what you can to needy charities or sell off what you can for cash. Recycle your unnecessary papers. Buy a paper shredder to shred all your sensitive documents. A shredder is one of the very best investments any freelancer can make. Look around the various stores near you. You’ll find a wide variety of options. But if you buy the cheapest you may not get one that is up to the job. Always go for the type that shreds both vertically as well as horizontally (if you see what I mean) for maximum protection. Some brands call it crosscutting. With identity theft on the rise, no freelancer’s home office should be without a really good shredder.

The takeaway

Springtime is an ideal time for personal and professional renewal. It is, IMHO, the best time to clear out “dead wood” and prepare for another challenging year ahead. Freelancers who take definitive action now associated with this annual forward-looking state of mind will continue to benefit from it throughout the rest of the working year.

Posted on March 19, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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  1. Written by Sandra
    on March 30, 2015 at 2:35 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Some really great tips here! I think I’m gonna go and clean up my workspace now, this post really motivated me to do so. Thanks for sharing!

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