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Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute, not by the word?

keyboard earphonesWhat is the industry standard and fair way to charge for transcription work? Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute rather than by the typed word? This article explains why and offers a fair and standard pricing structure, too. It’s part of a series, and you can find the other articles in the series and a link to my popular book on the subject at the bottom of this article.

I was working with an agency on presenting an offer for a transcription job to a company. As usual, we provided a per-audio-minute rate. This works well and is the industry standard, as it’s predictable in advance and doesn’t change according to how long it takes the transcriber to do the job (of course, it’s up to the transcriber to check the tape and make sure they’re charging a per-minute rate that’s fair to them and the client. Mine is based on two speakers, a clear tape and non-urgent turnaround time, with fair and transparent add-ons per minute for more speakers / tape issues / urgent turnaround).

In this case, the client wanted a quotation by the number of words typed and/or the time it was going to take me to transcribe the tape. So they wanted to know my words-per-minute typing speed for a standard transcription.

Is there such a thing as a standard transcription speed?

In a word: No. There is no such thing as a standard transcription typing speed.

For a start, the speeds you can calculate from your own documents are not worked out in the same way the typing test people work out your official typing speed. That’s done on the basis of a standard five-letter word plus one space (I worked this out, because I’m like that, and a document that showed as 11,582 words would be 10,459 “standard words” which gave me a typing speed of 50 or 45.5 words per minute).

For another thing, the typing speeds you are measured on as a copy-typer are different from those you can achieve doing audio typing / transcription. I can type at about 70 wpm, but my transcription speeds vary WILDLY, as you can see below. If a client is used to hearing about a good typist typing 70 wpm, are they going to be impressed if we offer them a price based on 35 wpm? Probably not.

Of course, when transcribing, it’s rare to be able to keep up with the speakers without pausing the tape. It’s also rare to be able to hear everything perfectly first time – everyone has to rewind and check. In addition, a good transcriber will fact-check as they go along – company names, people’s names, the names of albums … and this slows things down, too, of course.

In addition, it’s completely impossible to calculate a standard transcription speed as it will vary according to

  • Number of speakers
  • Accents of speakers
  • Speed that the speakers speak
  • Turn-taking versus overlapping speech
  • Background noise
  • Quality of the tape
  • Degree of accuracy / in-transcription editing the client wants (e.g. turning non-standard English into standard English, transcribing every um, er and repetition vs. tidying the tape up slightly to not include ums, ers and repetitions)

I actually went back and checked a few transcriptions that I’d done recently (I note how long jobs take me and could take the word count from the Word document. My words-per-minute varied between 35 wpm and 60 wpm over a range of transcriptions, and that variation was not predictable by the type of client or the type of content (I do mainly journalists’ interviews and corporate work transcribing presentations, videos and conferences).

What is a fair way to charge for transcription?

The fair way to charge for transcription is by the audio minute. This is fair on the transcriber, if they have a range of pricing to suit different situations, and is fair for the client because they will in most cases know the charge up front (an exception to this would only come if they booked in 30 minutes and sent 90 minutes of tape with more speakers than expected and suddenly super urgent: if the client specifies exactly what they have, the transcriber will be able to quote clearly in advance for them).

I charge …

  • A minimum rate per audio minute for up to 2 speakers, speaking clearly on a good quality tape and not urgent (with 24 hours for up to a 60-minute tape)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for each additional speaker
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for a particularly challenging tape quality (checked beforehand and only used if it’s a truly terrible tape or with huge amounts of background noise)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for urgent turnaround (under 24 hours for up to 60 minutes; negotiable over that tape length)

This charging structure has worked well for me over my transcription career so far.

If you are asked to provide other kinds of pricing, do bear in mind my points above, and feel free to refer your client to this article to explain further!

If you’ve found this article useful, please click to share!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

How do you start a career in transcription?

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers

 
 

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Searching for jobs on Twitter

I had planned a post on exactly how I would go about searching for freelance (or otherwise) jobs on Twitter, then ended up discussing the topic with another editor, who’s keep on working on cookery books. So, here comes a worked example of how to search for jobs on Twitter.

Why search for jobs on Twitter?

