I’ve been looking for a good job-tracking and invoicing program for a long time. I’ve looked at just about everything, and nothing suits my particular needs. My needs are a little differentâ€”almost none of my work is billed by time but piecework instead (support for this kind of thing is often an afterthought) and I need support for multiple currencies (this is rare).
I’ve tried using Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet app. Spreadsheets in general have one big thing in their favor: they impose no assumptions on you. The flipside of that is that you have to build everything from scratch. There are a few aspects of job tracking where you’d prefer for your program to have made those assumptions for you. A bigger problem I had with Numbers in particular is that it corrupted my job log spreadsheet, which is a colossal PITA. A more philosophical problem is that spreadsheets are basically flat-file databases, and a proper job tracker really needs a relational database behind it.
Watching Gwen figure her work on a letterpress printing project was a lesson in how very different the job-tracking requirements for two solo freelancers can be. Ideally, one app would have the flexibility to meet these different needs. I’ve been giving the subject some thought, and what follows is my attempt to crystallize them.
I’ve been a freelancer since 1989, and in that sense, I get a new job every time a new document comes down the pipe. I am still a freelancer, still doing the same thing, but I still feel like I’ve got a new job.
When I started translating as a freelancer, things were kind of thin. Gradually, my client base and workload picked up, and by 2000, I was making a pretty nice income.
Then came 2001: my income was less than half what it had been in 2000: the Japanese economy–already bad–seemed to get worse, and we all know what happened in the U.S. economy. 2002 was slightly worse; 2003 about the same.
December 2003 and January 2004 were alarmingly quiet, and I could no longer pretend that I was riding out a lean spell and things would pick up in their own time. Either I needed to get more translation work, or I had to get a “real” job (though the idea gave me hives). In the past, I had occasionally made efforts to get new work by cold-calling, but I found the process uniformly unproductive and had given up. Time to try again. I contacted a lot of translation agencies. Most of them thanked me for my resume (if that much) and that was the end of it. Some had me do translation tests. This turned into a more labor-intensive way for me to wind up buried in a rolodex somewhere. But I contacted one company that was different. They sent me a very demanding translation test–a long passage (as trials go) of very challenging material. I slacked a little on finishing it, but eventually did so. And eventually heard back that they like my work and want to add me to their stable. And that they can, it seems, completely saturate my pipeline. And they pay pretty well (especially for Americans). In short, if I choose to, I can pretty much work full-time and exclusively for them. I feel both relieved that a long and difficult period seems to be ending, and anxious that I might screw up.
Jenny and I have discussed before the danger as freelancers of turning one’s client ecology into a monoculture, but right now, it beats the hell out of a xericulture.