If you’re looking for some interesting reading/listening, I recommend:

I’ve noticed a trend, or at least a micro-trend, among the students who take my classes for beginning freelancers: more and more of them are interested in working with direct clients right off the bat. Typically, these are students who know that their language skills are solid; for example they currently work in a job where they use their non-native language all the time, or where translation is one of their job tasks, and they have significant experience in the business world, just not as freelancers. Is this a viable pathway? Is it a smart pathway? Let’s take a closer look.

In my mind, a translator has four core skills: language(s), writing, specialization(s), and business skills. In an ideal world, we’d all have those in equal measure. And certainly, some of those skills are deal-breakers: if your source language reading skills or your target language writing skills are terrible, you’re simply not going to make it as a translator. And in countries/regions where, when you say “I’m a translator,” it’s assumed that you have a degree in translation, that may be a deal-breaker (for better or worse, not the case in the US, where translation programs seem to be dwindling rather than expanding).

I’d also theorize that there are some market factors underlying this trend. The hardest market niche to break into is the middle; the edges of the market are easier. And in our industry (my take here…feel free to disagree), the edges are huge agencies, which base their hiring primarily or even exclusively on their own tests, and direct clients, who will trust that you can do what you say you can do. In the middle, you’re mostly looking at small to medium agencies, which often, and understandably, have barriers to entry such as three to five years’ experience, ATA certification or a Master’s in translation, and thus are not a great option for people with solid skills but not much experience. A typical student in this situation will tell me something like The higher-quality agencies won’t take me because I don’t have enough experience, and I’m not interested in working for the Wal-Marts of translation or they don’t need my specialization, so I’m thinking of just going straight to direct clients.

My honest answer to the direct-to-direct client question is “I’m not sure…I see pluses and minuses.” On the plus side:

  • For translators who work in specializations that many agencies don’t handle (sports marketing, art history, nanotechnology), it may be the only way to pursue that specialization.
  • For translators who work in language pairs with a lot of downward price pressure (English-Spanish, English-Russian, etc.), direct clients offer a way around the reverse auction scene that prevails on online job boards.
  • I think that many direct clients are less concerned with formal qualifications than with what you can do for them: if you can solve their problem, you’re in.

But then again:

  • To do this, you have to be really, really sure that your language skills are good enough. The direct client market is not the place to be working on your language skills.
  • You have to get some objective assessment of your translation skills: if you’ve never done a translation that anyone else has reviewed, don’t start pursuing direct clients just yet.
  • You don’t know what you don’t know, and that can lead to a lot of problems. Example: I recently translated a marketing brochure for one of my direct clients. When they sent me the pre-press PDF, it included a bunch of errors (text pasted incorrectly, etc.), and a tagline that didn’t make sense. But I never would have seen this, had I not told them to send me the pre-press PDF; things can go wrong when you don’t even know what to ask.

Wise readers, over to you: thoughts?

The third edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator is here! With over 10,000 copies in print, the first two editions have become a go-to reference for beginning and experienced freelance translators alike. The third edition includes an all-new technology chapter by translation technology guru Jost Zetzsche, more information on marketing to direct clients, and lots of updated social media information. Purchase the print edition from Lulu Press ($20.00) or the electronic edition from E-junkie ($11.25).

If you’re a successful freelancer, chances are that you’re a perfectionist, an overachiever, or both. These traits have a lot of pluses: no one wants to work with someone who’s sloppy, late and doesn’t sweat the details. But they can also have some negative consequences, such as causing you misery and chipping away at your relationships with other people.

In this installment of In the Balance, I suggest five ways to mitigate the negative effects of being a perfectionist and/or overachiever. Enjoy!

The next session of my online course Beyond the Basics of Freelancing starts on February 22 (but will probably fill up before the deadline); if you have enough work as a freelancer, but you’re looking for better work, this class can help you get there.

A previous participant in the class commented, “I had a big increase in income the year after I took Corinne’s course and I attribute a large portion of that success to Corinne. I could not think of a better way to give your freelancing career a big boost than taking her course. Very inspirational, very valuable information, great program all-round!

The class runs for four weeks, and includes weekly readings and videos, daily tasks (20 total), and weekly live question and answer sessions. We cover topics such as creating marketing materials for direct clients, identifying marketable specializations and pursuing new specializations, determining how much to charge, and staying motivated over the long term as a freelancer.

Registration is $320 ($305 for members of the American Translators Association), and you can read the full description or register here.

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hine, an Italian to English translator who, since 2013, has been living on his bicycle while continuing to work as a freelancer. Now based in Italy, Jonathan first experimented with living and working on the road while riding through the southern US, then the Canadian Maritime Provinces (and on to the ATA conference in Chicago!), and then through Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. Jonathan’s perspective is a unique one, because his bicycle journey is not a sabbatical: he has configured his office to fit in his bike bags, and he works while on the road. This post originally appeared on his blog, The Freewheeling Freelancer.