People talk a LOT on Twitter, and they also use it for information seeking purposes. How many times have you seen a friend or just someone you follow ask a question, or look for a recommendation? Especially if you’re a freelancer, people will throw a question out: “Does anyone know a good transcriber?” and other people will answer them. It’s brilliant if one of your own clients does this and gives your name (this happens quite regularly to me, so I promise that happens), but if not, as long as you’re not over pushy about it, there is no harm in tweeting to that person to tell them about your services.

Does searching for jobs on Twitter really work?

Yes. Yes it does. I can say that with certainty, because I know it does from experience. Here are just a couple of examples:

1. I ran my regular search (see below for how to do this) on “looking for proofreader”. I found a Tweet by a woman working in PR. I contacted her, she became a client, she took me with her when she joined a big agency, and when she left that agency, I ended up with them and her as clients.

2. A journalist I followed on Twitter posted the tweet “Can anyone help me with some transcription?” At the time, I didn’t offer transcription as a service, but I was a trained audio-typist. I got in touch, again, it went to email for the negotiations, and I ended up with that journalist as a long-term client. Plus, she recommended me (via Twitter and email) to other people, who also recommended me, and I ended up with a regular client base of music journalists.

So yes, it does work. Here’s how to do it.

First, make sure your profile represents you accurately

When you tweet to someone, the first thing they’re going to do is look at your profile. So make sure it includes:

  • Your photo
  • Your full name
  • Your company name
  • Your url
  • What you do

How do you change your Twitter profile? On the standard Twitter website, click on the Tools icon (the little cog) in the top right and drop it down to get Edit profile:

edit profile 1

Now you have the option to change all of your details and your Bio(graphy). Make sure that you get all of your keywords in, press Save Changes at the bottom, and you’re reading to go and encourage people to look at it!

edit profile 2

How do I search in Twitter?

At the top of the screen, you will find a grey box with a magnifying glass icon in the right-hand end. You can type any words you want to search for in here and hit Return to run your search.

You do need to think about your search terms and what you think people who might be searching for a cookery book proofreader might need. Here, I’ve gone for “writing cookery book”, on the grounds that if someone is writing one, they are going to need editing help at some stage. So I input that, hit Return, and when the results come up, I choose All rather than Top or People you follow – to make the results list as wide as possible.

1 search

How do I interpret the Twitter search results?

Bear in mind what you’re looking for: people who are writing cookery books and might need your help. Scan down the results list, and you’ll soon see some hopeful ones. I would send a quick note to all of the people I’ve circled, but not the one above, which just mentions a cookery book, not really associated with someone writing one right now:

2 results search

Advanced search in Twitter

Twitter searching doesn’t use wild cards, which means you can’t input cook* book and get it to search for cookery book, cook book, cooking book, etc. Once upon a time, you’d have to run searches for all the different words you wanted. But now you can run Advanced Search and search for lots of different things at the same time.

Click on the cog to the top right of your search results and drop it down. You’ll have an option to Save search (we’ll look at that later) and Advanced search will appear in the sidebar. Pick Advanced search and you’ll be taken to the Advanced Search input screen. Here you can handily choose words that must be included in the results, and words that could be included. So, here, I’m saying that all tweets that Twitter finds must include the words “writing book”, but they can also include any of “cooking”, “cookery”, “cook” and “recipe”. This means that it will look for “writing book” plus any one or more of the other words.

4 advanced search

What effect does this have on the results? Well, we can see a few that aren’t really any use, but two from people writing cook books (circled). Result, and we’ll have more results doing this than for each of lots of different individual searches, all in one place.

5 advanced search results

(You can see that at the top of the search screen it’s written out your search as “Results for writing book cooking OR cookery OR cook…” and this means that it’s using the Boolean operators AND, OR (and NOT, if you want), so if you’re familiar with online searching, that’s what it’s doing.)

How do I save a Twitter search?

When you’ve found a good search that has a lot of useful results (no search will have ALL useful results, but this seems a good one), you can save the search. Click on the cog, drop it down and choose Save search:

6 save search results

When you next click in the search field, you will get a list of Recent searches and Saved searches. Our search is in Recent searches at the moment, but will stay in Saved searches, now you’ve saved it.

7 saved search

This means that you can just click on that search query rather than typing it all in again.

8 run saved search

How often should I re-run my Twitter job searches?

I recommend running each of your searches every 24 hours. This gives you only a few extra results each time, it’s easy to note where the ones that you’ve already seen start, and if you want to reply to a tweet, it’s not too long since the person tweeted it.

