A freelancer’s approach to health and wealth

I wanted to mention my basic approach to finance, again just to be clear about how I filter any business advice I come across.

Hopefully you’ll find them sound principles that you might already employ, but I’ll cover them now, before discussing new clients. The idea is to save any potential stress and wasted opportunities. They weren’t immediately obvious to me, perhaps because neither my family, schools nor university ever really discussed monetary matters in any detail.

I have put some thought into it myself, leaning on authors who heavily invest their time into preserving and maximising the value of every last penny or cent. While going to those lengths is a little too materially-obsessive for my liking, I can appreciate the importance of the strategies used to give families and individuals a little more independence in life. Here are some of the most stand-out points that have stuck with me:

Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a finance professional, I would advise you to seek one out before doing anything rash with your cash.

In general I agree with the plan to build assets, and remove liabilities. At its most basic level this just means spending on things which make you money, not take it away. Liabilities can be things such as subscriptions or direct debits to companies you no longer use, yet are still being charged for. They could be bank charges or any cost that takes your hard-earned income and gives you nothing in return.

It is generally A Good Thing to also consider your time as an asset, to be invested rather than wasted. The section on productivity tools will give you some ideas to win back any lost time. Other assets help you to earn more at work (such as this book!) or to lead a fuller life in a more general sense. In any case, seeing costs through the prism of assets and liabilities is a simple way to judge their worth.

Avoid bank charges. They are easily avoidable and a great expense if left unmanaged (don’t I know it!). Pick a limit for your bank account above zero (say, £500) that you won’t let it go under. This creates a buffer. Set account alerts by SMS – many banks offer these for free – to warn you when you’re in the buffer to avoid any impending charges. Forewarned is forearmed.

Use credit sparingly. Sometimes the risk of missing a credit card or loan payment, and being charged for it, outweighs the benefits of being able to spend on credit. Better to deal in money you have and go without when without. I’ve seen too many friends (not in translation) risk it all on a loan and lose out to see lending as any kind of quick-fix for business problems. Offering a solid, reputable service should be the priority and investment should come later.

Build your ‘war-chest’ of savings from the good times. You can re-invest these into your business or life (savings accounts, investments etc.), to see you through the harder times, and to help you enjoy the better times.

Keep a fixed percentage aside for tax and contingency planning. Over-save here, anything extra at the end of the year can be a bonus.

Incorporate your business if it saves you on income tax. It may not, depending on your local tax laws, but setting up a pension and running other business expenses through the company could work out most efficiently.

Use accounting software, preferably one that allows you to import bank data directly. You can save many hours and much money by organising your accounts in this way. The service I use is called Freeagent (here’s a 10% discount for it, and my review) and it covers nearly everything I need to report to the tax authorities. All I have to do is invoice through it (which is very quick) and import my bank statements. I can then see at a glance any outstanding bills, invoices and tax deadlines.

Deal with problems early. Call your tax authority if something is wrong. They are often more helpful than you would imagine. Just placing a call is sometimes enough to help discharge a penalty or misunderstanding.

Moving on to a few very simple basic health principles that are worth considering, if you don’t already, to make sure you’re always ready for life and work (not a slave to either).

Setting a limit on how many hours you work in the week and factoring this into your rate calculations is helpful to protect your health. Setting 9-5 as work hours, only occasionally going over this in urgent cases, is one way to make sure you stave off burnout. No work outside these hours, unless paid at a premium, should be the rule.

Too much time spent working can have a huge negative effect on health in any job, especially in translation which can be so mentally exhausting. You should be militant about taking rest time. If your business can’t survive overnight without you, then it’s not set up optimally and you should re-evaluate why you spend so much time working. Being the ‘busy fool’ who works all day for little reward will not give you or your business a long life.

Weekends should be taken where possible, which is a given if you have a family, but less so if you don’t. Spending time stretching out job deadlines for ‘research’ can be a productivity killer. Fill your work day as much as possible to capacity and then make a clear distinction between work and play.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) can be relieved through simple exercises, many of which can be found online, but is best avoided by reducing your typing load and increasing revenue as much as possible for your health and that of your business.

Your work chair can lead to damage no matter how ergonomic it is, so make a point of going for a walk whenever you can. Standing desks are useful (consider an adjustable desk, drafting desk or mount your computer on a chair or box standing on your desk to try it out) for reducing sitting time. They do have their own problems, so a decent mix of sitting and standing in various positions ought to keep your body moving enough to avoid most major sedentary worker ailments.

Now moving swiftly back to the feature presentation, we’ll look at a basic approach to selling that can be used in the later sections on gaining new clients.   

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.