A quick but important piece of advice, especially if you’re in the trenches of your first few years of freelancing. Raise your hand if you’ve ever lamented a lack of progress in your freelance business by saying something like, “The problem is that most clients won’t pay my rates,” or “The problem is that most clients don’t need someone who does my language/specialization,” or “The problem is that most clients want someone who can do large projects on short notice.” If you’re honest, you’ve probably said or thought those things at some time: I certainly did during my first few years in business.
But here’s the thing: to build a viable freelance business, you don’t need 100 clients. You need, I’m going to say, four to seven regular clients and then some occasional clients to fill in the gaps. When I looked over my accounting for 2014, I earned about 60% of my income from my top four clients. While you want to be careful about being too reliant on any one client, A-list clients are a good thing: they fill your inbox instead of the other way around; they know and trust you; they take less administrative time because you’ve worked together before.
So this is one situation where you want to think small, rather than thinking big and being needlessly discouraged. Think three clients; five clients; maybe 10. As an example, the American Bar Foundation reports that there are over 47,000 law firms in the US. If you do legal translation, even if 99% of those law firms don’t need your language pair, already have a translator they like, or don’t have any translation needs at all, that still leaves you with 470 clients. So in that case, let’s hope that at least 99.9% of them don’t need you, because then you’re only down to 47 clients which is still too many. That’s an extreme example, but you get the point: now go hunt down the small number of clients that you do actually need!