It might be worth running them more frequently at first, but keep an eye on how many new results come up during 24 hours and you’ll get an idea of the schedule to use. I wouldn’t leave it longer than 24 hours, for fear of missing out, as Twitter is a very immediate medium.

How do I pitch for a job on Twitter?

You might feel a bit uneasy about this. But I can promise you that no one minds one short, friendly and non-pushy contact in reply to a tweet they’ve sent out. I’ve sent loads, I’ve had a certain amount of success; some people have ignored me, but no one has ever complained.

Here’s a worked example of how I’d approach this situation as a proofreader looking for work on cookery books:

9 reply

So, a very non-pushy, friendly and polite tweet inviting them to respond. If they did respond positively, I’d very quickly move to giving them my website URL (even though it’s on my profile, I’d put it in a tweet) and initiate email contact so we could discuss the project in more detail.

———

So there we go: that’s how I searched for jobs on Twitter – and won them. My use of this network was a while ago now, but you know what? I still have both of those original clients who I talked about above!

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do use the sharing buttons below and leave me a comment!

Related posts:

How do I get freelance work?

Reciprocity and social media

Karen Strunks on using Twitter in your business

 
15 Comments

Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Business, Jobs, New skills, proofreading, Social media

 

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How do I get freelance work?

This article shares some ways that I’ve found successful in getting proofreading, editing, localising and transcribing work. It’s applicable to all forms of freelance work but doesn’t look at getting a full-time employed job in publishing or for another large organisation.

It’s also worth noting here, in response to some of the early comments on here, that this is a suite of options and you wouldn’t expect to do them all at the same time. Once you’ve built up 1 and 2, you can pick and choose depending on what your career path is – and it’s important to indulge in some planning from the start. Thank you to my commenters for helping this to be a better and more useful post!

1. Make sure that you say what you do on your website

Many of your clients will come to you after doing a Google search. Remember: people will take the easy option. Why bother to search on lists and in directories if you can just stick a search in Google.

So it’s worth making sure that your website …

  • Includes a clear list of all of the services you offer
  • Includes a blog which is updated regularly – this really helps your position on the search results
  • Is Search Engine Optimised in general (there is an art to this, but make sure you include your keywords regularly, write lots of natural reading text and include keywords in page / post titles and headings)
  • Includes a picture of you and ways to contact you – a contact form is always good for this

Oh yes – do make sure that you HAVE a website. Even if it’s just one page, I really do think that in all industries, from carpentry to computer programming, people expect you to have some kind of web presence, and may well give up the search there and then if you don’t, even if you’ve been recommended by name by someone. I know that I do that when I’m looking for services …

2. Make sure that people know what you do

An awful lot of my early clients came through friends of friends and social networks. Obviously, don’t bombard your friends by begging them to refer you, but make sure the following are covered:

  • If you have a company Facebook page, include a list of your services
  • Include your services on your Twitter profile
  • Mention what you do on social networks every now and again (a good way to do this is to mention what you’ve BEEN doing “This month I’ve edited this, transcribed that and localised the other”.
  • Make sure peers in one area know you cover other areas, too (if you do), e.g. I make sure that my editing chums know that I transcribe as well
  • Consider setting up a newsletter and making sure you mention all of your services
  • Update your clients with any new services you’re offering

3. Join industry groups and publicise yourself through their directories

I gained early clients through being in a member directory associated with a copyeditors’ email list. Friends do well by being listed on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ website. My roofers are listed on a government-accredited tradespeople’s website. All of these are places where people will look for accredited and proved suppliers.

4. Advertise on general directories and websites

A hint: don’t bother with paid ones when there are so many free directories and websites!

Ask around your peers as to what they find useful. I am on Freeindex and get a few enquiries a month. Join as many as you want, but do make sure to update your profile if you change your services, fees, etc.

If you’re in a trade like roofing or plumbing, it’s worth looking at council and government approved listings and the paid directories, as people do search these first, but beware putting too much money in at first.

Again, for trades, local print directories and especially business association directories can be good. I have a free listing in our local business association one, which has never brought me any work, but I always try to find local tradespeople who are members, and other people will do this, too.

