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Looking Back at 2009

As is becoming a tradition for me, I’m writing a post to reflect on the last year as we’re jumping into the new. I will write another post later to talk about new tools and new technologies I discovered or started using in 2009. In this one, I reflect on the past year, the things that went well, the things I learned and what I intend to do different in 2010. If you run a small business or are a freelancer yourself, you may learn a thing or two from my experience.

2009 was a big year for me in many respects but mostly because of the career change I had in mid 2008. The last year was my first complete year as a full time freelancer. Even if I have worked in this field for almost 14 years (it often felt like I had 2 full time jobs), I made the jump to working in my business full time in August 2008. So 2009 was my first full time year running my own business.

I have made some mistakes during the last year but learned a lot about myself in the process as well as about how to run a small business. I also connected with many incredible people in 2009 and many of these connections will help me propel my business further in 2010. In the meantime, here’s a few lessons I learned in 2009 organized in 4 different categories:

Marketing

Marketing a freelance business is an acquired skill and my only regret in the last year is not have devoted enough time to marketing activities sooner in the year when I was very busy with ongoing project work. It is easy to get lost in the tasks you have to do at any given moment, especially when you have deadlines looming but marketing your small business at all times is truly essential. In 2010, I intend to devote a few hours to marketing, making calls and nurturing my existing professional relationships every week.

You cannot hope to get away with doing marketing and sales only when you have “free time” and keep contracts coming in regularly. Don’t kid yourself here, you do need to *sell* your services and your business all the time. Word of mouth can only get you so far. If I had made more efforts marketing myself and pursuing new leads in the summer when I was very busy, I would not have gone through a slowdown as I have in the last couple of months of 2009. Marketing is an ongoing effort and you need to plan for it and put aside some time for it every week… and I do mean *every week*. Do not wait for a time when work starts to slow down to do it, it will be too late and you will suffer later.

Budgetting

This is something I knew I needed to do going in but it became even more important for me in 2009 as money came in at irregular intervals. Not having a steady weekly pay check is something you need to get used to and plan for when you freelance full time. The key is getting real about your living expenses, how much money you need each month to pay your rent or your mortgage, your groceries, utility bills, insurance, etc. If you do not have a clear idea of those numbers going in, you will overspend in other areas and jeopardize the health of your finances… and your relationship with your significant other.

Isabelle and I have been using a fantastic little app (and system) called “You Need a Budget” http://www.youneedabudget.com/ for a couple years now and I couldn’t have survived this year without it.

Learning

Learning is an ongoing process for freelance Web designers and knowledge workers in general. New technologies and best practices emerge so fast in our industry that it’s hard to keep updated at the best of times. When I dived into full time freelancing in 2008, I figured I’d have more time to read and keep up to date with changes in our industry but I must admit that this has been harder than I thought. Between client work, family life, marketing and networking activities, it’s difficult to find the time to read, experiment or just play with new tools, technologies or concepts.

What has helped me this year is client work. I needed to learn new concepts to serve my clients and that is the best incentive to learn new tricks. For me, 2009 has not been so much about learning new tools or technologies as much as learning more theoretical concepts as well as basic things like improved listening skills in order to respond to my clients’ needs better. Sometimes we focus so much on the tools of our crafts that we forget that the basis of our process is about understanding human interactions and needs.

I still have much to learn and I try to make it an integral part of my work. This means I have to remain flexible and agile and not be afraid to change and revisit my own assumptions if my work or my clients require it. Anyone working in User Experience design or any field related to it needs to keep an open mind and continually question their own attitudes and processes. It’s the way we can best serve our clients and avoid falling into habits that make us lazy.

Personal

More than ever, 2009 has been the year of Twitter for me. It evolved from being like my own little office water cooler where I’d get a bit of social interactions into my day to becoming a full fledged tool for learning, getting help, networking and marketing my services to a growing audience. I could not be without it now. In addition to the @pixelyzed account I’ve been using from the beginning, I opened @webfocusdesign for my business a couple months ago and there, I tweet for my existing and potential clients so it’s a different vibe from my personal account.
I’ve also continued my “face to face” marketing efforts attending events from my local Chamber of Commerce but also, events created by other Twitter users that live in Quebec. These efforts are starting to pay off as people get to know me and trust my expertise and I have several potential clients who have showed interest in working with me during the new year. That part of running a business used to scare me as I was a shy person before. But now, I love it and have a lot of fun doing it so I make much better connections with people.

Lastly, anyone who has been following me on Twitter for a while knows that my father has been fighting with lung cancer for over a year now (he was diagnosed in November 2008). I spent quite a bit of them with him and my mom last spring in Quebec City while he getting chemo and radiotherapy treatments. Now, I am pleased to say that, according to his doctors, the treatments have been even more effective than anticipated and there is no cancer left in him that they can see. He is monitored regularly and will be for a while still but he’s feeling great, has regained all his energy (and hair…) I truly believe that his unwavering positive outlook on the situation has greatly contributed to his current well being…

So everyone, thanks for reading and have a great and happy 2010!

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