The Freelance Institute
Join a global Slack community for freelancers dedicated to learning and professional growth.
Find out more

2017 Year In Review

Hi, I'm Matt Olpinski

I teach thousands of freelancers how to get more clients, raise their rates, and create a better life for themselves.

Updated: December 31, 2017

After over two years of freelancing full-time, my business has finally started to run itself. It’s become more organized and efficient.

I know what to expect from it. The kinks and quirks have been ironed out and that helped make 2017 my best year of freelancing yet.

It was exciting to add Facebook, Twitter, and Bloomberg to my list of clients. Halfway through the year, my wife and I bought a new home in the countryside of upstate New York. I did more reading than usual and started making more things with my hands (mostly for the house).

I realized how much I love learning new things and then teaching them to others.

Much like 2016, I didn’t attend any conferences or hear any profound advice. I didn’t even care about growth. My only “goal” was to not go backwards.

Besides, buying a house was enough to fill up the whole year and that made me realize you can’t always be focused on growing your business. Sometimes it’s ok to reap the harvest for a season.

These are some of the statistical comparisons along with personal and professional highlights from 2017.

Work Inquires & Paid Projects

This year, I worked on 13 paid freelance projects out of 125 serious inquiries that landed in my inbox. That only 10%, but still an exponential increase in accepted work over last year (just 0.01%). Thanks to two long-term retainer agreements and 9 more paid projects than 2016, I earned my highest gross income to date despite a 48% reduction in project inquiries.

2017 – 125 Work Inquiries (-114)
  • 37 Form Submissions (-9)
  • 5 Dribbble Inquiries (-16)
  • 83 Direct Emails (-10)
2016 – 239 Work Inquiries
  • 46 Form Submissions
  • 21 Dribbble Inquiries
  • 93 Direct Emails
  • 79 Job Offers from Crew.co

Website Traffic

I love looking at my Google Analytics dashboard, especially at the end of the year. I’m always amazed at the numbers. Just 279 visitors shy of 50,000 and 84% of the people browsing my site had never been there before.

At first, that might seem suspiciously high, but these numbers reflect how highly I rank on Google and my subscriber statistics.

2017 Total Numbers:
  • Users: 10,273
  • New Users: 10,282
  • Sessions: 17,000
  • Sessions Per User: 1.65
  • Pageviews: 49,721
  • Pages Per Session: 2.92
  • Avg. Sessions Duration: 2:43
  • Bounce Rate: 51%
Top 5 Traffic Sources:
  • Google / Organic: 60%
  • Direct: 29%
  • Social: 4.5%
  • Referral: 2.7%
  • Other: 3.8%

My website also continues to rank at the top of Google for key searches such as “freelance ux designer new york” and “freelance ui designer ny”. My goal for 2018 is to rank higher on Google for even more searches such as “product design ny”, “marketing website design”, or “freelance mobile app design” by creating relevant landing pages that specify how I can help businesses seeking those services.

Big Clients

I dipped my toes into the deep learning and neural networking space while designing a logo for internal teams at both Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook’s project is called Prophet, which is an internal forecasting tool that helps non-experts at the company make accurate predictions that drive product features and assist in resource allocation.

Twitter’s project is called PyTorch, which is a flexible deep learning framework that directly rivals Google’s open source machine learning framework TensorFlow.

By far my biggest project was done for Bloomberg (yes, the financial software, data, and media company headquartered in Midtown Manhattan). Unfortunately, I can’t share what exactly I’ve been working on for 18+ months, but it’s a major internal system used by thousands of people that run the media aspects of the company.

I also got to design the proprietary software that runs Bloomberg’s TicToc live stream channel on Twitter from behind the scenes!

Milestones

This year I surpassed the $500k mark for all-time freelance sales in under 5 years. Looking back, there’s no way I could have done that without establishing long-term retainer arrangements with multiple clients such as Bloomberg and Cinematique. With a little luck, I might be able to surpass the $1M mark by the end of 2020.

Next time you’re quoting a project that is loosely defined or might take multiple months, consider proposing a monthly retainer agreement. If you do great work, it’s likely the client will continue to renew or extend that agreement.

Clients with large projects know how difficult it is to find a good freelancer so once they find one, they are more likely to keep them around. Monthly retainer agreements are the perfect way to give yourself long-term, consistent, and predictable income as a freelancer.

Learning Lessons

I took on a few projects that I ended up regretting. These fixed-price projects would have worked out fine, but the clients became difficult to manage late in the game. In the end, the projects weren’t very profitable and caused unnecessary amounts of stress.

Normally, I’m better at vetting clients, but having just dropped over $30k on the house, my main concern was replenishing the bank accounts. Sometimes you have to do work on projects you don’t love and you can’t predict the future. Looking back, I still feel like it was better to accept these difficult projects than pass on $20k worth of work when my family needed the money.

Newsletter, Books, and Courses

My goal this year was to grow my email list from about 350 subscribers to 500. I was thrilled to exceed that goal and finished the year with 630 subscribers.

After some consideration, I decided to redirect kickstartyourfreelancing.com to the product page for my book Kickstart Your Freelancing Career. I also spent time refining the copywriting on that page to better address the pain points new freelancers experience. In the future, I may still build out that website, but in the mean-time, it might as well link to a high-quality page.

I also added my total number of subscribers to each of my signup forms dynamically. That means it updates every time I gain a subscriber and I think that helps encourages more people to sign up.

Life Events

Just 5 days into the year, our offer was accepted on a home in upstate New York. We didn’t actually close on the property until May, but my wife and I successfully purchased our first home!

Our wish list was extensive, but this was going to be our “forever home”. We wanted a modern colonial with a two-car garage, basement, and 1 acre of land in a desirable town where only a handful of people sell their homes each year.

For anyone wondering, it is totally possible to buy a new home with less than two years of freelance income history and an average down payment.

We got even more than we hoped for. This house backs up to 1,000+ acres of open farmland and can fit 12 cars in the driveway. It’s got 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, first floor laundry, a home office for me, and a bonus room we’re using for coffee/games.

To say we were blessed with this classic American dream home is a huge understatement.

Project Time!

Over the summer, we remodeled our entire kitchen DIY style and I learned how to put in 3/4″ solid hardwood maple floors! Look at the different we were able to make for under $10k including the tools!

FYI: Kitchen remodels typically cost $20-40k in comparable homes.

The only thing I didn’t do myself was install the quartz countertops. I painted the kitchen cabinets and hardware for $100 (yup), installed the subway tile backsplash for about $250, ripped out the old sink and its cabinet, built a new base + doors, installed the new plumbing, knocked down the bar top, built new built-in cabinets in its place, re-routed some electrical boxes, and installed the new hardwood floors.

Phew!

View More Remodel Photos on Instagram

I didn’t know how to do a single one of those things when we moved in. I had to learn from YouTube and the staff at Lowes, but we easily saved $10k just in labor costs – it can be done!

Then in October, we adopted a Golden Retriever puppy named Lily!

Now I just need to install the white picket fence.

Plans for 2018

2017 was awesome. The new house really soaked up most of my time and attention and that’s ok. It took months to get settled and before long we found ourselves doing fun projects. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if you can’t enjoy yourself?

As far as my business, I don’t plan to redesign my website in 2018 or make any other major changes. Instead, I plan on releasing more products, resources, and email courses.

If you’re interested in seeing how my business has grown over the years, check out my annual reviews from 2016 and 2015.

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!