Perhaps the most significant business aspect of 2016 is that it was my first complete year of full-time freelancing. For my business, this year was quieter and more refined. It felt smooth and more sophisticated. The chaos and whirlwind of 2015 didn’t follow me into the new year.
2016 wasn’t filled with many professional achievements or accomplishments. I didn’t attend any conferences or hear any profound advice. I just did good work for good people with no specific goals or intentions.
As always, I wanted to let my business grow organically and naturally without pushing it in any particular direction.
And grow it did.
Work Inquires & Paid Projects
Somewhat ironically, I only worked on 4 paid freelance projects out of 239 serious inquiries that stayed in my inbox. That means I only accepted 0.01% of the new projects I was contacted about. Yet, I was still able to take home a six-figure income. Here’s how 2016 compared to 2015:
2016 – 239 Work Inquiries (+103)
46 Form Submissions (+33)
21 Dribbble Inquiries (-28)
93 Direct Emails (+19)
79 Job Offers from Crew.co (+79)
2015 – 136 Work Inquiries
13 Form Submissions
49 Dribbble Inquiries
74 Direct Emails
You don’t need a lot of clients to have a successful business. In fact, having fewer, higher-paying clients is often a sign of growth and maturity for your business. That means you’ll have to say no to any project or client that isn’t a good fit, but the results will be positive.
Halfway through 2015, I realized my Google Analytics account data was very inaccurate due to referral spam. After changing my tracking code, the data became much more accurate. So to make an accurate comparison against 2015, I’m only using metrics from latter 6 months of each year (June – December).
2016 vs. 2015:
Sessions: +19.2% (7,406)
Users: +9.4% (4,348)
Pageviews: -11.4% (20,234)
Pages / Session: -25.7% (2.73)
Avg. Session Duration: -12.4% (3:01)
Bounce Rate: +23.4% (56.58%)
% of New Sessions: -4.12% (57.24%)
2016 Total Numbers:
Pages / Session: 3.31
Avg. Session Duration: 3:54
Bounce Rate: 53.6%
% of New Sessions: 55.5%
Top 3 Traffic Sources:
Google / Organic: 46.9%
My website also continues to rank #2 or #3 on Google (after paid ads) for the search queries “freelance ux designer new york” and “freelance ui designer ny”. That puts me above LinkedIn, Quora, JustUXJobs, SimplyHired, and UpWork for very broad search terms.
Many of the emails I receive start with some variation of “Hey Matt! I stumbled across your website…” and that’s a direct result of how highly I rank on Google.
This visibility has a major impact on my website traffic and how many work inquiries I receive throughout the year.
Using templates to manage my client emails still proves to be a huge time-saving technique. You can read more about using email templates here. Responding to every subscriber email has become more challenging as my list has grown, but I’m continuing to do my best. Subscribers have verbalized their appreciation for a personalized response after signing up.
Newsletter, Book, and Courses
My goal this year was to grow my email list from 100 subscribers to at least 200. I was able to exceed that goal and finished the year at 345 subscribers. That’s a 245% increase! There are 328 freelancers and 17 clients on my list, 116 of whom have opted-in for free content upgrades or bought my book.
Most of this growth was a result of content upgrades such as free downloads and email courses. 85 new people joined my mailing list through content upgrades. I also made some strategic changes to the language on my sign-up/incentive forms that seemed to boost conversions.
My book earned it’s first $500 in sales, which is very exciting considering how little marketing and promotion I’ve done. In 2017 I plan to build out a more robust site at kickstartyourfreelancing.com and a few additional landing pages for the email courses I’m offering.
Speaking & Teaching
I spoke at the annual Thought at Work conference at R.I.T. I held two workshops. One was called Learn HTML & CSS in 60 Minutes or Less which a record 82 students attended in a room that was made to hold 30.
The other was called Kickstart Your Freelancing Career which covered all the major topics in my book. A record 52 people attended that presentation when less than 25 were expected. You can download both presentations and find some useful resources here.
I taught a class of 45 students at R.I.T. during the spring semester. Since I taught the same web development course as an adjunct professor in 2013, I was well-prepared for the experience. It was rewarding to watch students who were previously scared to code become fascinated – even obsessed – with coding websites.
Business Growth & Strategy
Among many other upgrades to my website this year, I built a portal that allows clients to find all their project files and resources in one, password-protected place.
I started with Laura Elizabeth’s client portal and after a few design changes, I integrated the page into my WordPress website. Now I can leverage shared Google Drive folders to keep project deliverables organized. Explore the demo portal using the password “demo“.
I also started using Trello to organize my daily and weekly tasks. I created a list for each day of the week and a card for each task.
Then I moved tasks between lists and eventually onto a “Completed Tasks” list at the far right of the board. So far it’s worked well and helped me stay on track as a full-time freelancer.
Lastly, it had been a while since I designed business cards for myself. Typically, I don’t have a need for them, but I’ve always been excited to design for a physical medium. I felt compelled to find an innovative way to integrate business cards into my marketing strategy.
My solution was to design two cards. One for clients and one for freelancers. The card for clients followed the orange color scheme from my website and the freelancer card followed the green theme. While both cards contained my contact info, the client cards each had a different testimonial on the back and the freelancer card had info about my book, courses, and newsletter.
With these new tools at my disposal, I can attract a new client, follow-up with an old one, or engage fellow designers and freelancers at networking events.
Last, but certainly not least, I got married and took a honeymoon trip to Maui with my beautiful new wife. We were married in an old barn in upstate New York and planned every detail of the wedding ourselves. It went off without a hitch and everyone had a great time celebrating our special day with us.
Honeymoon in Maui
A few days later we flew over 5,000 miles to spend 7 blissful days in Maui, Hawaii. The trip was even better than we imagined thanks to our travel agent at Unforgettable Honeymoons. I could ramble on about the black sand beaches, crystal clear water, and world-class resort, but it’s easier to just browse my Instagram account.
My wife and I also started shopping for our first home in upstate New York. We’re excited to purchase our first home in 2017.
Plans for 2017
Toward the end 0f 2016 I wasn’t able todidn’t write and publish as many articles as I wanted to. I often feel the need to write and publish a detailed article every time I have a thought to share. The truth is, that’s not necessary. In the future, I’m going to place more emphasis on my subscribers and less on the formality of a blog post.
Next year, I’m going to write more concise content for my subscribers. Some content will find its way to my blog and some won’t. And that’s ok.
I also plan to create a home for all my growing number of products such as books, email courses, email templates, etc. Right now, it’s not easy to find any of these things on my website and that needs to change.
As for the rest of my business, I’m not going to change much. I’m finally at the point where there’s no need for a rebrand or redesign at the beginning of each year. Small, tactical changes will be the name of the game for a while.
As I write this review and reflect on my review of 2015, I’m able to see how I’ve grown both personally and professionally. It’s an exciting time of growth, change, and transformation that I’m really enjoying.
I hope some of this information gives you some insight into my life and business that can be beneficial to yours. As always, feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email!
About Matt Olpinski
Matt runs his own web design and development company Matthew’s Design Co. and teachers thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog and newsletter.