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Making the most of January downtime as a contractor or freelancer

After the mad rush leading to Christmas, most contractors and freelancers will find themselves with a slightly quieter schedule following the festive break.

So, while your clients spend some time getting themselves geared up for the next twelve months, why not use the gaps in your diary to do the same? To get you started, we’ve put together some strategies to help you hit the ground running as the year gets underway.

Get your tax return done
As you probably already know, January 31st is the deadline to complete your tax return for 2018/19. And, as finance admin is one of those things that usually gets put to the bottom of the priority pile, there’s a good chance you won’t have completed yours yet.

Mark off a day in early January to get your tax return completed. With clients less likely to be emailing and calling to talk about upcoming projects, you’ll have some much needed peace and quiet that you can use to plough through your finances.

Book some time off
As an antidote to the challenges of completing your tax return, take a bit of time in early January to book a holiday or, at the very least, plan a week off later in the year.

It might feel slightly frivolous to spend the first days of a new year booking up holidays and planning breaks, particularly after the Christmas festivities. But it’s all too common for freelancers and contractors to neglect the need for rest and recuperation. Avoid potential burn-out by getting your downtime planned as early as possible.

Consider your business offering
In the quest to get client work completed, it’s easy to stop being mindful of what you are offering as a business. This is totally natural—if your business is thriving, why mess with the formula? But changing things up really can refresh and revitalise your business.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that you overhaul your range of services or pricing structures just for the sake of it. However, going through a process of reviewing your business could highlight potential issues or opportunities. It could be as simple as honing your offering to meet market demand, or creating a hit-list of potential new clients; or it could be a complete shake-up of your processes. Whatever the outcomes, it’ll be time well spent for the future prospects of your business.

Plan some training or further professional development
Alongside the development of your business, it’s important to take time for your own personal development. This can prove difficult when the project briefs are coming thick and fast, so use your January breathing space to get the ball rolling.

Whether you plan on adding a new professional qualification to your armoury, or you just want to complete a one day course—professional development will keep you sharp, it’ll help you to offer an improved service for your clients, and you’ll engage parts of your brain that might otherwise be dormant.

Take some time to reflect
From both a personal and professional perspective, it’s important to periodically reflect on what has worked and what’s failed in your business in recent months. The post-Christmas lull is a perfect chance for you to do just that, without the distraction of a stuffed diary to pull you away from the task in hand.

Of course, as with any strategic review, it helps to have a plan of attack before you get into the nitty gritty. Try this to get you started: write down five projects or tasks that you think you completed successfully last year, and then write down five that you think failed to meet your usual standard. Then, try to explore the thread connecting the things that worked. Finally, consider how the lessons you’ve learned would affect how you would differently approach those projects that failed, if you had the chance to do them again.

Get your admin processes in place for the coming year
As part of your business review and reflection period, you’ll probably spot a few areas where your time and efforts are not maximised. It could be that you’re spending too long on basic admin, or you’re focussing on upping your skills in areas that don’t particularly improve your business offering.

In order to have a more efficient (and profitable) new year, you may want to consider bringing in a specialist or two, to help with the admin side of your business. Equally, you might want to overhaul your business insurances or banking partners, so that every penny you earn is going to serve you better. For some inspiration, take a look through our supplier listings.

We hope you’ve found this article useful. If you want more advice on building your business, have a browse through our list of resources, here.

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