It’s safe to say that for many of us 2020 didn’t exactly pan out as planned, and I was no exception. I began the year living and working in Brussels and then moved to Scotland shortly before the UK went into lockdown. In May, I decided to take the plunge into freelance translation after working in-house for a few months, and what a learning curve it has been! Here are a few things I’ve learnt about freelancing this year.
Use your network
Going freelance is scary and can sometimes feel lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. This year we have learnt the value of online communication and as a freelancer it is important to use it to the max. This year I’ve spoken with colleagues on Zoom and used social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Instagram to connect with other translators. Building your network is also great for marketing yourself. When I decided to go freelance I got in touch with people I already knew in the industry to tell them, including my old university teachers and other freelancers. Not only did this help me get some valuable tips, it also led to work through word of mouth. After all, how can people refer you if they don’t know what you do?
When you first start out it may seem possible to keep a mental record of the jobs you have to do and whether you have been paid, or even just know that you can look through your emails or your accounts. Once the work starts picking up, however, this becomes unmanageable, so it’s better to be organised from the start. One of the first things I did was set up a separate bank account for my business incomings and outgoings so I could see it all more closely and not have to wade through my personal accounts. I also use Microsoft Excel. A lot. I have a spreadsheet that I use to track my projects so I can clearly see when my jobs are due, which ones are finished, what I have invoiced and what I have been paid for, and then I can check at the end of each month and chase anything that is outstanding. You can also use more sophisticated tools to keep track of everything, but for me, Excel does the job just fine at the moment.
It’s not all plain sailing… and that’s okay
Being a freelancer is hard. It can certainly look easy on social media, and that’s the point, you don’t see the stress and the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. However, there are a lot of positives to freelancing too, like being able to be flexible in how and when you work, which projects you work on and where you specialise. It’s okay to struggle with both the work side and the business side of freelancing, whether that’s not enough work, too much work or anything in between. It happens to us all, and how you deal with these tough patches is what matters the most.
Celebrate the little wins
When I first started freelancing and I didn’t always have a lot of paid work to do, I found it really useful to make a note of my achievements at the end of every week. This helped me to stay focused on why I had made the decision to be a freelancer, and a translator, and not let any negativities that I was feeling get me down. At the start these were things like passing a test for a translation agency, doing my first project for a new client or doing a certain amount of hours that particular week, and later escalated into bigger achievements like getting my website up and running or being referred for a project by a colleague. Whatever you achieve, be proud of yourself!
Dream big (and then plan)
Goal-setting is really important when you run a business, it helps you measure how well you are doing, and gives you something to work towards in the future. However, just because you are new to freelancing, or to goal-setting, it doesn’t mean that your goals should be small. They should push you to work harder and smarter to get where you want to be, wherever that may be. They don’t have to be related to income either, you may want more free time to spend with your family, to pursue a new hobby or learn a new skill. Once you’ve set your goals, you need to plan how to achieve them. What that looks like is individual to you but your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, and you can check in as often as you like and tweak if necessary.
It’s without a doubt that 2020 has been a steep learning curve for a lot of people, whether that be changing professional direction, studying something new or simply learning how to better look after your mental health. We should all be proud of getting through what has been a tough year for everyone. Here’s hoping that 2021 will allow us to learn even more and live life to the fullest.