5. Use industry-specific freelancer sites

I’ve had a look at general websites like freelancer.com, elance.com and oDesk and personally, I don’t think they’re worth it. A lot of people on those will undercut and take any job at the lowest price possible. Many of the sites have “tests” which are actually a test of your understanding of the site itself, not your ability as a writer, editor or whatever.

*Edited to add: while I don’t find these useful, a couple of people have mentioned Elance to me as a good one to try that has got them decent jobs, so it’s worth looking at that.

However, there are industry-specific freelancer sites which are worth it. Again, ask your peers for recommendations. The one that’s got me the most work is proz.com, which is a site for translators where you can put up a profile and, if you pay for membership, that profile will be sent to people looking for freelancers, and they will contact you direct. This has paid back the membership fee for me tens of times over, because I work with translators into English, and offer localisation, which is related to translation.

You can also look for people looking for particular skills and freelancers and then pitch to them.

Take note, though: with anything you pay for, do assess each year whether you’ve got that fee back, and more. Only continue paying if you’re getting a good return on your investment!

6. Advertise (selectively)

I’m not a big fan of paying out for adverts. Most of the other methods I talk about here are free. But there might be specific advertising channels that will work for you.

When I was starting out, working as a proofreader on theses and dissertations, I put up some posters around the university where I worked, recruiting colleagues who were also students to put them up in common rooms, etc. (free, except for printing costs and a few coffees!) and I advertised in the university staff newsletter, which went to tutors and supervisors. The costs were low, even to non-staff, and I did get the money back.

As with using websites that you pay for, do check your return on investment and keep an eye on the outgoings.

7. Use social media proactively

This one particularly applies to Twitter, although LinkedIn can be used in this way, too. Search for people looking for your services on Twitter. Reach out to potential clients directly. I have got paid work using this method and, even better (see below), I’ve got clients who have gone on to be big recommenders this way, too.

No one minds one, polite Tweet if they’ve asked for recommendations for a good plasterer or translator and you fit the bill. Don’t hassle people and don’t blanket-tweet; do tailor your response to the person you’re contacting.

I’ve written a separate article on searching for freelance jobs on Twitter, with a worked example.

8. Seek recommendations and referrals from clients

The best way to get new clients is through word of mouth. The two main advantages?

  • It’s free!
  • If person A recommends you to person B, and person B gets in touch with you, they are far more likely to convert into a paying customer than someone who’s randomly got in touch with you through an ad or Google search.

You do need to be a bit proactive about this, though …

  • Make sure that your clients know you’re looking for more clients just like them
  • Say thank you whenever you find out someone’s recommended you
  • Ask clients for references to put on a reference page on your website (this makes enquirers more likely to use you as you come recommended by lots of people)

I have several clients who act as “nodes” for me, recommending me either individually or via blog posts and pages on their websites.

9. Seek recommendations from your peers

Your peers fall into two groups:

  • People who freelance or run small businesses like you, who you might meet in online groups or at networking events
  • People in the same industry as you, who you might meet in the same ways

It’s important not to see people in the same industry as you as competitors – you’re much better off considering one another as colleagues. When I was starting out, I was passed what turned out to be a major client by a proofreader friend who wanted to stop working at weekends and in the evenings. So I did evening and weekend cover for them. Now I’m established, I much prefer to be able to recommend potential clients who I can’t take on to another qualified person who I know will do a good job.

When you’re starting out, it’s worth forging (genuine) relationships with people in your industry who are more established. They may well have the odd customer they want to pass on, or have too much business and be looking for people to recommend on to. Nowadays, I pass quite a few people who I can’t accommodate on to a core set of five or so recommended proofreaders, writers and transcribers. I also keep a note of people in allied industries such as book design, graphic design in general and indexing, so I can pass people to them with a relevant recommendation, rather than just leaving them hanging.

You can also profit from either teaming up with peers in different industries – for example, I’ve worked with web designers on projects where they’ve written the website and I’ve provided the content, and I’ve done proofreading work for virtual assistants who don’t offer that service themselves.

I haven’t got many clients directly through networking, but I met an author at an event who went on to recommend my transcription services to a fellow author, who now uses me for transcription and editing, AND recommends me on her website!

10. Go cold calling and door-knocking

Some people do cold calling and door-knocking, where they literally call people on the phone or walk up their front paths and ask them for work. For a start, I don’t think that works in the service industry. I know some editors cold call publishing companies, and I’d love to know how that works out for them.

