The 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto) states that in many situations roughly 80% of the effects are determined by 20% of the causes, or 80% of results are achieved in 20% of the overall time (This, of course, is a rule of thumb, and the 20% and 80% figures are an approximation).

There are countless aspects you can apply the 80/20 to in order to make your freelance business (and your private life) more efficient or enjoyable: your specialisms, clients, admin tasks and marketing strategies, but also domestic chores.

Applying the 80/20 rule

Start by having a think about your clients. Very often, we generate most of our income from just 20% of our clients. You’ll probably know immediately which ones these are. Logically, the jobs you do for the remaining 80% of your clients thus only generate 20% of your income. You can also find out which 20% of the work you do for your clients accounts for 80% of their happiness with your services.

Next, think about the different kinds of jobs and tasks you do. There will probably be a small percentage that gives you the most pleasure, or where you feel you are doing what you do best.

Once you’ve analysed your services, clients and tasks, consider concentrating on the ones that give you the most pleasure, generate the most income or make the best use of your skills, knowledge and experience. You may also come to the conclusion that you would like to ditch the less profitable or rewarding clients, or refer them to a trusted colleague, and find more clients that are good for you.

Do what you do best and ditch the rest

There are freelancers who genuinely enjoy tasks such as doing their own tax returns or building their own websites. Also, when you start out as a freelancer, you don’t always have lots of savings, and you have yet to create a client base, so chances are you will try and avoid spending extra money. But if you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time doing tasks you don’t enjoy or might even find stressful, you should think hard about whether you can stop doing them or perhaps delegate them to someone else.

Is it really worth doing those medical translations that you don’t really enjoy and that require so much research when the field you really want to work in is legal translation? Do you really want to work for the client who causes you lots of extra hassle, or would you rather spend that time working for more appreciative clients? Does it make sense to spend hours writing posts for a blog that only a few people read (and more importantly, do you enjoy it?), or would a different marketing approach be better?

There are many good reasons for delegating a specific task: doing it yourself might cause you stress, the results might not be as professional as you’d like them to be, or you might simply dislike doing it. Also bear in mind that often we’re best at what we enjoy most. So focus on your strengths as much as you can. If delegating tasks is not feasible for you, think about which tasks you can automate (e.g. invoicing).

What’s holding you back?

If you’re finding it hard to stop doing specific tasks or ditch clients that you’re not really happy with, it’s worth looking at the reasons.

Years ago, when I first decided I needed a website, I spent weeks fretting about writing the content. I found it incredibly hard to praise or even just describe myself and my work, and I know a lot of freelancers feel the same. So it came as a huge relief when I finally realised I didn’t actually have to write them myself. I then asked a copywriter friend to write something about me and my business. After a little editing to make it feel more like my own voice, I was happy. The only thing I regretted was having wasted weeks on trying to do a task that I didn’t really want to do – just because I thought that, being a translator, I should be able to write.

Or let’s say you spend a lot of your time doing translation jobs that you really don’t enjoy. If a lot of this work comes from one client, it may seem too risky to ditch that client. On the other hand, think about the costs of doing work you don’t enjoy: not only can it be mentally draining, it can also take longer – and thus be less lucrative – as we are often more easily distracted from assignments we find onerous. So in the long run, it might even be financially beneficial to stop working for this client.

Make the law of the few work for you

To sum up, applying the 80/20 rule means having a close look at your business and determining whether the time or effort you put into each action (or client) is proportionate to the outcome. By applying the rule consistently, focussing on what really works for you and thus creating time for what really matters, you can generate more income or free time, and make your work as well as your life in general a lot more relaxed and enjoyable. You may find you end up with quite a small number of tasks that you actually want or think wise to do yourself, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s great. Concentrate on the best 20% of your services and on the most important 20% of your clients, and you’ll be fine. The 80/20 rule is not called “the law of the vital few” for nothing.

Copyright © Bettina Roehricht 2017

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