In a previous post, I answered the question “why do I ride?”

On that subject, I have to admit that I am not all that impressive as a cyclist. This week, the Freewheeling Freelancer was added to the open Facebook group, Bicycle Touring Websites. I already knew that there were many cyclists who ride more than I do. I was amazed at how many cyclists of all ages were riding around the world like cancer patient Walter Judson Moore, or toting their young families from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, like the Sathre-Vogel family (www.familyonbikes.org). Granted, most are touring (going out and coming home, with work or school suspended), but there are hundreds of cyclists out there who are living on the road, with small children, spouses, pets, etc. And some of them have been out there for years.

Some of them are following this blog, which I find very humbling.

Returning to the theme of why, let’s ask, “Why should anyone else?” Only I am not looking at just the question, “why ride a bicycle?” but the subject of this blog, “why live and work on the road?”

First of all, if you love to travel, then this life may well be for you. I mean traveling, not just being somewhere else. You have to be the kind of person who delights in the journey itself, with its setbacks and awesome moments of beauty. It helps if you don’t mind slipping the whole plan to stay someplace that has surprised you, or even change your destination. You don’t need to stay in a place that does not suit you, and you can tarry where you are welcome.

Second, you might want to live on the road if the job you love requires it. You could be a musician, a travel writer, a lineman working for the power companies, a freelance oil engineer, a merchant seaman, or a yachting pro. I hope to introduce you to some of these people in this blog, but we will have to see whose paths we cross, won’t we? Not many of these people ride bicycles, except for the travel writers and photographers who write for the cycling magazines. But they travel light, and many don’t “go home” between gigs, cruises, jobs, or missions.

Others, like schoolteachers and missionaries, choose to live abroad, tied to one place for one or more years, but always moving on, and traveling during their free time. Some have a place called “home” back where they came from; some do not.

Third, you might have a hobby or a sport that requires that you travel to compete at the highest levels. Olympic and professional cyclists or other athletes come to mind, but so do randonneurs who seek to complete the full range of brevets in a year (visit http://rusa.org/ to learn about them). Such people are almost living on the road already, they see so little of their home bases. It’s not a great leap to organize one’s life to stay on the road, and not bother rushing “home” in between. Of course, there are a lot of variables in there, but you get the idea.

Fourth, if you have often thought seriously of selling your house, or giving it to your children, and getting out of the suburbs or the city, or wherever you feel stuck, you might want to look into living on the road. Mind you, this is not something to be done suddenly and rashly. It helps if you have already taken very long vacations or tours and enjoyed being on the road, perhaps even felt wistful about coming home. It is a big step to leave “home” behind. But there are ways short of selling your house to test out this idea.

Personally, I have not burned my bridges behind me, yet. My son lives in the house, and he wants to keep my car as a backup vehicle. My apartment downstairs is a guest flat when I am gone, so he can host professional musicians who come to our city for concerts. This week I just finished converting it from a one-person flat with home office, into a three-bed bunkroom, with a drop-down secretary for a visitor’s laptop and two empty sets of drawers. With this arrangement, I could stay away indefinitely, without losing the use of my flat if and when I return.

If you are in career transition, this might be a good time to test living on the road. For example, someone recently coming out of the military or “retiring” after a career with a company could work abroad as an independent contractor for a year. There are many term employment jobs of three months or more in a wide variety of locations. Many of them should pay well enough to allow you to accumulate the necessary cash reserves to support a transition to life on the road after your assignment, especially if you train yourself to travel light. If you don’t like where you are working, you can use the time to figure out whether it is homesickness or a genuine dislike of your current location that is the problem. If culture shock and homesickness are not issues for you, you might enjoy living on the road.

Finally, living on the road involves meeting many different and interesting people. You will not always like them all, but if you like meeting new people and getting to see a new point of view, I cannot think of a better way to do it. Wisdom and peace can come of such experience.

Please feel free to comment and to share your thoughts about the subject of living and working on the road.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


Postscript from Corinne: Although nowhere near as ambitious as Jonathan’s rides, if you’re interested in bicycling in Europe you might check out my posts Lake Geneva to Salzburg by bike and Planning your own bike trip in Italy.

Here’s Episode 8 of In the Balance, the series of work-life balance videos I’ve been doing for the Standing Out Facebook group. This episode focuses on boundaries: why you need them and how to set them. I mention three types of boundaries that freelancers need to think about, plus a bonus tip on knowing when to give up on certain boundaries! In the comments, let us know a) a boundary that you’d like to set in 2016, or b) a boundary-setting technique that works well for you. Enjoy!


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