An American Editor

December 4, 2017

On the Basics: Wrapping up the Old Year and Preparing for the New One

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The end of the year is nigh, which means it’s time to think about wrapping up the old year and clearing the decks for the new one, including gifts for clients or colleagues, among other aspects of freelancing as an editorial professional.

To Gift or Not to Gift

A perennial question for editorial freelancers as the end of the year approaches is whether to give gifts to clients. The answer is easy if you work with government clients: Most government workers, including “privatized” agency workers like postal workers, are forbidden from accepting gifts of high value — in many cases, of any value — as well as any gifts from contractors or freelancers.

For private-sector clients and individuals, the decision is trickier. Some companies have policies about gifts from contractors. The good thing about that is it takes care of any decision-making for us. The bad thing is we might not know what the policy is, and asking is a little awkward. I lean toward sending something and hoping that doing so doesn’t violate any client policies or guidelines, rather than asking and spoiling the surprise if gift-giving is acceptable.

The gifts themselves can be challenging. You want to express appreciation for business from the client, but not look as if you’re trying to bribe the client into providing new work in the new year. There’s also the issue of who celebrates what. Rather than say anything that someone might find insensitive or intrusive, I couch my holiday gifts as thank-you gestures rather than recognition of any particular holiday.

When this topic comes up, as it does every year, some colleagues say they send gifts like chocolates — our own Rich Adin orders chocolate bars with his company logo impressed in them. Others order from companies that create gift baskets with fruit, chocolates or other candies, cookies, and similar goodies. I enjoy putting together my own gift boxes. I know there’s a risk in giving candy — people might be allergic or (horrors!) just not like them, but colleagues who know me will understand when I say that I get a kick out of finding candies that are either purple or wrapped in purple paper.

I’ve also sent seed packets, small stuffed bears, and other trinkets with appropriate messages on personalized cards. One thing I haven’t done, but probably should do, is order professionally printed cards. I have a stash of (purple, of course) thank-you cards that I personalize and I think my clients enjoy receiving, but something more formal might make a better impression.

Because chocolate, fruit, and other edibles tend to disappear fairly quickly, I include at least one nonperishable item in my client gifts — for example, a pen or a mug —something that will last and provide an ongoing reminder of my existence and services. For a few years, I would find ceramic purple mugs at local arts fairs, but now I use ones that have my logo, website URL, and e-mail address or phone number on them.

The Recordkeeping Routine

Gift-giving is fun. Recordkeeping is a dreaded chore. If the end of the year is near, it’s time for checking, organizing, and updating your business records to prepare for filing taxes in the new year. Whether you do your own taxes or consult an accountant, having the information organized now will make the process go much faster and feel like less of a hassle.

Take a few minutes to review various sources for information about any changes in taxes for the year — mileage rates, new deductions, and the like.

I’m pretty good about recording information in a spreadsheet or at least a list for each category of expense, but sometimes I have to set aside an hour or two a week in November or December to move receipts and other records from a pile on my desk to folders for each category of business record. Like many colleagues, I don’t enjoy filing, even though I realize it’s essential good business practice to stay on top of it.

Rich Adin suggests investing in a program like QuickBooks Pro. Although expensive (and tech support is far from the greatest), QuickBooks Pro does several things for you. First, it provides an easy way to track both business and personal income and outgo. Rich has multiple “accounts,” including one for his freelance business and one for his personal accounts. He creates invoices, tracks payments, and tracks and pays business expenses through the business account. He ”pays” himself by “writing” a business check to himself that is “deposited” into his personal account (all of this is done electronically). He pays business expenses, such as purchases of software, by writing a business check (or by making an electronic payment) to a vendor. He uses checks that have the business name imprinted and that he can run through his printer using QuickBooks Pro.

Having a separate bank account for business and using QuickBooks Pro helps confirm in client eyes that you are a business. Using QuickBooks Pro makes it easy to pay quarterly taxes and to create reports for your accountant to prepare your taxes. Because you can create and assign accounts, you can have as detailed a view of your business as you want. Most importantly, in Rich’s view, is that there are no pieces of paper to lose — QuickBooks Pro is his check register, so every time he spends money, it gets recorded. And unlike other methods, multiple backups (Rich backs up daily with Backup4All and continuously with Carbonite), both local and remote, mean that accurate financial records are always available.

Polishing Promotions

The end of the year is also a good time to review your website (or plan to launch one) to see if it needs refreshing. Rewriting content, adding new images or sections, and deleting old information all contribute to a more-effective site — and higher rankings. Do what you can now to enhance your site’s quality and impact for the new year.

Some people are saying we no longer need business cards, but I disagree. Take the end of the year to either consider revamping yours for a new look in the new year, or create one to use in the new year. You might not need it to promote your editorial business electronically, but it will come in handy in the real world. You never know when you might meet someone who could become a client or colleague, and who will remember you better with that little piece of cardboard in hand. If nothing else you can use it to qualify for giveaways at the Communication Central conference!

This is also a good time to do some research, perhaps with Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace, on potential new clients for the new year. Identify potential new clients/outlets to contact now and plunge into the promotional effort in January.

Basics to Tackle

Now that you have the old year’s wrap-up under control, here are some reminders of things to consider in preparing for the new one. Do these either now or in early January, and your new year is likely to be an improvement over your old one. (For details, see my January 2017 essay, On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year.)

  • Change your passwords.
  • Update your account contacts.
  • Update copyright dates on your website, blog, and newsletter, and remind your clients to do the same for their websites or publications.
  • Budget/start saving for professional development activities, such as conferences and courses.
  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.
  • Update your résumé.
  • Review your expenses and income to see where you can reduce the former and increase the latter (Rich does this every six months by creating detailed reports in QuickBooks Pro). (A reminder: If you spend a dollar on a business expense, you can deduct that dollar on your taxes, but the value of the deduction is only equal to your tax rate. In other words, if your tax rate is 28%, your actual tax value as a result of spending the $1 is 28¢ — not $1. Consequently, lowering expenses is always a good idea. On the other hand, if you have to spend the money anyway, you might as well get some tax relief, even if it won’t be 100%.)
  • Improve your health — and be sure to review and compare health insurance plans.
  • Think about service — the new year might be a good time to give back to a worthy cause. Remember that charitable contributions of money and items are tax–deductible, although volunteer work is not.
  • Look ahead.
  • Start something new — learn a new skill or develop a new hobby.
  • Become active in online discussions or new groups.
  • Budget to invest in tools for your business, such as new equipment or software.
  • Budget/start saving for retirement. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income that you will put toward retirement from every client payment.
  • Start mapping out your marketing campaign for the new year.
  • Budget/start saving for marketing. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income for marketing from every client payment.

However you use these last few weeks of this year, here’s wishing all of our readers good health, fulfilling work, high incomes, and happy home lives.

Feel free to share your plans for making wrapping up the old and preparing for the new year. How are you approaching the end of the year?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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