ICBA Blog

The Independent Contractor’s Guide to Nailing the New Year

A checklist for making the most of a fresh year ahead

 Happy New Year! Most of us are likely relieved to no longer see 2020 on the calendar. We won’t recap all the details as to why, but 2020 was a challenge—to say the least! Thankfully, 2021 us upon us, and we can look to what will hopefully be brighter days ahead, especially for many independent contractors. Whenever the calendar turns over, getting a handle on your goals and plans for the next 12 months is a good idea. We’ve developed a guide to get you going.

Financial Planning

Let’s start with the big one, a topic that can sometimes make us feel a little anxiety. Depending on your industry and your circumstances, 2020 might have been a bit hard on your bank account. But even if you netted the same income as in previous years, you should still take stock of your financial situation and make any necessary plans.

Debt. Let’s tackle the tough one first. Like many folks in 2020, you may have been operating in survival mode. If you’ve incurred debt this past year to pay the bills or put food on the table, you’re certainly not alone. Now’s the time to make a dedicated plan to pay it off. You may not be able to satisfy the entire debt over the next 12 months. And that’s okay. One step at a time.

But having a plan in place will take a load off your shoulders. Where to start? You might be able to transfer a credit card balance for a lower interest rate or even a temporary halt on interest, negotiate a better rate with current lenders, consolidate debt into an easier payment, inquire about a lower payment on a student loan, or even take out a personal bank loan to pay off higher-interest debt.

Income. The topic of income can be a weird one for independent contractors since we don’t have a set salary. But that can also be one of the benefits of being in business for yourself. Without a cap on income, there’s the potential to make more. Of course, that’s easier said than done—especially when we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.

Take stock of what you made in 2020 and what you’re projecting to make in the first quarter of 2021. If the income is not where you’d like or need it to be, brainstorm ways to give it a boost. That could mean offering promos, pivoting services, or even changing some of the apps you work for. It all depends on your unique situation.

Budget. Now that you’ve got a handle on debt and income, review your household budget and your business budget and make any necessary tweaks.

Goal Setting

The new year is always a great time for setting goals related to being an independent contractor—whether they’re about revamping your finances, learning a new and marketable skill, redoing your website, or securing new equipment. Go ahead and make that list of goals if you haven’t already.

Just make sure your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. For example, instead of just setting that goal to learn a new skill, decide on the specifics of how you will do that and when.

Schedule Planning

For many people, schedules got a bit goofy in 2020. Perhaps you were trying to run your business while also juggling your kids’ distance-learning setup. And maybe everyone in your household was suddenly working from home in close quarters, which made concentration difficult. Possibly you had to stagger your work schedule with a partner’s or you had to work in weird and sporadic spurts just to get everything done. And likely, previously scheduled vacation or off-time time blurred into work time this past year.

You may not know your exact schedule going forward in 2021, but possibly you’ve gotten a handle on how your workflow operates in these uncertain times. Pull up your favorite scheduling app and get to work on figuring out your months ahead. Be sure to block time off to decompress, even if you aren’t taking that annual trip in the first half of the year.

Health Management

And last, but definitely not least, take stock of any health needs. Did you skip any checkups, screenings, or procedures this year as a result of the pandemic? If you postponed a crucial screening like a mammogram, make sure you get that back on the docket asap. Likewise, check in with your physician if you have any new or worsening health issues. You want to remain in tiptop health for slaying all of those 2021 goals.