I recently heard someone refer to a freelancer's mindset as needing to be split in two parts: the entrepreneur and the freelancer. The entrepreneur tells the freelancer how to work. He/she actually runs the business. The freelancer is the one who does the actual work that is produced as a deliverable for a client. Both parts are needed to bring in the revenue and keep the business afloat.
By allowing yourself to separate these mindsets in your business, it becomes easier to realize that you should be treating your business the way a larger business might operate… with policies or standards set in place in order to keep things running smoothly.
It is essential to maintain a set of professional and personal standards with regard to your freelance business. Ed Gandia has an excellent podcast episode related to setting standards as a freelancer. Just as you set standards around the way you like to work and the type of work you do, you'll want to have some standards in mind when it comes to the clients you agree to take on.
You can set as many or as few standards as you wish. The number is really not important here. What is important is that your standards protect you as a freelancer from business practices you find to be less than ideal for your line of work and lifestyle. Here are some potential standards to consider setting for your freelance translation business.
Decide what hours you will work and what times of day or days of the week you will take off. Try to stick to these and accept client work that falls into these hours so that you can use your non-working hours to rest and recharge. The same goes for vacation. Set your vacation "rules" in advance so that you are not tempted to work when you should be resting your mind and getting in a little rest and relaxation.
Types of projects you will (and won't) accept
You know that type of project you took on one too many times, and then you kicked yourself later for taking it? The one that didn't pay well or that left you drained and exhausted, having to turn down all the projects you'd rather be doing? That's the one you might want to consider setting a standard for. If you have certain projects you no longer wish to take on, set a standard in your business to refer that kind of work to a colleague who enjoys it.
And by the same token, set some standards for the work you do want to take on. This could be documents you translate that align with something you believe in, or projects you receive from an organization you truly admire. Of course, there will likely be exceptions to this standard, as it's nearly impossible to always have projects in the pipeline from organizations you strongly value. Impossible? No, of course not. But probably unlikely until you build up a strong set of regular clients you truly value.
Minimum rate requirements
This one may seem obvious, but it should be one of the top priorities on your list of standards. If you haven't already set the standard to only take on projects that meet your ideal minimum rates, it might be time to do that. Of course, just like any of these standards, you may need to make an exception from time to time. The key is to be aware of making the exception and to always try to return the standard for the majority of your work.
Rush jobs and fees
I know some translators who simply do not take on rush jobs. If your lifestyle is such that rush jobs are something of the past, then it might be one of your standards to never take on a rush job. Or, if you're okay with taking on the occasional rush job, you could go ahead and set a rush fee for your freelance business and hold yourself to charging that fee every time, no matter how attractive the project that lands in your inbox. It's important to know these numbers before the request is made by a client so that you are prepared.
Go ahead and decide what you find to be an acceptable amount of time for a client to settle an invoice. Your payment terms should be set before you take on a project, but they also shouldn't be different for every client. Yes, some clients may not budge when it comes to payment terms, but trying to get all your clients on the same page as far as when they pay you is key to maintaining cash flow. If you aren't happy with a client's payment terms, it might be time to have a conversation with them and be ready to move on if they are not willing to meet you in the middle.
Other qualifying methods for clients
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the types of clients they prefer to work with on a regular basis. Sit down and make a brief list of the the ways in which you qualify a client. If you find that a pattern comes up in this process, you may want to set a standard for your freelance business with regard to what makes a client ideal for you and vice versa. You should also determine what "disqualifies" a client from working with you. This is much easier than it sounds. Just stick to what you value as a business owner and freelancer, and remember that the goal is to have a long-term working relationship with your clients.
Once you have a list of business standards, review them from time to time in order to see how well you're sticking to them and whether you need to readjust any. As Ed puts it, "The purpose of your list of standards isn’t 100% compliance. The purpose is to have an objective measure for making good decisions."
The best we can do is to hope we take on clients by making good decisions and choosing them carefully. But the truth is, we cannot always control who reaches out to us with a new project or when we will have those inevitable periods of famine in our work. This is when you may make an exception to a standard you've set for your freelance business.
If you do make exceptions, at least take a moment to stop and recognize why you're making them. Is this a one-time exception, or is it becoming a habit? Does the standard still reflect the values you have in your business and what you want to get out of it? As long as you do so intentionally, you can feel confident in the fact that you won't make the exception your norm.