What are the best KPIs for freelance writers to use?

I’ve written two or three blog posts for customers recently about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and that got me thinking: what are my KPIs? Key Performance Indicators for freelance writers – what should they be?

Customer satisfaction is great – but how do you measure it?

Customer Service ImageCustomer satisfaction is probably the most important thing for any business, and that includes freelancers, but customer satisfaction can’t be a KPI because it’s too difficult to measure. Sometimes, the only way you know you haven’t given customer satisfaction is when you come to the end of the job and that client’s next job goes to someone else – the contract with you is not renewed.

Customer retention
In fact, figures from Aberdeen Research suggest we might be better off measuring customer retention because – according to them (and they’ve done an awful lot of research) – it’s much the same thing; organisations with customer satisfaction levels of 90%+ hold on to 89% of their customers. So I’m making customer retention my number one KPI.

Deadline imageMissed deadline rate
This should be zero. There aren’t any arguments about that; if you miss a deadline, it’s either because you got it wrong or because you didn’t care enough about delivering on time. Missing more than one deadline means you’re taking on more work than you can handle. You’re showing disrespect to the customer and if you don’t care about the customer, don’t expect the customer to care about you.

Low rewrite rate
In common with most other freelance writers, my standard terms give clients the right to a first draft and two rewrites for their pound/dollar/euro. I’m always happy to rewrite, especially for new clients while I “get” their voice, but it’s undeniable that time spent rewriting one piece is time that can’t be spent on someone else’s first draft, so the lower the rewrite rate the better. I have a gratifying number of customers who take the piece as first written, say “Thank you very much, it’s perfect,” pay me and go on their way until they need another piece.

Customer acquisition rate
The rate I’m talking about here is not how many new customers you take on – if you’re one person, there’s a limit to the number of clients you can have – but the amount they agree to pay you. There will always be some customer churn, even when your customer satisfaction rate is high, because:

  • Some jobs simply come to an end;
  • The person who booked you moves on and the replacement already has a preferred stable of writers;
  • Someone offers to do the job for a lower rate than yours and convinces the client that their work will be equally as good; or
  • They just want a change.

Whatever the reason, your clients are not wedded to you and you aren’t married to them; what’s important is that any new client you take on pays you at least as much as the highest paying client you already have and, ideally, more.

Financial target imageMeeting financial targets
You do have financial targets? You must – because, if you don’t, how can you possibly measure whether you’re doing well? For a freelancer, two figures should go hand-in-hand and be measured together:

  • The maximum number of hours you want to work; and
  • The minimum amount of money you want to earn for those hours.

Different freelancers will have different ways of putting this together; I don’t pitch either of those targets in weeks – I know the maximum number of hours in each day that I’m prepared to do freelance work and I know the minimum amount of money I want to earn in each month. However you organise it, you need to write it down and you need to measure your performance against the targets. I’m currently using the beta version of TimePanther to measure the amount of time I spend on a job because it allows me to break projects down. Typically, a project will be measured in four stages:

  • Research;
  • Outlining;
  • Writing; and
  • Editing and proofreading.

Interestingly, the total time taken up by the first two on that list exceeds the time taken by the third. Careful outlining makes the writing task a lot easier. I always take a break between completing the outlining and starting the writing; I may be pulling weeds in the garden or enjoying a cup of coffee or reading, but I’ll be turning the outline over in my mind until I’m satisfied that it’s the best it can be.

It’s possible to have too many KPIs for freelance writers

I could go on listing KPIs, but too many is not a good idea. What you want is a number that is small enough to be monitored constantly. Unsuccessful companies burden their employees with a list of KPIs too long to be monitored constantly; they check them only at annual appraisal time. Their successful competitors have a far shorter KPI list, but monitor it at least weekly and, in the case of some KPIs, daily.

So what are yours?