Would you like some tips on how to start your own business as a freelancer? Or if you have a business already, are you trying to get to work more with direct clients rather than agencies? If so, this post is for you. Enjoy the reading!
1. Jump… but only with a parachute!
Despite what most people might think, starting a business doesn’t imply signing a couple of documents and then looking for clients, but the other way around. If you want to do things properly to achieve a sustainable success, you can’t forget that getting good and long-term clients isn’t easy and takes significant time, unfortunately much more than you think. In other words, no clients, no business. If you don’t have stable clients and still decide to officially start your own business, it’s like jumping from a plane without a parachute. Don’t do it.
2. Be financially prepared
Once you have enough clients to provide you with some stability, this step will begin to be worthwhile from an economic point of you (at the very least, you shouldn’t lose money). The ideal scenario is that you have been saving money for some time and can perfectly keep up your living standards for up to one year, without any financial pressure to make your ends meet.
I cannot stress enough how this makes all the difference for your professional future: it will decide whether you’ll be making €1,000 or €10,000 per month 5 years later. Why? Because if you set a very decent fee nobody initially accepts and you don’t have any savings, you’ll be forced into the vicious circle of desperately lowering your rate to get work at any cost from terrible agencies (or, as I informally call it, “prostitution”).
3. Don’t forget this is a job, not a hobby
The biggest issue I see in this field is that average translators barely make it to the end of the month and, even worse, they are fine with that. Why? Because it’s probably the most vocational profession there is out there and we truly love what we do. As a consequence, many confuse their job with a hobby and constantly accept far-too-low fees to make a decent living out of it. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake. Loving our job translates into higher quality and we should do the exact opposite: making a great income by doing what we love.
4. Set the right fees from the very beginning
Setting decent rates is not a new tip, I know. You must have heard it from every single experienced freelancer a thousand times already. The reasons are fairly obviously: avoid undercutting the market you hope to be living of and unfair competition.
Yet, my tip is a little bit different, but only suitable for a few. You shouldn’t apply the minimum decent fee you’ve heard of, but rather a medium-high fee from the very first day. If you are still unexperienced, you will be paid enough to hire someone to proofread your translations and deliver good-quality work.
In the long-term, then, this will make the difference between working for agencies or direct clients. These are two parallel worlds that almost never touch one another, believe me.
Warning: you can even consider following this tip only if you have been saving enough and if you are tremendously determined and patient. In the first months, you’ll definitely doubt about this strategy, because at first it will imply getting costant noes and “You’re too expensive” messages. If you are not running for the long run and want/need immediate yet modest results, forget about it.
5. Apply different fees for agencies and direct clients
In any case, if you do decide to work for agencies as well, remember to always charge them less than direct clients. The former are lower because middlemen will need to get their margin. In order to know how lower they should be, you should ask professionals or associations in your country.
If agencies do their job properly, I personally find more than justifiable that they get a margin. Sad, though, that this is generally not the case (if you speak Spanish, you might want to read a previous post on this issue: “Los intermediarios tienen que aportar valor añadido además de cobrar un margen“).
6. Hide your lack of experience in a smart way
As previously mentioned in a recent post in Spanish (“Traductores e intérpretes que nunca contrataría“), another vicious circle affecting not only freelancers-to-be, but also the world of work in general, is “Having no work experience and thus getting no job; getting no job and thus having no work experience”. I am sure you’ve heard of it and probably even complained about it yourself.
If you don’t have any related experience (maybe from a previous in-house position), read carefully. Be smart and do not indirectly underline your lack of experience to the client by saying that you recently graduated from this amazing university or using your graduation picture on your CV. No matter how good the university is, the only think the client would read is that you have no experience at all and that s/he’d better be looking for a more experienced professional, especially if you’re expensive.
What you should do instead is standing out from the crowd out there and make your profile interesting. For example, get some experience by taking some unpaid assignments at your university, working as a translation intern or volunteering as a translator and/or interpreter for NGOs and similar good causes. Please do not confuse these options with working for free for profit-making businesses or lowering your rates to add a line or two in your CV.
Once you have some related experience, you might need to at least give the idea that you’re specializing in the client’s field. My tip here is to learn more about that field, for example by taking an online course (there are many amazing ones offered for free by the best universities in the world on Coursera, for example).
7. Prepare a bullet-proof online branding
In my personal experience, direct clients, especially when it comes to big companies, have always found me online through my website. Also, most of them usually tell me that they chose me because of it, since it was conveying what they were looking for: professionalism, reliability, trustworthyness, etc. When that happens, they won’t even care to look for some cheaper service provider.
If you haven’t done it already, you have some homework to do: get yourself a modern and responsive website that conveys the right message to your clients and work on your SEO.
Sometimes word of mouth helps as well: after somebody recommends us, that professional brand we have created will do the rest.
8. Find the right clients for you
Again, clients are key for your business and they won’t be waiting in line in front of your door as soon as you decide to become a freelancer. There are many ways to look for them and it really depends on the field in question. Some ideas to find direct clients:
- check online what multilingual websites are not translated into your mother tongue;
- correct improper translations you find online as a sample;
- go to business fairs related to your specialization;
- further strategies by several freelance translators are available on a previous post, How can freelancers find new clients?
Also, remember that not all clients are right for you. If you want to be the Prada of translations, don’t worry about H&M-kind-of-clients telling you’re too expensive. Don’t even try to negotiate terms or you’ll end up being a H&M-kind-of-service-provider.
9. Use your time efficiently and learn to delegate
This is not another boost-your-productivity-with-the-pomodoro-technique tip, don’t worry. Based on the business phase you are in, analyse your to-do list and your time availability. If your time is very limited and you are already struggling, consider delegating some tasks. For example, many freelancers at the beginning take care of their fiscal obligations on their own to save money. In my case, I’ve always valued my time and peace of mind much more, so I’ve always left it in the more professional hands of an accountant.
10. Your religion will be Murphy’s law
Accept it, Murphy will rule your life. During initial stages without a huge amount of work, whenever you’ll be in front of your computer ready to receive assignments, you won’t get any. Then, as soon as you stand up and leave the desk heading out of your office to [choose destination], you’ll get a very urgent job and will need to cancel your plans. In other words, carpe diem will become your life’s slogan, whether you like it or not, and plans on weekends and holidays will be likely to suffer… a lot (for more on this topic, you can have a look at this post in Spanish, Murphy, los autónomos y las vacaciones).
In the future, when your business is already running, the slogan will turn into When it rains, it pours. For example, instead of receiving interpreting offers for five different days, they’ll be likely to be all on the same day. It’s just how it is. When that happens, remember that it’s hard for everyone and that you’re not alone.
Also, when planning your deadlines, always remember that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Take this into account when organising your travel arrangements for an interpreting assignment, and always add at least a couple of extra days for translation deadlines.
I hope these tips will be helpful. Fingers crossed!