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Lesson 73: When planning how to grow your translation business, plan smart

In December, we’re going to talk about business planning, in other words planning to develop or grow your translation business. You usually either consciously or subconsciously think about how your business is going to evolve in the next 12 months, and this inherent business planning takes place in January. It’s a good month to plan: a new year starts, we have our resolutions, more energy is around. I decided to write up on business planning in December, so when you’re back to work in early January you’ll have a few ideas to benefit from this productive period as much as you can.

As mentioned, for the majority of freelancers or small business owners (who are less likely to have a formal business plan), the process of business planning happens spontaneously and resembles more a thought exercise rather than a business tool.
For many years my business planning was just sitting down with a cup of coffee on the first or second of January in my office and jotting some ideas down on my whiteboard. They were rather rough ideas of what I wanted to achieve in the coming year: get more direct clients, complete a course related to marketing, etc.

While this thought exercise gave me the feeling of freedom and an illusory perception that I was doing something to plan my business’ development, it didn’t work too well. You may be struggling with similar results, especially now, in December, when looking back at all the things you wanted to achieve this year but somehow never managed to. A couple of years ago I was tired of this slow development and constantly failing my own expectations. I did some reading on getting things done and here’s a simple, three step formula that has helped me move much faster in my translation business.

Write business ideas down

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve been making in the past was confining too many ideas to memory. It’s easy to fall into this trap: since you got this idea once, it will come back to you when you sit down to think about your business. The sad truth is: it won’t. Perhaps the first thing I’ve learned about doing business was writing ideas down, from a sentence to put on your website, through an intriguing marketing idea, to potential clients.

Whenever an idea to do something with my business comes to my mind, I write it down and put it in a small box I keep on my desk. This box has moved three countries with me and once kept every idea that’s now forming my business (this blog, this website, some of my direct clients). Having my idea box has helped me in a number of ways. First, I was forced to write stuff down and I stopped forgetting all these great business ideas. Second, by writing them down, I was decluttering my mind and allowing myself to concentrate on the work at hand. Third, it was all in one place when I was opening the box in early January to plan for the upcoming year.

The idea of a box is quite powerful, and that’s why The Freelance Box is called the way it is and that’s why we’re giving out boxes to our participants. Maybe you could get a box for yourself, too?

Resources: Article, Article, Article.

Set SMART goals

So you’ve been writing stuff down and keeping it in your box throughout the year, and now it’s the right time to open the box and do some business planning. Here’s another truth that I’ve learned: even the best idea will never take off if it’s not planned smart. SMART is a mnemonic to help us remember some principles of goal setting and planning. According to this set of criteria, every goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (or Relevant) and Time-bound.

This is how my goals looked before I started using smart:

1) Get new direct clients.
2) Get a new website.
3) Take a marketing-related training.

And here’s how they looked SMART:

1) Get 5 new direct clients in IT or software localisation located in Western Europe by attending a trade show in March and following up before April.
2) Get a WordPress-based new version of my website by contacting Websites for Translators in January with a list of my requirements and setting a schedule for the website to be completed no later than May.
3) Take a course in copywriting provided by the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the second quarter of the year depending on their courses scheduled (to be released in February).

I’m sure you can already see how this change in how I write stuff down may have a direct impact on actually doing these things. Just by changing how you set your business goals you’re more likely to achieve them. And it has certainly worked for me.

I recommend you go through the following resources on SMART:
Using SMART technique to achieve your small business goals
SMART technique
SMART criteria

Add SMART goals to your calendar

The final stage of this process is to add your goals and business ideas to a calendar. This may seem obvious, but if it’s not planned, it doesn’t get done. Adding tasks to your calendar will help you schedule enough time to implement your ideas and make sure you work towards achieving your goals. It’s basically the same what you do with your translation projects, but applied to your business. Don’t just assign downtime or spare time to work on these goals, but take them seriously and plan them in your working day.

A few years back I heard somebody say that adding things to her calendar prepares her mentally for the task to be done: more subconscious thinking takes place and when you sit down to do the task, you’re in the right mindset. I definitely agree and what I’d also add to support the idea of adding business goals to your calendar is that doing things always takes as much time as you plan for it (ok, within a reason). If I plan to write a blog post in one hour, it will take one hour. If I plan to write it in two, the task will expand (with me procrastinating more and reading more articles as I go), and take two hours indeed. The real problem occurs when we don’t plan how much time we intend to spend on a task – that’s when things go on and on and we never finish them. Go, calendars, go!

I use Google Calendar to do that and I’m very happy with it. Because I often work with others, and with my assistant on a day-to-day basis, I also use Teambox (free for up to 5 projects), where I can plan things, assign deadlines and see the progress. I even have a theory why Teambox and Dropbox are called the way they are: it all links back to the idea of a box.

So what I encourage you to do is to start writing things down (and putting them in a box, of course!), using the SMART technique and then adding SMART goals to your calendar. Who’s taking up the challenge in January 2014?

Marta Stelmaszak

Marta Stelmaszak is a translator between Polish and English, combining language skills with a thorough understanding of economics and business to help SMEs make as big an international impact as possible, providing translation and interpreting services for the legal, business and marketing sectors. Read Marta's book on business.

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6 Comments

Angela Rampino on Dec 9, 2013 Reply

Thank you Marta, very SMART suggestions!

Marta Stelmaszak on Jan 3, 2015 Reply

Thank you, Angela :)

Zoé Gómez Cassardo on Dec 18, 2013 Reply

Great article!! Since I´ve just graduated as a sworn translator I´ll start using these techniques this very January! Thanks Marta! :)

Marta Stelmaszak on Jan 3, 2015 Reply

Congratulations and best of luck!

Valentina Massari on Dec 24, 2013 Reply

I was definitely looking for this kind of advice in this period of the year. From now on I will surely use a box…maybe sooner or later even a box from TFB! Thanks Marta

Marta Stelmaszak on Jan 3, 2015 Reply

Glad to be of help :)


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