Personally, I feel this takes a LOT of investment. Cold calling requires a list, which takes time and research or money to get, and taking time out to walk up a lot of paths is a fairly hefty investment, too. It might be more worth looking at trade directories or local directories before you take this path – but do share your stories if you’ve had other experiences!

Edited to add: as people have kindly shared their experiences, I’m adding a note here to say that cold calling can be useful if you’re targeting a specific and maybe narrow group of clients. Fellow editors, for example, have gained work for publishing houses or journal publishers by taking this route. As my client base is more individuals and other small businesses and freelancers, this approach wouldn’t work for me. But if there’s a group of companies that you can identify as a good fit, by all means approach them with a call or letter, cold, as it were.

———————

How do you get freelance clients? Can you recommend any other ways, or do you use any of these? Do let me know whether you try any of these successfully as a result of reading this article!

Related posts of interest on this blog:

Thinking of going freelance (1) – some initial points to think about

Thinking of going freelance (2) – how to organise yourself once you’ve got going

How do I decide to who work with? – choosing companies to associate yourself with

How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

How to make more money in your freelance business

Searching for jobs on Twitter

When should I say no?

 
17 Comments

Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Business, Jobs, Organisation, Social media

 

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When should I say no?

Say noWhen you work for yourself, especially when you’re starting out, it’s all too easy to say “Yes, please!” to every job that comes your way. But it’s a good idea to start saying “No, thank you” early on – not to everything, but to certain kinds of job. What you say no to depends on where you are in your career and what your schedule’s looking like, but here are my top jobs to turn down …

Note, with all of these, it’s often OK to say “yes” to one of the kind of job, just to see. But you’ll probably find yourself saying no later on!

What to say no to early in your career

  • Working for free. Caveat. If someone asks you to work for free AND they are an influencer who is likely to recommend you on AND they agree to give you a reference AND you’ve got time to do it without turning down paid work, then go for it.
  • Doing something you feel uncomfortable about. It’s good to push yourself into new areas. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about content farms or writing essays for students, if you’re an editor (see this article for more on this kind of thing), or anything on the wrong side of your ethical line. Just because you’re just starting out and you’re a bit desperate for work doesn’t mean you should go against your own morals.
  • Doing something way outside your normal line of work. I think it’s a good idea to consolidate your reputation in one area and then branch out from there. By all means try something out, but if you don’t like doing it or it doesn’t fit, say no next time.
  • Working again with rude, pushy or unreliable clients. If someone’s rude to you on the first job you do for them, or they don’t pay when they say they will, it’s OK to say no next time. You are worth more than that, and a difficult client now will always be a difficult client. Demanding, fine; rude and pushy,  not fine. Don’t let your self-worth get undermined before you get started.

What to say no to at the mature stage of your business

  • Anything that will  overload you. If you find yourself saying, “Well, I could fit this in if I don’t sleep on Thursday night” or “Well, if person x doesn’t send me their chapter on time I could do this”, it’s probably time to say no and recommend someone else.
  • Small jobs that don’t look like they’ll turn into regular customers. Cruel but true – the smaller the job, the more noise to signal (admin to work) there will be. Pass the little ones on to your newer colleagues who need to build up their portfolio.
  • Discounts. You should be experienced enough to stand by your pricing. You will have discounts worked out for various sectors (I give them to students and individuals) but at this stage, you shouldn’t be in the business of buying work, and that’s what this is doing. If your prices are fair, don’t offer discounts except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Regular clients who don’t match your needs. Maybe they don’t pay well / on time or are difficult to deal with or have time scales that don’t match your own – sometimes it’s time to say goodbye and pass them on to another recommended practitioner.

