Here are some aspects I found very useful when working as a freelancer. Some of these are quite general, while others are catered to freelance translators (but still applicable for all freelancers I think). This is by no means a complete list but just some pointers for people who wanna get started as a freelancer or things even an experienced freelancer should consider. I am looking forward to your comments and experiences.
1. Find your niche
Especially for freelance translators this is very important. Find a field that you love and specialise in it. It doesn’t have to be very narrow but it should be specific (like medicine or law for example). It will help you to stand out and be unique and that will help you get clients and raise your rates. Analyse the market and your niche and make sure you know it very well. We recommend checking out the book Diversification in the Language Industry.
2. Learn marketing
As a freelancer you create your own personal brand, and like any other brand you have to market it. Don’t worry, you don’t have to become a marketing professional but you need to at least learn the basics. It’s quite simple and doesn’t take much time. Here are some pointers that you might want to consider:
- Be visible: Join social networks and create specific profiles or pages for your business. Learn how the different platforms work and what makes each one special. Build up a network around your different social media channels and try to expand it constantly. Post relevant content that (preferably) you created yourself or comment on someone else’s. If you post other peoples content always provide a link or mention them.
- Be social: Join online communities. Those can be groups/pages on a social network or a forum on a dedicated homepage. They are a great place to ask questions, get advice or discuss topics that are relevant to your field. Interact with people but don’t spam. Be friendly and helpful. Marketing is a lot about being known and respected.
- Be yourself: Create a homepage or blog that is all about yourself and the brand that you are. Write about things that are relevant to your work and your experience. Don’t forget to share content you created on your social media channels.
Sebastian wrote a beginners guide to Google+ for translators a few weeks ago, you can find it here. Also, we will release a free ebook about self-marketing very soon on LingoIO that will go much more into detail for all the social networks and platforms.
3. How to get clients
This is be the biggest concern for people who just started out as freelancers. There are a few things to consider when you are looking for potential new clients. Ideally you want to find clients that have projects in your niche. If you keep doing work in different areas it makes it harder to sell yourself to clients that need someone in that specific field you actually want to work in. Also you will enjoy working in the field that you love a lot more. This is not always easy (especially in the beginning) but sometimes it can be better to turn down a project if it just doesn’t fit unless you really need the income.
Here are some ideas to get new clients:
- Redo existing work: You came across something where you think you can do a better job? Just do it! You can add it to your portfolio and describe what motivated you to do it or even send it in. They might not always be willing to pay again for a job already done but if your redo was good they will for sure keep you in mind for future projects.
- Use job boards: This one is quite obvious. Search the net for job boards and apply for projects there.
- Ask experienced and successful freelancers: It seems a bit strange at first but I would really recommend to do this. Freelancers are a community and usually very friendly and helpful. Find experienced and successful freelancers in your field and ask them for some tips.
- Go to events: A lot of people think that nowadays everything is done online but actually meeting someone in person is still a lot different. Go to conventions, conferences or networking events to get to know potential new clients. Don’t try to hard to sell yourself. Be friendly but pro-active.
4. Business and law
Not as much fun but very important: know relevant laws in the country you work in. Especially everything related to taxes. Learn what kind of taxes you have to pay and when to pay them. Check if you have to have some kind of insurance. Do you need to start your own company? In most countries it is encouraged to start a company and there are offices that you can contact for questions.
Also check for government health insurance and retirement funds. Often there are special rates for freelancers. Having extra liability insurance or insurance to cover legal issues is also highly recommended. Disability insurance also makes a lot of sense, as small injuries or minor illnesses can potentially put you out of work for a longer time.
5. Time management
Time management is something every freelancer has to master sooner or later. There is no boss telling you what to do and when – or to remind you of a deadline. So here are a few tips to help you with time management:
- Be generous: make sure you have enough time when you negotiate deadlines with clients. Estimate the needed time generously and always add a buffer (I suggest to add at least 20% depending on the project and if you have other things currently in the pipeline as well). That way you will have enough time to do an awesome job!
- Be organised: Organise your time and set it in specific blocks of 2 or 3 hours so you can really focus. Try to break projects down into sub-tasks that can be organised better. Don’t multitask too much to stay concentrated and focused on the task at hand. Organise your tasks according to priority. You can use a traditional calendar or a tool like Trello (what I use) to help you organise your schedule.
Don’t forget to schedule breaks, snacks, exercise and other non-work activities into your schedule. Don’t forget to do nothing every once in a while 🙂
6. Work environment
This is more important than you might think. Working in an environment where you feel comfortable and can focus is essential. It doesn’t matter if it is a dedicated room or a desk in the corner of your living room. Set up everything you need to work and only what you need to work. Get rid of things that easily distract you like a TV or that book you really enjoy reading. Try to have a space that really is dedicated only to working. This way you “go to work” but you also “leave work” when you are done which makes it easier to focus on working and to enjoy your free time after.
If you prefer to work outside of your home you can go to a coffee shop or a library. I prefer libraries since it is easier to focus there but for some tasks that don’t require lots of concentration a coffee shop works as well. But be honest to yourself if you really get the work done at the place you go to or if you just wanna leave the house for a while. If you can really get your work done outside then a change of place can actually really boost your motivation and therefore productivity. Some people actually need a small level of noise. If you think your home office is too silent, try coffitivity.
One of the biggest advantages of being a freelancer is that you can arrange your time freely. This gives you the opportunity to do a lot of activities while others are stuck in an office. And I would suggest that you use these opportunities as much as possible.
Exercise on a regular basis. It’s not only healthy and makes you happy it also makes the brain function in a different way that will boost your creativity. It can also help you when you are stuck at a work-related problem. Remember: a healthy mind lives in in a healthy body (from an old Latin proverb).
Join activities or classes. One of the downsides of working as a freelancer is that you don’t have much social interaction when you are working. At least for me that was always something I disliked about it. With the flexible schedule it is easy to arrange time to join activities or go to a class on a regular basis where you interact with others while also doing or learning something you like, a new language, a craft, something you were unable to attend in college, etc.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these aspects and tips for the freelance lifestyle and please let me know what you think, where you agree or where you disagree. Thanks for reading!