Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Freelancer's Performance Review: Strengths and Weaknesses

Earlier in the week we began a discussion of how a freelancer can perform a performance review to help in planning for the next year. Last time we talked about your mission, what you have been doing and what you should be doing. Today, we are doing to deal with one of the classic evaluation areas of a performance review in the workplace. What are your strengths and weaknesses?


I always like to start with the positive. This is not just a "warm, fuzzy," it actually has some science behind it. Evaluations which focus primarily on things needing improvement tend to be less effective than those whose primary focus is on reinforcing those things which are being done well.

There was a study done at a workshop several years ago. The participants each received training and were evaluated in their post training performance. Those receiving only negative evaluation (evaluations of things needing improvement) showed the least improvement. Those receiving a mixture of positive and negative evaluation improved more. Those receiving only positive evaluation of those things done well during the training improved the most. So, always begin any evaluation, even a self-evaluation, with an examination of what you do well.

Areas for Growth (I prefer that to "weaknesses)

 Why do I use that term instead of weaknesses? Am I just trying to put a positive spin on things? No, although, that by itself would be sufficient reason to do so. Words do impact our attitudes and those attitudes impact our performance. However, there is another reason. Weaknesses limits your thinking to things you already do, but could do better. However, not all improvement simply comes from correcting some flaw. Some of it comes from expanding on what you already do well or broadening your area of strength into new areas.

For instance, maybe you are already proficient in using Photoshop to fix the quality of the photos you take to illustrate your articles and books. However, you might feel you want to do more like create book covers or web banners.

Of course, some things you might not be doing so well at. Maybe you need to work on dialog or describing locations. These are areas where you need to improve. It might not even be a skill area. For creatives, the business side of art is often the problem. I may be good at writing, but not at keeping my books straight. I might understand plot and character, but not marketing and advertising. So, I might need to do some work on developing those skills as well.

So, as part of your annual review make a list of strengths and weaknesses.  Next up: An action plan.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Performance Review - For Freelancers: What is your mission, What do you Do, and What should you be doing.

It's coming up on the end of the year. Any of you who have been in the business and professional world know that this is the time of the year managers do performance reviews. I was in education for the past 30 years. Ours were more often done at the end of the school year, but for most of us, this is the time we begin planning for the new year, and just because you work for yourself, doesn't mean you don't need a performance review. In some ways, we need it more than anyone else because we don't have the ongoing evaluation of our performance throughout the year.

I just finished reading an article at called How to Do a Proper Self-Review and Identify Your Professional Pain Points (Before Your Boss Does). It got me thinking about the sort of things freelancers and work at home professionals need to consider as we face the end of the year. So, I'm adapting many of the ideas from the Lifehacker article for this series.

 What is your mission?

Every business or institution has a mission statement. It sets forth what that business is all about. It also sets limits around the business. Think about it this way. Nobody can do everything. Sometimes, as freelance writers, we try to spread ourselves too thin. Now, I'm not talking about taking some chances or testing the waters in a new area. What I'm talking about is a general tendency to be unfocused. Here's my revised mission statement for this year. Much has changed so I could broaden that statement a bit:

Wordmaster communication is dedicated to producing focused self-help, Bible study and writing instructional guides, primarily in ebook format, and producing clean speculative fiction novels which blend science fiction/fantasy elements with mystery and/or political intrigue.

Now, I will be doing other things, but they will be on the periphery of this primary focus. My focus is shifting from pursuing publication through other publishers and more toward self-publishing. There are a variety of economic and personal growth factors that are leading me in that direction. Also, changes and opportunities in the self-publication marketplace make this a prime time to establish a presence there. So, that is my mission statement.

In creating a mission statement set forth somewhat specifically what the scope of your writing "business" is. Sometimes I ask people to write a mission statement and they write something like this:

My mission is to write inspiring books that entertain, encourage, comfort, amuse and motivate people to improve their lives.

That's everything and nothing. You can include Stephen King, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Hemmingway and Dr. Phil under that mission.

One good way to figure out what you are doing and what projects you have planned. For instance, I have several Bible studies already written which need to be edited and formatted for Kindle. I also have outlines for several short guides to novel writing and a full length book about magazine article writing. My novels are mostly science fiction mysteries with one being more of a sword and sorcery fantasy but focusing more on the political inner workings of the fantasy world than in big magical battles.  My mission statement reflects this.

Of course, I will still take on website projects and public relations jobs, but unlike six months ago, those will not be at the core of my writing. My writing endeavors have shifted, so I rewrote my mission statement.

If you don't have a mission statement, you might want to write one. If you do have one, then now might be a good time to review it and see if it accurately reflects what you are doing. If it does not, then either the statement or what you are doing needs to change. I can't tell you which is right for you. That is something you have to figure out on your own.

What are you Doing?

You know those memes  you see on Facebook and Google Plus that show a series of pictures with titles like "What my mother thinks I do?" "What society thinks I do?" etc. Well, You need to cut through the illusions and get to the reality of what you really did this year. Again, be specific. List out your writing projects. If they are still in progress estimate how far through them you are. Here's a short list from my personal review:
  • Finished Facebook Page for Wordmaster Books
  • Finished Facebook Page for Wordmaster Communications
  • Finished Website project for X Client
  • Finished Editing, Formatting and Publishing Death Gets an "F" on Kindle
  • Learned how to use Muse, Photoshop and In Design moderately well.
  • Finished Editing, Formatting and Publishing Time Management for Writers on Kindle
  • Two-Thirds finished with first draft of Time after Time
  • Three Quarters finished with final draft of Stormy Weather
This year, looking over my own list, I find that I was doing a lot of work setting up an infrastructure for marketing, learning some tools for my self-publishing ventures, formatting and publishing numerous items that have been completed and languishing in files. I've been doing some new writing as well, but a big focus, particularly the last few months has been turning some of my writing into publications.

What Should you be Doing?

Now comes the hard question. What should I be doing? Well, that depends a great deal on two things: What my goals were at the start of the year (as revised during the year to reflect changing circumstances) and what my mission statement is reading.

Looking over my revised mission statement, I see I probably spent more time than I should have developing marketing for my client-based writing services. I also probably didn't need to spend quite as much time learning InDesign and Adobe Illustrator as I did. So, I might make my list of things I should have been doing look like this (in abbreviated format):

  • Learn the basics of Muse, Photo Shop and InDesign
  • Finish Editing Stormy Weather and format for Kindle
  • Finish Editing Death Gets an "F" and format for Kindle
  • Develop video materials for online courses (Novel Writing, Mag Writing, Social Media for Writers)
  • Develop outline for Shyness Book
  • Complete first draft of Total Eclipse of the Moon
  • Complete first Draft of Time after Time

Of course, I have more on my list. But you get the idea. Now looking over this, I completed some of the items. Some I'm nearly complete on. Some I haven't done anything on. I'd say, I was about 60% successful. Not bad, but certainly not where I want to be.

So, that's the first step. Later in the Week will look at the next part of your performance review: Strengths and Weaknesses.