What to say no to throughout your career

  • Any job with “danger” flags. To me, the main one here is “We’ve been through a lot of people and haven’t found the right partner yet” or “I’ve had problems with my previous editor / roofer / plumber”. By all means, check what the problem was. There are bad examples of every job out there, and you can be the one to fix the problem. However, if there’s an on-going pattern of problems, or they can’t be specific about what went wrong last time, my advice is to avoid.
  • Any job where you need to spend a lot of time learning a new system or skill UNLESS you really do have the time to do that and it’s going to be useful for lots of work in the future. I have had to turn down jobs that involve learning a new kind of translation software recently – I knew I had time to do the work, but not to learn the software. Best to tell the client up front!
  • Any job that goes against your moral code – however much of a dip or a bad patch you’re going through, however much it comes from a current client, if you feel uncomfortable doing it, don’t do it. (I had that situation a little while ago – I said no, I said why, they were fine with it and are still working with me.)
  • A client with unrealistic expectations. If someone expects me to write their book from their notes in a small space of time but call it (and charge for) proofreading services, or think you can transcribe 10 hours of tape in 12 hours, they are likely to be turned down. Setting and managing expectations is a whole nother post, of course …

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It’s great to say yes and it’s great to be busy – but it’s also vital to be able to say no and to be able to keep your busyness to a decent level. If you’re going through a dip in your mature business, go back to those early stage nos, and keep firm about them!

Oh, and although I do say no fairly regularly, I do almost always refer the prospect on to a recommended colleague who might have the time / capacity / skills to help them better. Which makes it a win-win-win – the client will come away with a great impression of you, your colleague will have a new prospect, and you will feel reassured that you’ve done the right thing and not left them without any support.

What do you say no to in your line of work? Have I missed any? What has been your experience of saying no to customers?

Related posts from Libro

Careers index

How do I decide who to work with?

What’s the best mix of customers?

How to make more money in your freelance business

 
13 Comments

Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Business, Copyediting, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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New series on expanding your business – looking for contributors

handshakeI’m planning a series of blog posts on how to expand and grow your business, and I’d like to feature guest posts from professionals and case studies from people who have taken the various paths, as they’re not something of which I have direct and personal experience.

Ideally, I’d like to have at least one professional (HR consultant, accountant, estate agent, etc.) and at least one case study for each topic.

I want to write about:

  • Changing from being a Sole Trader into a Limited Company
  • Going into a partnership with another person or company
  • Going VAT registered
  • Moving into premises
  • Employing your first staff members
  • Doing nothing – staying as a Sole Trader

and I want each article to cover:

From the professionals:

  • Why you should do it
  • When you should do it
  • How to do it
  • Potential benefits
  • Potential pitfalls

From the business owners:

  • Why you did it
  • When you did it (i.e. what stage was your business at?)
  • How you did it
  • Benefits gained
  • Pitfalls / disadvantages you experienced or saw coming and managed to avoid
  • Would you recommend it to other businesses? Why / why not?

Note: I am primarily aiming this at the UK market, however if you have useful information about how this stuff works in the US or elsewhere, do feel free to join in, just let me know the region to which your experience/advice applies.

What do you get out of it? Well, in the article where I mention you, I’ll put whatever links you’d like to your website, twitter feed etc at the bottom. I might be looking to put it into my new book, too, again with a full credit and links in the e-book version – let me know when you get in touch whether you’re OK with that. I can also keep you anonymous if you’d like to contribute but not have your name on the piece.

I get around 20,000 hits per month on this website / blog and that’s still building every month, and I have great Search Engine Optimisation so this website / blog shows up well on search engine searches.

If you’d like to take part, please contact me via email or my Contact Form.

These articles will appear on this blog and will be indexed in the Careers section of the blog.

 
 

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What is the best mix of customers to have?

to do list If you’ve got a mature business that is up and running and busy, then you’ve probably used something like these criteria to choose which clients to work with, and you might have used these ways to turn one-offs into regular customers. But what is the best mix of customers to end up with?

Obviously, in an ideal world, all of your jobs as a freelancer will be fun, interesting and high-paying, for clients who pay up on time. But, well, we’re not in an ideal world. The paying on time thing is non-negotiable for me (although I’m always prepared to listen if a client is having cash flow problems, IF they tell me about them), but I’ve learned to live with the fact that not all of the high-paying jobs are fascinating, and not all of the really fun ones pay well. It’s all about balance, and in this post I’m going to share with you how I balance my mix of customers, which might help you, too.

What are the types of customer?

