I should be heaving on with another big chunk of work right now, but I need to decompress a bit and take stock – and ask some advice, too, if anyone doesn’t mind sharing.

Oh, and this is a photo of me taken during the Birmingham Half-Marathon, 2010. Half way round and looking cheery for the camera, but it was a big effort. I was better prepared last year, and it went a lot more smoothly. I need to learn from that.

This is a bit of a rambly post which I have used to work things out in my head a bit. I would appreciate your advice and feedback, though, so do read on (there’s a nice bit at the end).

So, Libro’s doing really well – too well, in a way. Yes, you can be doing too well. Not in that “I feel too well: oh, heck, I’m going to have a migraine” way, but in that “I actually have a little too much work to do right now” way.

And I am organised. I have my famous Gantt chart, in which I book either regular work (like the Moseley B13 magazine that I know will come to me around the 14th of each month), my regular coaching clients who let me know their deadlines in advance, or work booked way in advance (usually student dissertations and theses).  I also block in work I wasn’t expecting as it comes in to me, and I colour it in so when it’s in, it’s in red, I know I need to do it, but I have a visual reference of the work that’s in and when it’s due. This is really helpful for knowing which order to do my work in and I can see my deadlines, the weekends, etc., at a glance. I would go badly wrong without this!

I have several categories of work that come in to me:

  1. Regulars who can send me big chunks of work, BUT I always have the option to say no. I can literally tell them what I can take and what I can’t. One of these is my big transcription client. I know when the next conference is, and I know that when that comes up I can look at what work I have booked in and say “I can take x hours of transcription to do by 9.00 tomorrow morning”. Similarly, I work for a student proofreading company. They get in touch to say they have x number of words to do, or they tell me when busy times are coming and I email in the morning and say “I can take 10,000 words today” and that’s fine. With both of these clients, I feel I can say no: they have a pool of other people who can work for them, too, so no guilt,  no worry.
  2. Non-regulars who have booked in advance. If they know when their deadline is, they don’t usually need a mad and terrifying turnaround time, so I book them in with a nice big space so I know I have room to move them around if I have something urgent in (this is why I charge extra for urgent work for these people: if it’s urgent, it’s on a shorter time scale and I can’t move them).
  3. Non-regulars who haven’t booked in advance. If they are a potentially useful or interesting client who I can fit in now and would like to add to my roster, I agree and do the work. If I really cannot fit them in, or they don’t fit my skillset exactly, I have a group of trusted people I can refer them on to. If it’s a student dissertation, I’ll drop Linda a line. If it’s video transcription, off it goes to Michelle.
  4. Regulars whose work is always urgent. This is my tricky category (1). Let me state here and now that I like working with them. They have interesting work, they appreciate my hard work, and they pay on time: maybe all three! There are a few translators/translation agencies whose work is usually urgent, however it’s also usually short and doesn’t take too long. Then I have a couple of clients who send me larger projects. Quite often, this involves me dashing back home from a cafe or zipping upstairs from the sofa – or there’s an email to Matthew to say I won’t be around this evening … again. These clients don’t have another proof-reader / editor type person. I am the only one set up to help them.
  5. Previous clients with a little more work … that isn’t often little and is often urgent. This is my tricky category (2). I worked for them before, I know how their document works … so I should do it. But they are on my old pricing schedule and I feel I should honour that …

So, here’s my problem. I enjoy my work (on the whole). I am happy to work hard for my clients. I am happy to put in THE ODD 11  hour day for them. But I do not want to work all the hours there are and tire myself out. I don’t want to put back my gym trip or eat cereal at 2.30 pm for lunch. I do not want a chaotic day.  I want to do the things I did this for: freedom to read, review, exercise, have my life back after working two jobs for a few years.

What do I do? I am not prepared to employ people on an employed or contractual basis. There is not enough work all the time to do this, and the administrative burden is large. I’m going to write a “Where next?” post soon, but just assume I will not be taking anyone on permanently. Managing expectations is all very well, but these clients need the work quickly, and I can’t make infinite deadlines for my less urgent clients: their work has to be done at some time!

I think I need to instigate a back-up plan. After all, I might get really poorly, or want to – shhh – go on HOLIDAY one day. I am not indispensable and I know that is a problem I have dragged with me from my employed life: I am good at what I do, and reliable, so an assumption builds that I have infinite capacity and can take on this, and this, and this … I am good at saying no to new clients, now, but I need to know how to work with current ones.

First of all I need to source another couple of people I can refer on to. I could do with someone with good corporate experience, a marketing person who is also good at editing. I would prefer this to be someone I know, but if you know someone you can put in touch with me, great. This is NOT a job position or a guarantee I will send anything on. Also I would like to be able to avoid them poaching my good clients, although obviously if the client wants to move, that’s up to them.

Then I need to arrange with my clients that we have a back-up person to cover me. I hopefully get first choice over if I can take the work: if I can’t, I will refer it on to a named, reliable, hand-picked partner. But then their relationship with my client is their own, they invoice them, and that’s that, nothing more to do with me, for that job.

So this is similar to not taking on a job but recommending a friend, and in fact the transcription company now uses two other transcribers I have recommended, so I know that works OK.

Has anyone actually done this kind of thing? Does it work? Am I missing something here? Please share, either from a freelancer’s perspective or that of someone who uses freelancers. I would love to know how it works for you. I don’t want to let anyone down, but I also don’t want to let MYSELF down.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Matthew, Tower of Strength to me. He has to ferry cups of tea upstairs and put up with me being “only half an hour late tonight!” to watch one telly programme before bed. He microwaves pre-made bean sauces for me (he hates beans) and doesn’t mind (too much) when I get behind with the housework I say I’ll do.  This is a picture taken (by BRMB: thanks) at the Walkathon last year. He dragged me round, much as he drags me through some of these difficult days. Thank you, Matthew!