It’s a given that no matter what industry you’re in, no one is going to be more concerned about your career success and advancement than you. (Okay, with the exception, maybe, of your parents.) But many careers have clear blueprints to follow. For example, if you want to become a medical doctor, you need to study sciences in high school, get a bachelor’s degree, take the MCAT, graduate from med school, become a resident and so on to slowly and methodically move up the ladder. But if you want to be a freelance writer, you can just declare yourself one—that’s what I did. (There are programs, of course.)
This means that we pretty much chart our own course, stumbling and figuring it out as we go. But in order to stay on track, we have to hold ourselves accountable. Writing an annual report is one of the best ways that SciLancers have found to ensure that our careers are moving in the direction that we want.
In our careers session at NASW’s Science Writers 2014 conference in Columbus, Christie Aschwanden and I explained how we use annual reviews to see where we’ve been and make sure that we’re still on our intended path. We borrowed the idea from SciLancer Alison Fromme (bio) who described her annual report practice in a sidebar to Chapter 14, Beyond Compare in the Science Writers’ Handbook (turn to page 154 in your copy–you DO have a copy, right?).
Sure, it’s one more thing to add to your to-do list. But once you’ve invested the time to get a system in place, it doesn’t take long to revisit once a year. I promise.
So, every year, usually in January, I schedule time to review my business in the past year and set goals for the next year. I put together an annual report (modified from Alison’s version in the SWH). It’s not long—last year’s was 825 words in mostly bullet points.
My annual report covers the following categories:
Summary and major milestones—this is quick and off the top of my head. What sticks out? What did I accomplish this year?
Whole person milestones—I include these because I tend towards workaholism. So for me, sometimes it’s an achievement to actually take a vacation with my husband.
Income summary—I’m a numbers nerd and one of the major ways that I measure my career success is through earnings (you may have other success benchmarks). So, I include comparisons to previous years and a breakdown by activities (income earned from writing, blogging, and other activities).
Expense summary—I cover this in detail in my accounting so I just list some of the larger categories including, professional services, health insurance, conferences and professional development among others.
Professional development activities—conferences I attended or courses I took with a few words about their usefulness (okay, I label it ROI—return on investment of dollars and time).
Client intelligence—I track the clients that I retained, lost or gained. I also list “opportunities.” These are potential new clients or contacts from an existing client that have now moved to new positions.
Goal review from previous year—how I did on my goals and are the goals from last year still relevant to me.
Goals for the coming year–what I want to accomplish in the short term.
Personal goals—these usually include taking a vacation or participating in some volunteer or community project.
Since I’m a paper person, I print out my annual report and it lives in a file folder on my desk. I then schedule reviews (I put notes in my Planner Pad) every three months to reread the annual report and recalibrate my action plan if I need to.
How do you stay on track? Share your tips below.