Strategy: 5 keys for freelancers

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 objectivesGoals

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.

Talking

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.

Learn3) 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 itMonitoring

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.

what are you best at?

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 ūüôā¬†

Budget outsourcing for beginners [A fiverr is all you need!]

Have you ever wished you could be like the CEO of a mega-corporation and delegate all those tasks you don’t really enjoy/aren’t really good at to someone else? Do you envisage yourself as a bit of a Zuckerberg, or a Branson-in-waiting, only you seem to spend more of your time on admin than strategising and the stuff that really plays to your key skills? If the answer is ‘Yes’ on both counts, did you know that it’s never too soon to outsource and it need not cost a fortune – as little as¬†$5/¬£5/‚ā¨5 is all you need to get started? You didn’t? Then read on…

I run a business which centres around translation (I refer to it as a ‘business’ because whilst I’m a freelance translator, a solopreneur, I have a number of different income streams). When I talk to fellow small- and medium-sized business (SME) owners, they often say that one of the key issues holding them back from their dreams of rapid growth and success is getting bogged down in the nuts and bolts of their business. We’ve all been there. Admin, accounting, marketing and advertising all eat into precious time which could be better spent on specialist tasks – whether a specific ‘artistic’ skill, dealing with potential clients/investors or creating a detailed business plan for subsequent years.

So, where do you start if outsourcing is something you’re keen to do as promptly and in as painless a way as possible? Here are the 3 questions I hear most often from people who haven’t tried outsourcing before, along with responses containing the information I wish I’d had when I first started out.

tasks-to-outsource

1) WHAT WORK SHOULD YOU OUTSOURCE?

Despite knowing they should outsource something, it’s surprising how many SME owners aren’t really sure exactly what that something should be. Do you fall into this camp?

Ask different people and you’ll get different answers as to what you should outsource. To provide a useful starting point, however, www.business.com recommends that you outsource 5 key areas. In my experience, these make a lot of sense. They can act like vampires on your time and often detract from priority work. With just one small variation (number 4), I’d therefore recommend outsourcing the following tasks:

1. Appointments, Scheduling & Answering Phones

2. Graphic/Web Design

3. Bookkeeping

4. Marketing/Advertising

5. Customer or Technical Support

 who-and-what

2) WHO/WHAT SHOULD YOU OUTSOURCE TO?

Solutions to help solve the issue of outsourcing business-related tasks (or¬†delegating¬†them – if you’re lucky enough to have actual employees!) generally come in two forms: those involving

1) people

or

2) software.

I focus purely on 1) here, as 2) would require a listing of so many different industry-specific tools that any sane reader would stop reading right about…now!

But please don’t. The great thing about 1) is that the related solutions apply to all industries, so there will definitely be something here for you.

The advent of¬†websites designed to offer specialist/professional services for a fee sometimes¬†involved¬†dubious service providers. A number of them hadn’t necessarily ever undertaken a given task before¬†you suddenly parted with good money to be their guinea pig. This isn’t the case anymore.

There are now a multitude of more reliable outsourcing options, (www.fiverr.com and www.peopleperhour.com¬†being two of the most renowned)¬†which enable you to¬†pay¬†someone to undertake tasks you feel you can’t, or don’t want to – everything from website design, to SEO optimisation, to data entry. Other great options are referred to here:

www.fiverrstuff.com

A simple Google search also brings up many other websites designed specifically for outsourcing work:

www.elance.com  and   www.mylittlejob.eu to name but two.

Suffice it to say that the new improved versions¬†of these websites include reviews from outsourcers’ previous customers and the option to purchase different combinations of skills for different periods of time. You can even define your own specific requirements, put them out into the e-sphere and then wait and see who wants the job.

budget-and-quality

3) CAN BUDGET = QUALITY?

I’m amazed when talking to fellow entrepreneurs that so many still seem to be unaware of cost-effective means of outsourcing work. When they do know about it, concerns are sometimes raised over ethics or quality. As with all things, business and money make the world go round. With these websites, you are paying someone, and that someones may sometimes live in a different country, who has an area of expertise they want to share and a desire to make a living, just like you or me. Arguably, paying someone to do work that involves them using a computer or technology (which most ‘gigs’ on these sites do) is markedly more ethical than the sweatshop practices¬†in which a number of well-known multinationals still engage.

There’s also the added benefit that you can end up dealing with people who work all over the world. This can heighten your cultural awareness and even increase your own levels of motivation and gratitude. I once worked¬†with a person who lived in the Philippines and his local area was flooded¬†overnight.¬†He was keen to continue collaborating despite access to basic electricity, let alone an internet connection, becoming an issue. I was extremely humbled to learn about the difficulties he was facing and yet inspired to see how resolute he was in the face of adversity. Completing and being paid for the great work he was producing was a priority for him. We even discussed how thankful we both were to be working with a fellow professional who was keen to see our collaboration through, no matter how difficult the circumstances got.

As far as quality is concerned, naturally, expectations are everything. It’s unlikely you’ll be outsourcing to someone with 20 years of experience working for multinationals if you’re paying $20 as a fixed or hourly rate. However, in my experience, there is huge talent out there just waiting to be discovered and everyone has to start somewhere. I’ve often¬†worked with students paying their way through a college course, as well as professionals starting out in an industry and looking to gain experience and good references. I’ve built great, mutually beneficial working relationships with¬†many of them. And the quality of their work has¬†been excellent. [Providing a comprehensive brief or set of instructions is of course vital to ensure this is the case!] I’ve also increased what I pay the people I outsource to, based on the quality of their work.¬†The question, after all, shouldn’t really be how ethical a given outsourcing website is, but rather how ethical you want to be in your own professional practice.

So, if your big vision sees your business expanding in the near future, but currently the only thing growing seems to be your to do list, why not give one of these sites a try? For just a small and very affordable investment, you can start creating a virtual team and get back to focusing on¬†what you do best! Good luck ūüôā

Claire Culliford (Owner of TransTeach)

Do you have experience outsourcing on a budget ? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share your stories with us in the comments section below ūüôā¬†