Whatever industry you’re in, you tend to have a few types of customer:

  • Customers who send you a lot of work regularly (great, although try not to rely on just one or two of these, just in case, and sometimes they can get a bit demanding)
  • Customers who send you a bit of work irregularly (only keep these on if you really can slot them in as and when)
  • Customers who pay high rates (why? they may have set the rates for their industry and they’re in a region with higher costs of living and pay rates for freelancers)
  • Customers who pay lower rates (why? you might have long-standing customers on a historical lower rate or offer discounts, as I do, for special groups of customers such as students, individuals and music journalists)
  • Customers who have fascinating work that’s right up your street and relates to your interests
  • Customers who have dull work which nevertheless you can tackle
  • Customers who always need their work to be done at the last minute
  • Customers who send you stuff that’s at the edge of your comfort zone – or outside it

I’ve put a little space before those two, because they’re the ones who you really do need to minimise.

As I said, in an ideal world, you would have customers with loads of fascinating work who pay high rates. But that’s not always going to happen, so it’s a matter of …

BALANCE

Isn’t it always, though?

Boulders, pebbles, sand

Time management techniques make use of the boulders, pebbles and sand metaphor when talking about how to fit your tasks into your day. The idea is that you slot the big jobs (the boulders) in first, then you can fit pebbles (smaller jobs) in around them, and fill up the gaps with sand (I usually see the sand as being my admin tasks). So, if I have a big transcription that must be done by tomorrow and will take 3 hours, I will plan to do that in the afternoon, with a couple of small editing jobs slotted in around it.

It’s the same with customer types.

It would be great if you loved loved LOVED all of your projects, but some of them are still going to be more interesting than others. To take some aspects of my work as an example (but as I said, this works for all industries) …

  • Localisation is my most lucrative work but it’s often fairly repetitive marketing or web texts. It also often uses specialised software that can be quite tricky to work with.
  • Working with translators is a specialised job and so my rates are higher than for native English editing. The texts I get from my translators and agencies are varied and often interesting.
  • I have a particular transcription client who pays great rates and has interesting tapes to send me – they used to have a conference for me to transcribe for every 2 months and now it’s less regular but still interesting. I now have another regular corporate transcription client.
  • I love transcribing for music journalists. Music is an obsession of mine and I love both hearing all the bits that don’t make it into the articles and seeing how the articles are written up from the tapes I’ve transcribed. But I do charge these clients less than my corporate transcription rates, because they’re usually freelancers like me. These are very, very rarely uninteresting, even if I’m not a big fan of the music style. Even if it’s Justin Bieber.
  • Student work can be interesting but can be very tricky and time-consuming, typically involves quite a lot of emailing back and forth, and I charge a lower rate than for corporate editing. I used to work on Master’s coaching, but found that it was difficult to commit to small bits of work coming at short notice over a long period of time.

Case study: how I balance my customers out

To maintain the analogy of the boulders and pebbles, this is how I manage this customer base:

  • Boulders have to be regulars with the more lucrative end of the work. I have kept down my number of localisation clients – I could do just localisation, but it would be a bit same-y and I would end up relying on very few, large clients, which is something I avoid. So: regular localisation clients, regular translator clients and at the moment a large regular transcription client are the boulders of my client base.
  • Rocks (ha – you’re going to laugh in a minute) are my music journalists (see what I did there?). The work is fun, the clients are lovely, and I get more return on investment than just the money. But I have to be careful not to take on too many of these, because I do not make as much per hour and I am in this job to make a living. I do let the odd rock crash into my personal time, because these clients are often on odd schedules. But I encourage them to book me as far in advance as they can, and they do pay extra for urgent work.
  • Pebblesstudent work and the occasional one-off fiction or non-fiction book referral from a regular customer. I’m afraid I am more likely to take on a referral than somebody out of the blue these days – but I will always refer on anyone who I can’t take on. I already pass on all Master’s students to one of three colleagues who have the time and attention they need. Also in this category come the few clients I still have who send small projects regularly – if you have few enough of these, you can slot them in around the rocks and boulders. I have one client who sends me middle-sized projects but with lovely long deadlines – work I can break into pebbles and pour around the bigger jobs.
  • Sand of administration – my monthly invoicing session is a boulder, and because it’s sand, so each job is small, I can slot a few email replies or jotting down some blog post ideas among all of these.

It’s all about the balance

When it comes down to it, it’s all about balance and return on investment (which doesn’t take a solely monetary form).

I could do just localisation all day every day, and push for more of that work, but it would be a bit repetitive and I could run the risk of only working with a few, large clients, which leaves me a bit exposed.

