The beginning of a new year is an excellent opportunity to make a fresh start in your career. Even if things are already going well, a few simple steps can put you on the path to further improvements.
We've teamed up with Coconut – the current account for freelancers and self-employed people – to offer you five steps that will ensure your business will not just survive; it will thrive in the months ahead. These simple changes will put you in great shape to enter 2019 and keep things improving as we approach the start of a new decade.
1. Mark these important dates on your calendar
If you make only one resolution in 2019, it should be to get your finances in order. Because not only is this vital for the health and survival of your business, it’s just as important for your mental health.
And you can make a quick but significant start by simply marking these dates (where applicable) on your 2109 calendar.
- 31 January – Deadline for submitting your self-assessment online tax return, and making your first payment on account for the 2018/19 tax year
- 5 April – End of the 2018/19 tax year
- 6 April – Start of the 2019/20 tax year. Time to start gathering your documents for the 2018/19 tax year
- 31 July – Deadline for your second payment on account for the previous tax year
- 5 October – Deadline to register with HMRC if you have become self-employed
- 31 October – Deadline for paper self-assessment returns for the 2018/2019 tax year.
Meanwhile, if the thought of all that paperwork is stressing you out, we recommend you try Coconut, a service that's designed to make accounting and tax returns easier for freelancers and self-employed people. By providing banking, invoicing, accounting and tax in one app, it is a one-stop-shop to get all your finances sorted with the minimum of fuss. You’ll also get helpful tips along the way about what you can and can’t claim as a taxable expense, helping to minimise your tax bill.
Setting up with Coconut is quick and easy, and the amount of time and worry it will save you through the year will be immense. Get started here. What have you got to lose?
2. Start saving for something specific
Now we’re in the midst of winter; the summer holidays might seem an age away. But they’ll be on us before we know it, and you don’t want to end up either missing out or putting everything on a credit card and paying extra charges and usurious exchange rates, because you don’t have the necessary funds in place.
It might sound a little old-fashioned, but putting a set sum aside every month, between now and summer, really is the best way to make sure you’ll have enough cash to get away when the time is right.
That might mean setting up a direct debit to a separate savings account. Or you could even get in touch with your inner seven-year-old, buy a piggy bank, and stick the physical cash in it on the first of every month.
The important thing is to start right now and commit to it. You’ll enjoy the holiday (or VR gaming system, or music festival, or whatever else is worth saving for), so much more when it’s financed by “real money” rather than debt.
3. Try out a new tool every fortnight
There are so many other excellent tools available today that can help revolutionise your working life. You need to commit a little time to see what works for you. Those that aren’t free will usually come with a free trial, so you can easily ‘try before you buy’.
Setting aside a single hour each fortnight to take a new tool for a test drive doesn’t sound like a big commitment. But should you find one that solves a particular problem, it could be the best time investment you ever make.
So where to start? Well, if you find it difficult to keep on top of tasks, then you need a task manager. We’d suggest you start with Trello, as it works across so many devices, and lets you customise the information you see, so you don’t get overwhelmed by visual clutter. Other good task managers include ToDo List, Things and Google Keep.
Are you finding it a hassle to manage social media? You need a tool that will automate the process. Start with Buffer, which allows you to post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest and Google Plus, all from one app. Other good social media managers include Hootsuite, Later and Tweetdeck.
There are plenty of other areas in which tools can help you become more creative and productive: for a comprehensive guide, see these 25 best tools for freelancers.
4. Get into a tidy-desk habit
You probably spend more waking time in your home office than any other place. But be honest, is it as streamlined and well organised as it should be? Getting into the habit of clearing it of unnecessary clutter, each morning, before you even open your laptop, can make a difference to your creativity and productivity.
A tidy desk does mean a tidy mind and will help you to focus your thinking so much more effectively; there’s a reason so many art studios are simple white cubes.
And of course, once you’ve sorted your physical desktop, what about your virtual one? Trying to work on a screen against a background of 87 random folders is an obvious stress-trigger, and yet it only takes a few minutes to organise them properly.
5. Trial a new routine
It’s incredible how many freelance creatives work a traditional 9-5 day. If that works for you, then great, but ask yourself whether keeping different hours might mean you are more relaxed and enjoy your work more. Because if so, the quality of what you produce is only going to improve.
Don’t feel you need to keep the same hours as your clients; as long as they know which hours you’re available, that’s all that should be important to a good working relationship.
You might prefer to start later, finish later, allowing you to have a nice lie-in, read the papers and have a coffee in bed. Perhaps you’d prefer taking an extended lunch, or even an afternoon rest or nap, like the Spanish. Or maybe you’re an early bird, who fancies the idea of rising at 5 am, getting to work, and having most of the afternoon free to go out and have fun.
Either way, think about what daily schedule might make you happier, then trial it and see.
Starting is the biggest hurdle
While all of these give changes are relatively quick and easy to make to your working life, we are creatures of habit, and naturally feel a resistance to change. But it doesn’t take long to form new habits, which are soon as ingrained as the old ones.
So as we enter 2019, we urge you to grasp the nettle, and you’ll quickly feel the benefits. Starting is the biggest hurdle; from then on, everything is gravy. So in the words of Nike... just do it!