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Archive for the ‘Freelancing’ Category

Here’s a cross-post from Speaking of Translation, the podcast I co-host with Eve Bodeux:

Running a freelance business and raising a family can be a great fit, but combining those roles can result in a lot of stress, and requires planning, prioritizing, and of course flexibility and a good sense of humor! For this episode on being a freelancer and being a mom (stay tuned for our next episode on being a freelancer and being a dad!), Eve and I spoke with two moms who balance their significant family responsibilities with extremely active professional lives:

Elena Langdon is a Portuguese-English translator and interpreter and a former chair of the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. She grew up in Brazil and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children, ages 2, 4 and 7. Elena specializes in medical, legal and social science work and is an active interpreter and translator trainer.

Jennifer Nielsen is a Spanish-English translator and interpreter and the immediate past president of the Mexican Translators Association. She is originally from Colorado and now lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband and her twin sons who are almost a year old. Jennifer works with Mexican businesses that are expanding into the US market, especially in the areas of law, marketing and academia.

We pulled Jennifer and Elena away from their extremely busy lives and asked them for their insights on:

  • Maternity leave: how long to take off and how to talk to your clients about it
  • Child care: what their child care situations are, and whether they try to work with their kids at home
  • Managing the uncertainty of freelancing with small kids: what happens when the kids are sick, or the babysitter is sick, or there’s a snow day?
  • Client relations: how much their clients know about their personal lives
  • The boiling point: how do they avoid being overwhelmed by stress and exhaustion, and what do they do when they are overwhelmed?

If you’re a freelancer and a mom, we think you’ll really enjoy this episode!

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Being a freelancer and being a mom

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This is more of a food-for-thought post than a helpful hints post, and please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments! In working with the students in my online courses and talking to other translators who have been in the business longer than I have, I’ve developed a theory about the three phases that most freelancers seem to go through:

Phase 1: You’ve been plugging away at your startup phase for some months or years. Work is starting to flow in with some regularity. You still have peaks and valleys, but you are making what might be termed real money, or at least semi-real money. You’re probably still working at another job, dipping into savings, or depending on a spouse’s or partner’s income, but you feel that your freelance business is a going concern: you’re going to make it! For me, this described (approximately) years 1.5 through 3 of my freelance business.

Phase 2: Reality check. Your freelance business is a going concern, but you start to realize that if you want freelancing to be your “forever” job, you need to earn more, and possibly a lot more money than what you’re currently making. If you want a similar level of financial security to someone with a salaried job, you need to be putting money into retirement, earning enough that you can afford to take a reasonable amount of time off, earmarking money for professional development, training and tools such as computer equipment and software. The euphoria that you felt at the end of Phase 1 starts to fade, as you look at the (large) number that you need to hit in order to achieve that level of security. But, hopefully, you forge ahead, maybe adding direct clients to your roster, or assertively marketing to better-paying clients of various flavors. For me, this described (approximately) years 3-6 of my freelance business, in the sense that after year 3, I managed to break out of Phase 1, but I wasn’t fully into Phase 2 for about another 3 years after that. After 12 years of freelancing, I’d say that I’m still firmly in Phase 2 but now contemplating…

Phase 3: After putting in X number of years as a freelancer and earning a healthy income in order to achieve the level of financial security you targeted in Phase 2, you start to be more motivated by doing work that is meaningful, enjoyable, and that perhaps allows more time or flexibility for your non-work interests. I’m not at this phase yet, but I’m observing it in other translators I work with: they’re still very excited by their work, but maybe they translate more books, or maybe they assertively look for work that matters to them, whether it’s lucrative or not, or they do work that fills a need for a cause they support. Although I’m not there yet (and with my child’s college tuition coming in the next decade, won’t be for a while!), I can see this on the horizon: a time when I’ll still love this job, but when I will want to look for work that lets me ride my bike and play my lute (preferably in Italy!) while doing work that I enjoy.

My observation is that a lot of freelancers get a bit stuck between Phase 1 and Phase 2: having sort-of-enough work, earning sort-of-enough money and enjoying the job sort-of-enough. That’s a great place to be when you compare it to your startup phase, but it’s not a great place to hang out for 20 years. Breaking out of that phase is another series of posts, but it might be helpful to identify which phase you’re in!

