Successful strategic planning for freelance translators

In my previous articles I have tackled two issues that newbie translators and interpreters tend to face when they move their first steps in the industry: the lack of experience and the lack of knowledge of the industry. Hopefully my tips will have helped you find ways to build more experience, sell your services at the beginning of your career, avoid inexperience traps and learn more about the translation industry and your markets. Now it’s time to start acting like a business person and not just thinking like one. Now it’s time to plan for your business and organise your work. Let’s look at a few ideas that can help you do that.

I believe there are 3 key elements for successful strategic planning in our business.

First, you need to know what your short and long-term objectives are. A short term objective could be contacting 5 new clients a week, or writing 4 blog articles a month. A long-term objective could be earning a certain amount of money in a year. Work out your objectives and make sure they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Getting 5 new clients by the end of the 2015 is a smart objective: it’s very specific, it can be measured, it can be achieved if you put effort in it, it is realistic and it has a defined time frame. Becoming successful is not a smart objective: success is subjective, thus not specific; it is realistic and achievable, but it is not measurable nor it has a time frame.

The second key element is time: before embarking on this career path, you should decide how much time you’re willing to devote to the business. Being a freelance translator is not only about doing the job: you need to think of accounting, marketing, networking, keeping up to date with the industry, researching and learning as well. All these tasks are time-consuming, but crucial if you want your business to succeed. The excitement of the first few jobs might make you overlook all the other things you have to do in order to stay afloat, but you should definitely allocate time to them. Work out how much time each task requires and organise your schedule accordingly – this is subjective, and it is something you will learn once you start working.

Finally, you should know what your budget is. Being a professional also means investing in professional equipment and software, courses, books, events and so on. Decide which percentage of your earnings you’re willing to spend on your training, CAT tools, conferences etc. Calculate what your return on investment would be to decide what to invest on. For example, if a client asks you to perform a 20k words job with a certain CAT tool you should ask yourself if you will be covering the costs of the software with that job alone, and how many other jobs – money – you can gain with that CAT tool. Other questions could be: which marketable competences will I learn if I attend that seminar? How much price premium will I be able to command on my clients because of the added value of that competence? Who could I meet at that trade show? Will there be enough potential clients to justify the expense?

You have to be ready to invest time, money and effort in your business if you want it to flourish.


As I said before, you have to plan specific goals and allocate time and resources to achieving them. You also need to track your progress. This way you will be able to measure the effectiveness of your strategy against the objectives you want to achieve. To plan and measure your efforts, you can use a number of different tools.

First of all, I find it very useful to have daily and weekly to-do lists. If I already have projects to work on, I allocate the necessary daily hours to them to ensure on-time delivery. Whatever hours remain, I devote them to four different tasks: researching and contacting potential new clients; accounting (usually at the end of the week); marketing (which includes social media and blogging); and finally keeping track of my work commitments and other progresses. At the end of the day/week, I tick the tasks that I have completed, and allocate more time to the ones I wasn’t able to do, because, for example, a new, urgent project came my way.

Secondly, I use a lot of Excel databases. When I contact new clients, for example, I use a prospects file where I write down their contact details, the date I contacted them and the date they answered me or assigned me a project, if they did. This helps me measure the response and conversion rate of my sales efforts and evaluate the efficiency of those efforts so that I can understand what I did right and what I did wrong. In another Excel file I keep track of my finances by noting what I earn for each project and what I spend for my business (i.e. travel and lodging when I travel for an interpreting assignment; software; seminars, webinars, events etc.). This is extremely helpful to measure my progress towards my financial goals, and it also helps me with my tax assessment at the end of the year. You can download my templates by clicking on the links below.

Prospects database
Prospects database
Income and Expenses
Income and Expenses






To keep track of my work commitments and the payments I am expected to receive, I simply use the calendar app on my computer, and I set up alerts to warn me of impending deadlines or payments. With Cloud services I sync both the calendar and the alerts on all my electronic devices (my phone and my tablet) so that I know what’s going on even when I’m not at home.

Finally, I have a notice board on top of my desk where I pin post-its with ideas for my website, books I want to read, seminars I want to attend, deadlines and important things to do.

What do you use to organise your work and keep track of your sales and marketing efforts? Do you plan and set specific objectives for your business? Leave a comment to let me know.


    1. Analía Quintián

      Great posts! Good to remember these things every now and then. Thank you!
      Analía, from Argentina

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