Whether you’re a freelance 3D artist, graphic designer, illustrator or writer – really, no matter your daily occupation, you will sooner or later be forced to measure your performance.
Yes, the flexibility and freedom of freelancing are hard to come by. You’re your own boss, and that means you don’t have to respond to anyone for your performance. No more performance reviews, no more weekly or monthly chats with your manager, nothing at all. If you deliver, you can give yourself a big pat on your back and go into another day.
But sometimes you need a bit more. Sometimes you need a bit of a framework, some stricter metrics to see how your freelance business is going and where it should be headed next. So what do you do then?
The mere thought of KPIs to measure your freelance business may have your head spinning right now. Ideally, you’d be sitting in your home office or lie down on your sofa, seamlessly creating your next masterpiece for your client. Alas, we hardly live in an ideal world; and sometimes those KPIs are perfect to measure how your business is actually working for you, and whether you need to take action.
How do you measure freelance success?
The short answer is that there is no hard and fast rule to measure freelance success. In truth, a better asked question would be “what is freelance success to you?” Every business will be different, and your specific job title may mean that you have different needs compared to a writer, a designer, an animator. So first of all, keep that in mind when measuring your own success; some things you’ll see on this page may not apply to you. But that doesn’t mean that all the rest, or the general concept, will not.
Here are some clear KPIs to help you measure the impact of your business and your success as a freelancer in the industry.
Image credit: Diane Shearer
1. Website traffic
How many visits do you get per month? How many people visit your page, blog, or portfolio? Most importantly, how did they get there?
While ease of navigation on a website is an entirely different topic, it’s always useful to know if your website is actually attracting any visitors. Ideally, you would want to see high volumes of traffic, and you would want people to be interested in you enough to look for that Contact Me page and send you a quick message. Better if potential clients.
We all know that freelancing works a lot with word of mouth; a client recommends you to another, and things move forward that way. But lead generation from your past work isn’t bad either. It gets you in front of some more eyeballs, which may get you in front of even more eyeballs in the future.
If you have loads of traffic, but people aren’t engaging or interacting or doing what you want them to do, perhaps your SEO is spot on and you have the right keywords in place, but you still need to engage people or make navigation easier. Food for thought.
2. Social Media Presence
If you’re a writer, the best platform for you will probably be Medium or Twitter. If you’re a designer or illustrator, you can’t go wrong with Instagram or Creativepool. No matter the platform of your choice, stop a moment to think: how is your social media marketing working for you?
Are your profiles growing? Do you get more clients coming in through social media, and if you do get them, what kind are they? Take some time to understand your audience on social media, observe the competition and see what’s working for them. More importantly, don’t be shy on sharing your work. If you do have permission to do so, of course.
Are you running social media ads? Check the spend-per-click rate. Keep an eye on your follower growth and engagement, check your direct messages regularly. Not all your posts need to be self-promotional or contain a CTA, but those who do should be carefully crafted to ensure maximum efficiency. Just keep in mind that your worth is not measured by the amount of likes or followers you get. If you have 1,000 followers here on Creativepool, but you get 20 leads per month, it’s way better than having 10,000 followers and no leads. It’s all relative to your case.
Image credit: Randon James Morris
3. Your rates
As you get more experienced, your rates should go up. It’s just the way it works with the freelance life. If at some point you feel comfortable enough to change your rates and charge your clients more, then that is a sure indicator of success as a freelancer – particularly if clients accept your rates with little to no negotiation.
Your hourly rate is for you to decide, so it may feel counterintuitive to use it to measure your freelance success. But if you put all your clients and projects in one big spreadsheet, for instance, and measure the amount of money earned per project you’re working on, you’re sure to see some trends and understand in what way your time is being spent at work. It also helps you identify your lowest-paying clients, so you know where to act if things get rough.
There is a very interesting framework for measuring freelance success by the folks at Teamwrkr. According to Teamwrkr, you can easily measure your business’ success as a freelance or solo entrepreneur by looking at how busy you actually are, which simply means following their “WRKR” framework (chapeau).
The WRKR framework is relatively simple: you measure the amount of work, relationships, knowledge and rest involved in your freelance business and use it to understand how well you’re doing. If you’re getting loads of work but little rest, perhaps it’s time to switch things around, or at the very least increase your rates and drop some clients. If, on the other hand, you’re not spending enough time with your meaningful relationships, your work is likely to take a hard blow.
Measuring your freelance business success with how busy you are can help you get a rough idea of where you’re headed next, but it shouldn’t be the only kind of KPI to influence your business. There is a far more important, and to some people boring one, that you should use for that purpose.
5. Growth & Profit
It’s the ultimate KPI. The one all businesses worldwide, no matter their size, use to measure their impact and their success on a large scale. How much are you earning per month, and how does that change year on year?
Profit is the total amount you pocket after expenses and taxes. You want that to be on an upward curve, or at the very least stable. But you don’t want to measure it month by month. It fluctuates so much, and usually doesn’t take into accounts those periods of the year when you’re less busy – often around summer and the holidays. The best and most efficient way to measure growth and profit is by looking at it year on year. Many businesses do it, and for good reason.
Now, there’s a new way of measuring growth that is emerging in the light of new business considerations: the triple bottom line. Some businesses (particularly those aspiring to become B Corps) are starting to measure growth and success by measuring their impact on People, Profit and Planet – meaning they try to develop a responsible, conscious business that gives back to communities and Earth as much as it takes. It’s an interesting way to look at doing business in this new decade, and if you’re curious about how you can implement it into your own freelance business, this guide on sustainable freelancing can help.
Image credit: Luciano Koenig
The many layers of freelance success
As you can see, there is no one KPI to measure freelance success, and even some of the most important ones like growth and profit can easily be shaped into what you prefer for your own business.
What matters is that you find something that works for you. Would you rather measure your success in terms of money earned per month? Or, perhaps, you’d want to measure it in terms of pro-bono work done every year? You can do that, and more. So long as it pleases you and you’re sure it’s the right thing you need to bring your own freelance business forward.
So, the big question remains: what is freelance success to you? Make sure to let us know in the comments below!