You’re a freelancer. Being good at what you do and being thankful when you actually have work coming in every day is surely what it’s all about, no? Well, if you ever want to earn more, get more of the work you love or even employ other people, then unfortunately not. As with any business, someone really needs to be thinking ‘bigger picture’ (a.k.a. Strategy) and that someone is you!
Strategy isn’t something that comes easy to many freelancers, who often start out with knowledge of a product or a skill as their area of expertise. But whether you like it or not, you need to start formulating and implementing a business strategy as soon as possible if you want to do more than just get by.
Here’s a quick guide to how you can find the time as well as the information required to flex your strategy muscles:
1) Know your long- and short-term objectives
Why exactly are you working as a freelancer? So you can retire early and pursue your aspiration of becoming a golf pro or world traveller? Because you love your product/industry and want to innovate within it? Because you have issues with authority and working for someone else was never going to be an option?
Once you’ve identified this, a lot of other things will immediately become clear. For example: I need to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible so that I’m freed up to do the other things I want to; I need to spend as much time as possible with other people in my industry, to enable me to be at the cutting edge of what I do; or simply, if I’m going to work with other people, I need to make sure I’m employing them so that I’m the boss!
Once you know your long-term objective, you can start to look at interim goals – anywhere from 1-5 years – to get there. To illustrate this point, my long-term goal has always been to move from being solely a freelance translator and lecturer to having more time to engage in philanthropic, creative and entrepreneurial pursuits. Two of my key objectives over the last couple of years have been participation at an international book fair and the organisation of a worldwide social media event. I needed to free up time and money to dedicate to the preparation and planning of these activities. So my 2-year strategy has involved undertaking more proofreading work because I find it more lucrative. In 2018, when my 2-3 year targets change, so will my strategy.
2) Let people know you’re strategizing
Talk to anyone and everyone about what you’re doing. People love people with a vision and they will contribute their thoughts to the mix without you even having to ask. Whether friend, family member or employee, the most valuable ideas come from collaboration. Two heads (and preferably three or four) will always be better than one.
If possible, team up with other freelancers who also want to focus on strategy (preferably in a group which also has an overriding strategy itself – for example, Standing Out Mastermind for Translators and Interpreters). Sharing strategies with others is inspiring and motivating and keeps you accountable.
3) Learn how successful strategists operate
Read about the topic. Investigate how other people – from other freelancers to business magnates – strategize. Where do those who do it well find the time to do so? What habits have they developed in this regard? Copy what others do or adapt what you learn to suit your own particular circumstances.
4) Create a strategic plan and regularly monitor it
To establish a good strategic plan, it can be helpful to use strategic planning tools. Once you’ve done this, make sure you regularly evaluate how you and your business are performing in relation to this plan. Have you had a couple of months where firefighting immediate issues has taken priority over strategy and targets? No problem. But if it’s been a couple of years then either your strategy wasn’t the right one or you perhaps aren’t making enough of an effort to focus on it.
5) Know your strengths
As a freelancer, it is extremely difficult to form a strategy which encompasses every single area of your operation simultaneously (sales and marketing, upskilling, networking, outsourcing, automating activities). So, know what you’re good at and start there.
Your strategy can of course change focus over time. However, if you’re not an IT guru then try and hand over any elements in your strategy which involve this area to someone who is! For example, if you’re a translator and want everything relating to your projects and invoices automated, then entrust those tasks to people whose entire business strategy focuses on making this happen – lsp.expert, for example.
As with anything, the more you practise strategizing, the better you get and the faster you’re able to do it. If you’re doing it properly, you should also find you have more time as the years go by to focus on this very area. So, start now, get stuck in and good luck!
We’d love to hear about any tips or tools you have to help with developing a freelance or small business strategy in the comments section below 🙂