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 🙂 

5 Top Tips For New Translators

Well before I founded TransTeach, I was was training new translators. In fact, I started training new translators just a few months after I stopped being one myself (a new translator that is!) With a background in education, I was approached about a year after I finished my own translation masters to teach on the very same course. And thus, over a decade of translator training was born.
 
I see lots of advice given to new translators these days, most of it extremely beneficial. I certainly wish some of it had been on offer when I started out!
 
Based on my own personal journey, the following are 5 top tips that I believe all new translators can benefit from, to ensure their career goes from strength to strength.

Tip 1 – Don’t undersell yourself!
Someone gave me this very piece of advice when I first started out and I’ve never forgotten it. Translation remains an underrated profession. If you don’t value your time and skills then no-one else will. So, do your research is necessary and then set yourself a baseline. Decide the minimum amount (daily/hourly/per word) you’re prepared to work for and then don’t budge from there. Ever! The minute you do, you make it harder for both you and every other professional translator to raise the bar and have people hold the profession in the esteem it deserves. Obviously, your minimum amounts may vary over time and indeed increase as you become more experienced. However, translating needs to pay you a wage you can live on, and are happy with, otherwise, to be frank, you might as well go and get a job which gives you holiday pay, sick pay and a pension on top!

Tip 2 – Don’t get obsessed with ‘specialising’ too early on.
When I started out, people had me down as a finance, technical and medical specialist (because my studies happened to focus on those areas). Ten years later and I’ve managed to cast off this mantle, as I discovered that I don’t particularly enjoy working in these areas. I’m creative; I like books, films, travel and the arts. Unsurprisingly, these are areas I’ve gravitated towards and the ones I now predominantly work in. I thought I had to know what I was going to want to translate from the off. I was wrong. Experiment, take on different types of work (skills and confidence permitting) and don’t pigeonhole yourself until you’ve developed plenty of experience and know yourself and your interests inside out, through trial and error.

Tip 3 – Keep your options open
I’ve seen translators come and I’ve seen them go. Some stay in the industry a lifetime, some are gone within a year. Translating, whether in-house or freelance, isn’t going to suit everyone for the long term, so keep your options open. If you have experience working in education, marketing, hospitality, the sciences or any other of a multitude of areas, don’t just let it slide. Keep your hand in, if possible, and further your knowledge and skills in that area. Not only will it serve you well if you decide you want to use it as your specialist translation ‘niche’, if you decide translation really isn’t for you at any point, then you won’t find it anywhere near as hard to get back into the job market.

Tip 4 – Develop, develop, develop…
As with any other self-employed professional, no longer will your career development be planned out for you. It’s all down to you from here on in. So, make sure you find time (and save money) to take any courses that appeal to you and keep up with the latest developments in the industry. Investigate opportunities and don’t be afraid to try out new aspects of the profession (proofreading, editing, copywriting, transcreation, localisation, subtitling etc). It’s amazing what comes your way when you have an open-mind and are willing to take on a new challenge. As with any career these days, if you snooze you lose. So, make your own professional development a priority and plan it in to your yearly schedule like your boss would do (if you still had one!)

Tip 5 – Find strategies to deal with the dry times.
Translation, if you’re working as a freelancer, offers no guarantees in terms of workload. Sometimes there’ll be so much on offer you could cry. Others, there’ll be so little available…you could cry (even more!) Very few translators love the uncertainty that comes with the professional territory but there are definitely ways of making it more bearable. Whether you use quiet times to get stuck in to administration and marketing yourself or to catch up on household chores and family time, always have a plan for the next time you’re without a deadline. And if you don’t like being without work (and I can assure you lots of us really don’t!) then find other ways to subsidise your income – teaching, part-time work in another field, writing etc – so that you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. For any self-employed professional these days, diversity is the name of the game. We no longer live in a ‘job for life’ world, so ensuring you have several strings to your professional bow is a must, not a ‘nice-to-have’.

Claire Culliford – TransTeach founder

If you found this post helpful or have any more questions about starting out in the translation industry, drop me a line and let me know at info@transteach.com. And of course, good luck on your own translation journey. Enjoy the ride!