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A short but important thought about freelancing (and maybe about life in general, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog!): whatever you do in your freelance business, do it intentionally, not because you’re a) being passive or b) letting some external force dictate your decisions and then blaming the external force instead of yourself. A few examples:

-Which of these statements applies to you: I work on whatever comes my way OR I actively seek out work that I enjoy and am good at?

-Have you ever said A client forced me to lower my rates OR A client made me translate something I knew was outside my expertise? If so, you’re adding to the already-problematic situation by putting yourself in the passive seat. Instead, think A client asked me to lower my rates, and I agreed; time to do some marketing so that I’m not in that position again OR I took on a project that I really shouldn’t have, mostly because I really needed the work. I will work on finding more clients in my specializations so that I don’t need to do that again.

I find that this kind of mindset switch really helps; like every freelancer, I get into situations where I wonder if I said yes to something that I shouldn’t have. But I feel much better saying This deadline was really, really tight, but it was for an A-list client who I wanted to help out or I took a financial hit on this project, but I’ve been wanting to translate this book for a long time, so I’m not as focused on the money. The intention is important. Thoughts?

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Over at Speaking of Translation, we’ve posted a new podcast for your listening pleasure: Tips from a project manager turned freelance translator.

Eve Bodeux and I recently caught up with freelance French<>English translator Angela Benoit. Angela earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in France (from the same school where I did study abroad…Grenoble pride!) and then worked as a translation project manager in New York for over six years. About a year and a half ago, Angela decided to cross the aisle and launch her freelance translation business; in this podcast Angela shares what she’s learned from this career switch. How can a translator move from an agency’s database to actually getting work? Are rate negotiations just about the money, or are there other factors? Who gets picked for an agency’s plum assignments? And how can project managers find the best translators out there, or help the best translators find them? Give it a listen, and let us know what you think! Thanks to Angela for sharing these valuable tips with our listeners.

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A new video! I felt more like talking than writing today…

Lots of people ask why a freelance translator needs a partner, and how to find the right person. Here’s part I, in which I briefly answer those questions; in part II, Eve Bodeux and I will talk about how we work together.

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After tomorrow, the Thoughts on Translation world headquarters will be closed for vacation through January 4, so before we dig into today’s topic, here are a few end-of-year recommendations:

  • Start thinking about taxes as soon as you get back from your holiday break. You can close out your books immediately, so why not do it in January rather than on April 14?
  • If you achieved your business goals for this year, be a good boss and give yourself a bonus. If you need some ideas, I wrote a whole post about bonuses last year.
  • If you’re an experienced translator with enough work and income, take some real time off over the holidays. Put your auto-responder on and put the computer in the rear view mirror.
  • If you’re a new translator, be aware that the holidays are a great time to pick up new clients; end-of-year panic plus lots of experienced translators on vacation equals a potential opening for a newcomer. Today on Twitter, one agency owner commented that at this time of year, agencies are much more likely to take a chance on a new person…which could lead to a lasting relationship. French to English translator Karen Tkaczyk reported that during her first year as a freelancer, she picked up many new clients by being available between Christmas and New Year’s.

But now, let’s talk about something else: how to select an online course. I’m a big fan of this topic, having taught my own courses for about eight years, and having taken several Coursera classes, a couple of writing classes through Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and most recently Ed Gandia’s Warm e-mail prospecting course. There’s no shortage of online courses out there, but the question is how to choose one; while the range of potential courses might be limitless, your available time and money surely are not. So here are some deciding factors to help you:

