How do you measure success as a freelancer?

Success in a 9-5 job can be measured in various ways, like promotions. But when you’re a freelancer, how can you measure your success?

How can you assess your business and say you’ve grown? How do you know if you’re spending your work hours smartly and if they’re converting to cash?

Measuring success as a freelancer can be tricky but it’s necessary if your aim is to grow. And what freelancer doesn’t want to grow? So what’s the best way to go about measuring success? We have some helpful tips in our pockets.

Track your hourly rate per client

Tracking time is the most basic yet often forgotten to-do in the freelance industry. If you’re working with decent clients, chances are they don’t require time-tracking. Most awesome clients are focused on the results, not on how much time you spent doing the task. This, of course, depends on the task.

The point is, you need to track your time regardless if a client asks for it or not. See how much time you’re spending on each client and how much you’re making from them. Assess if it’s commensurate or if you need to rework your schedule and time allotment per client. If you’re spending too much time on a client or a task and you’re struggling to hit your monthly income goal, that’s a sign you’re not really succeeding, business-wise. That’s also a sign you need to assess things.

Create annual income reports to measure financial growth

Annual income reports are painful to make especially if you’re still starting out. Those numbers will be small and you might even end up rethinking if you’re doing things right. But every beginning looks like that, not just in freelancing. Every beginning looks small and insignificant.

In a nutshell, annual income reports are great tools to help you see how much you’re making each year. Consider it a bird’s eye view of your yearly financial growth. Keep in mind that the goal of creating these reports is not to show you how little you’re making. These reports are to show you how much you still need to make to achieve your financial goals.

Do you have the power to choose clients?

Personally, I consider this a very solid sign that I’m growing and succeeding as a freelancer. The power to choose clients is not easy to have. Too often, as freelancers we find ourselves saying yes to too many clients we’re not really stoked to work with or clients whose businesses are not aligned with our interests. Too often, we keep saying yes, period.

Success as a freelancer can mean having the ability to decline a potential client or end a contract if that client is not doing their part. Whether that’s extensive tasks not included in the original contract, terrible communication, late payments—whatever the reason is, if you have the power to choose which clients to keep and which to let go, consider yourself successful. You were not able to do this before. No freelancer started with this power right off the bat.

Check in with your skills

Did you grow, skills-wise? If you’re a designer, how were your design skills last year compared to now? If your skills are not improving, chances are your business is not growing either. Skills growth and business growth go hand in hand. If your skills are improving, it could mean you’re working enough and are giving yourself enough chances to hone said skills. It could also mean you’re working with bigger clients. And bigger clients often mean higher standards. Either way, business growth happens when skill growth does too. Do a regular check-in every few months. Let the results guide you in terms of measuring success as a freelancer.

Check your social media efforts

Are you spending enough time on social media to build your brand? Or are you consumed with reaching out to potential clients and doing the work for your current clients? Check your social media activity and how much time you’re spending on it. Because if you’re not spending enough time on your brand’s social media or if you did not hire someone to manage it, perhaps it’s time to reassess success.

Social media plays a vital role in every business today, be it a freelance business or another type of company. If you’re not investing enough in it—time or money or both—you might want to consider your priorities. Successful freelancers almost always have solid personal brands on at least one platform. This is because they understand the importance of social media in their business success.

Make an honest personal evaluation

This is a tough one, but it’s very helpful. Self-awareness is important when you are your own boss and you cannot improve self-awareness skills if you don’t make honest personal evaluations.

Revisit the goals you created when you started freelancing and study the timeline you created. Are you hitting those dates? Are you taking more time than you thought you would? Business growth is not linear. As a freelancer, there are tons of curveballs. You have to be ready for these and accept them when they come. But more importantly, you need to see how these curveballs are affecting your pace, your goals, and your plans. Success is not always about the speed at which you achieve your goals. Sometimes, when you think about it, success can be about the lessons you learned and the growth that happened as you work on achieving those goals. Take note of these things as you have these personal evaluations.

How much rest are you getting?

Rest is another solid metric for success. Freelancing is sugarcoated on the internet way too much that newbies think it’s pure fun and chilling by the beach. In reality, you may end up staying in front of your laptop and hustling more than 8 hours a day. This is especially true when you’re still starting out, building your personal brand and client pipeline.

So, how much rest are you getting? If you can afford to book a week- or even months-long trip now and not worry about work, that’s a sign of success. That’s a sign of business growth. Not only can you financially afford a vacation, but you can also afford a vacation without worrying about whether or not you’ll still have clients when you get back. This means you built a solid foundation for your business. You trust that things will be fine after you recharge. That, in and of itself, is success.

Most freelancers chase the 6-figure income. And that’s totally okay! But it’s good to remind yourself that’s not the only metric for success. Check in with yourself to see what success looks like to you, and try these tips to measure your success as a freelancer and creative entrepreneur.

Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.