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Review of 2019 and looking forwards to 2020

2019 has been quite a year for me. I’ve been self-employed for over 8 years now, but it’s only this year that I’ve started thinking in a more business like way about what I do. Because I’m not just a freelancer, I’m a business owner.

One of the things I’ve been inspired to do is an annual review, and I’m basing this on Gemma Gilbert’s core questions:

  • What went well this year?

  • What didn’t go so well and what did I learn?

  • What am I working towards in 2020 and how will I ensure I make it happen?

What went well this year?

I invested time and money in myself and my business.

I’ve worked with a number of coaches doing free and paid challenges, courses and joining memberships. Working with Anna Parker-Naples, Helen Pritchard, Ray Dodd, Keri Jarvis and Gemma Gilbert has transformed my thinking and my mindset. And this transformation led to a pretty big revelation, which I’ll reveal below.

Investing time to work on my business even though I was busy working in it with client work was tough but incredibly valuable. I now post regularly on LinkedIn with helpful tips and advice, and am making a commitment to blog and communicate with my clients more regularly in 2020.

I had two books published (and wrote two more).

In 2018 bsmall publishing approached me to develop two activity books based around self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence in a series called Level Headers. I was lucky enough to find a fabulous confidence coach who works with children to write these with, and they were published in August this year. As a result of this we were interviewed for a couple of podcasts, featured in Pen & Inc, CILIP’s new magazine, and wrote some articles for BookTrust and Books for Keeps.

I was invited onto a panel at the Bookseller Children’s Confidence.

The panel was focused on supporting children’s mental health, which tied in with the Level Headers books as well as my work on authentic inclusion in children’s books. My main message was that showing a diverse range of characters in books shows children that everyone is of worth and has value, and that they don’t have to ‘fit in’ to anyone’s perception of what they should be like. They can just be themselves.

I took on a 10 month contract as an editorial manager.

Much of my work (currently) is quite piecemeal, so having a long term contract means I can really get my teeth into a project and also provides a consistent income, which as the sole provider for my family takes the weight off my shoulders. I was taken on as the editorial manager for Pearson’s Power Maths Reception programme. I love working in editorial management as you get to see a project take shape and ensure that it’s the best it can be, as well as working with a real mix of people.

I increased my prices.

I realised that I was spending more time on some elements of my consultancy work than I was charging for, so I increased my prices to try to ensure my time was covered. I also realised that I need to be charging not just for my time, but for the value I’m giving. Upon this realisation I increased my prices again. However, the pricing is still not quite right and will be increasing again early this year. I’m also going to be moving away from hourly and daily rates for my consultancy services completely this year, and selling packages rather than time.

What didn’t go so well and what did I learn?

I took on too much work.

I have a 4-year-old child so my working hours are limited to his nursery hours, giving me 3.5 days a week to work on my business. As is often the way with freelancing, this year everything came along at once. Projects being delayed and offers of work alongside my contract meant that I ended up taking on more work than I could fit in those 3.5 days. This led to me working most evenings over the summer. Working this way is manageable occasionally and for short period of time, but as a solo parent meant that I was left with very little time for myself and I felt close to burnout on a number of occasions. However, I learned from this. I learned to ask for help. I learned to book my child in for some extra hours at nursery when I needed to. And I learned to plan my time and my days better to see exactly how much work I could fit in without it taking over my evenings. I also learned to say no to work!

I started the year with no work booked in.

Due to a house move and the resulting work on the house that needed to be done, I hadn’t really been marketing my services at all at the end of 2018. This meant that January and the first part of February were quiet. However, without this I’m not sure I’d have had the impetus to work ON my business in quite the same way this year, and as a result I finished work mid December with my diary fully booked for January and almost full for February.

I didn’t have the impact I could have.

This year I realized that by mainly focusing on securing editorial work rather than inclusion consultancy, I didn’t have the impact on books that I could have. While I always bring insights on inclusion to any editorial work, by focusing directly on inclusion and promoting this side of my business I can influence more books, and therefore have an impact on more readers.

What am I working towards in 2020?

Playing a major part in transforming the picture book landscape.

This summer I had a revelation. I realized that the work that I get the most joy from is the inclusion consultancy side of my business. And in particular, what I love most is working face-to-face to look through a forthcoming list of picture books or illustrated books and helping a publisher to see the possibilities of how each and every one could become more inclusive or accessible, while still being a great story.

Now, you may have already guessed this, but the one of the most exciting part of this revelation is that this work is also where I can provide publishers with the most value. Because with this kind of work I’m not just giving input on one book in a list, but books across the whole list.

But it gets better. Because this work can have a huge impact, it could transform the whole picture book landscape in a reasonably short time frame.

Just take a minute to let that sink in.

Developing a signature package.

Towards the end of 2018 I launched my ‘Lift Your List’ package to work with publishers to do everything in the list above. This year I’m going to build this into a signature package to ensure the publishers I work with are supported every step of the way.

Growing my audience.

I can’t transform the picture book landscape alone. I need publishers to know and understand what I’m offering, and I need them to book my services. Because, as has been proven to me this year, thinking you can do anything without support means that progress will be slow. By working with others my business is being transformed, and by working with me, yours can be transformed too. This year I intend to grow my email list, continue to post regularly on LinkedIn, and, although I struggle with Twitter, I’m going to try and maintain a presence there too, even if it's just sharing my posts from LinkedIn.

I also want to make sure I’m providing value through my posts, blogs and to my email lists, so I’ll be sharing lots of tips for making books more inclusive.

My theme for 2020.

2019 was the year of mindset transformation and self-belief. The year I started thinking about my work differently and realized where I can have the most impact. It’s also been a year of frustration, overwork and burnout. It’s also been a year of learning, and I’m going into 2020 with excitement about the possibilities. There’s also a little bit of fear about how I’m going to achieve all I want to, but I know with the support of various coaches I’ll stay aligned to my goals and meet, if not exceed them.

My theme for 2020 is THRIVE. This is very personal to me, as thriving will help me achieve the balance between my personal, business and family life, and feel that I’m succeeding in all three rather than getting by. The additional theme of my business is TRANSFORM. I’m going to transform my business to have a bigger impact on publishers, on books, and on the children (and parents) who read those books.

I can’t wait.

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