  1. Are you interested in a specific topic, or in a specific teacher? When I took Coursera’s class Epidemics: the dynamics of infectious diseases, it was the topic that grabbed me. As a bonus, the instructors were amazing (and just for the record, I learned more from this class than from any other science class I’ve ever taken, including in-person courses in college), but I didn’t know any of the instructors to start out with. When I took Ed Gandia’s class, I was attracted by the fact that he’s a marketing coach whose advice fits with my preferred way of finding new clients (as he says “without the ick factor”).
  2. What delivery method works best for you? Here I’m talking about live versus self-paced, video lectures versus audio lectures, etc. The advantage of a live/synchronous course is that you have to be there, so there’s no weaseling out. With self-paced/asynchronous, you can do the course at 2 AM if you want. My tip: if you take a self-paced course, set a certain block of time aside for it and stick to that. For example I listened to Ed’s e-mail marketing course in the evenings, when I didn’t feel like staring at the computer screen any more. In terms of audio versus video, the topic may dictate your preference. For example the Coursera epidemics class includes tons of animations; that may have driven some people crazy, but for me (person with a strong interest in science but not much of a hard science background), they were tremendously helpful. I also really appreciated the possibility of pausing the video and looking something up on Wikipedia, or listening to a few seconds of the video again. By contrast, Ed Gandia’s e-mail marketing course is audio lectures with handouts; this worked for me because it’s a topic I “get,” and because Ed has a great speaking voice, but if you’ve never done much freelance marketing before, it might be better to take a video course.
  3. Do you get any individualized feedback? To me, this is huge. If you’re taking the course primarily/exclusively to absorb information, individual attention may not be that important. For example in my epidemics classes, I was fine with the auto-graded quizzes and peer discussion boards, because my main goal was to learn facts, not improve my subjective skills. But if you’re taking a course specifically to improve your skills, individual attention makes a huge difference; this is something I always mention when people are considering my online courses. Lots of classes in the $150-$200 price point are going to give you great information, and will be a lot more interesting than reading a book, but you won’t get individualized feedback from the instructor, whereas the whole foundation of my classes is individualized feedback. From the instructor standpoint, individualized feedback takes a lot of of time, which is probably why most courses that offer it are in the $300+ price point.
  4. If the class is self-paced, do you have the discipline to follow through on it? Another big one: with Ed’s e-mail marketing course, I found that I really had to carve out the time to do it, or I forgot about it since there’s no enforced schedule. Especially if the course is a significant financial investment, consider your level of self-discipline before you sign up. Ditto for courses that last a long time: signing up for a year of coaching at a reduced rate sounds good, but if you lose interest after three months, it could be a waste of money.

Readers, any other thoughts on this? And happy 2015 to everyone!

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A student in my online class asks: how do you know who the “big payers” are in a given industry, and how do you find them or help them find you?

That could be a whole course in and of itself; but here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

Every industry or sector has “big payers.” For example, when I tell people that I do mostly international development translation, they often say “But isn’t it all small NGOs run out of someone’s garage on a shoestring budget?” And yes, there are *tons* of those small “garage” NGOs out there that always need pro bono translators. But the real “big payers” in the development sector are companies that get huge contracts from USAID and other entities like that. For those clients, a contract of $50 million would be considered medium-sized. A big grant from an entity like the Gates Foundation would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars; so these clients are much more concerned with quality, consistency and confidentiality than with saving a few cents per word.

Here’s another example: another student in the class is interested in art-related translation, and I suggested looking at art law. Like my example above, you’re going to find tons of small players in the art sector who have little to no money, and might be a good target for pro bono translation. But envision if a large museum in the US is doing a major exhibit on, let’s say, Frida Kahlo, and they’re going to borrow a bunch of paintings from museums in Mexico. Again, here, we’re talking huge amounts of money: paintings that are insured for millions of dollars and have to travel under certain conditions and with an attendant from the “home” museum at all times; and they have to be displayed only under certain conditions, and hung a certain way. And they have to be evaluated by a curator before they leave the home museum to check for damage and all of that stuff, but all of that stuff is in Spanish. Same with the books and brochures associated with a traveling exhibit; they probably already exist, but in Spanish. So again, there would be a lot of translation work there, with an enormous cost of failure for the museum.

So, how do you land those kinds of clients? A few tips: first, you make sure that if they are just blindly looking for someone online, they find you. You are on LinkedIn and you have a website that clearly describes your services. Also, you have a large network of other translators who refer work to you because you are ultra-trustworthy and never let down the clients who someone refers to you. Also, you hang out in places where your target clientele hangs out; you are a member of their professional associations, and you go to their conferences and things like that. But, you also do not wait for them to find you; let’s say that you see a notice in the local press that a museum in your city is doing that big Frida Kahlo exhibit; they just signed the contract! So you fire off an e-mail that’s low-key but well written, and say something like this to the person who’s listed as the contact: “Dear Ms. Simpson: I just read the news in the local paper about your upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibit. How exciting, and what a great cultural opportunity for the art community in town. I’m a professional Spanish-English translator specializing in fine arts, and I can envision that you might need someone to help with translations related to this exhibit. If so, feel free to keep my contact information on file. In any case, thank you so much for bringing this incredible event to our city, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to the exhibition!”

So, that’s very brief, but there’s the basic concept of how the “high payer” world works, in my experience. Readers, other thoughts?

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