I could just work with translators and translation agencies, but I’d only really be editing then and I like the variety of my other work.

I could just work with music journalists and have a whale of a time listening to all sorts and picking up on new band to like. But the work can fluctuate madly (in a nod to a certain publication this week, it can oscillate wildly from all to nothing), so it would be unreliable as a steady source of income. And I’d probably get RSI.

I could just work with students and self-publishing novelists but I wouldn’t make enough to live on doing that full time, and again, I’d just be editing all day, every day.

By balancing all of these different customers (and you can do the same, whether you’re a roofer with a mix of full roofs, porches and repair jobs, or a decorator doing whole houses, front doors and window screens, or a graphic designer creating adverts, logos and cartoons), I get variety, balance my income and have fun!

How do you do it?

Whether you’re a fellow editor / transcriber / localiser or you’re in a different industry, I’d love to know how you balance your different types of customer. Do share in the comments

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Find more articles about careers and freelancing in this resource guide. Related articles:

How to decide who to work with.

Turning a one-off customer into a regular.

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Business, Jobs, Organisation

 

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How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

handshakeWhatever field you’re working in, having a stable of good, reliable regular clients who send you work, are good communicators and pay decent rates in good time is a good place to be. The kind of client you want as a regular is the kind of client who follows all of these rules. You may have chosen to work with them based on these criteria. And, in fact, if you follow these rules for freelancers yourself, you should have no trouble in attracting regulars.

I’ve written about how to decide which companies to work with. Here are some ways to help you turn a good first-time client into a trusted regular. If you have other suggestions, do add a comment to this post!

Do a good job the first time

This one’s a bit obvious, but it’s worth saying. Do a good job the first time, and you’re likely to create a regular client just like that!

Be memorable for your good customer service

Leave the client with a good final impression. I’m always sure to say thank you for their payment and to wish them well with the publication / website / new service / novel / whatever it is that you’ve done for them this time.

Make sure that your client knows you’d like to work with them again

When I send my thank you for their payment, I make sure that I make it clear that I’d like to work with them again. Something along the lines of “I’m looking forward to working with you on future projects” will set a good note.

Remind the client that you’re available

When you’re establishing a relationship with a client, the odd little email reminder of your availability is fine (obviously don’t hassle them). If you have a newsletter, asking them if they’d like to be added to your mailing list and sending them a monthly newsletter can keep you in their mind.

Make sure that clients know about all of your services

If, like me, you offer more than one service, make sure that your clients know this, too. I’ve got several long-term customers who use me for more than one service – one has moved from using my transcription services to using me as an editor (I also still transcribe for them) and a few use me for editing and localisation. Even if they only do one thing themselves, it’s useful for people to know your range, in case they recommend you to their colleagues.

Offer an incentive

Once I have completed a job for a new customer and they’ve paid me successfully, I offer then an incentive. No, not money off! But I will usually offer to invoice them for all of the jobs I do for them in a month, at the end of the month. Win for them: they are given longer to pay and will receive one invoice for several jobs. Win for me: I only have to produce one invoice and record one payment, and I can add them to my monthly invoice run.

Note: make sure you are clear that this is an offer and they don’t have to take it up. If they don’t want to do this, make a note and invoice them how they like it to be done, for example.

Thank them for their repeated custom and treat regulars well

I regularly tell my regulars how much I appreciate their regular custom and I treat them well in as many other ways as I can, too:

  • I make it clear that at busy times, I will prioritise their work over new work (and I tell new prospects this, too – I think it gives a good impression to let everyone know that I treat my regulars well).
  • I will also go above and beyond, doing a super-fast turnaround or working late to fit a job in – not to the detriment of other clients or my own health and sanity, but I treat them as well as I can.
  • If I’m booking holiday or other time off, I will email my regulars in advance to warn them, so they don’t just find out when they get my out of office reply.
  • I will offer regulars a named holiday cover contact who they can work with when I’m not available, and introduce them to a trusted colleague if they wish me to.

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This is how I have converted one-off customers into regulars, and have built a group of regulars who bring me regular work and income and peace of mind in knowing I’ve got a stable business. And how I keep them!

If you have any more tips and tricks do share them in the comments. And do please click on the buttons below to share this post!

Find more articles about careers and freelancing in this resource guide. Related articles:

How to decide who to work with.

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Business, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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