Archive for the ‘Freelancing’ Category

Standing desks are hot right now (with various sources telling us that sitting is the new smoking). If you’d like to try one, the most customizable option is a motorized sit-stand desk. Karen Tkaczyk uses one, and she demonstrated it in this blog post. Another option is a VariDesk that sits on top of a standard desk.

I recently moved to a new co-working office and the desks have a really easy sit-stand option, where the desk surface is permanently set at standing height and you use a tall chair or stool, moving yourself (rather than the desk surface) when you want to change positions. Here’s my desk:

At first I was a bit skeptical about the stool, but it’s actually working out really well. It’s just uncomfortable enough that I get up for a few minutes every hour and go get some tea or run a quick errand; it’s not hellishly uncomfortable (and it forces me to sit up straight), but it’s also not the kind of thing you snuggle into for a four-hour stretch.

I think that my new desk is an Ikea Linnmon/Finnvard, which, at US $109, is certainly an affordable option. Just make sure to get a nice hard stool to go with it!

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The next session of my online course Beyond the Basics of Freelancing begins on November 11, and it’s the last session of 2015. I have some new things planned for 2016, so if you’ve been waiting to take this course, now is the time!

Beyond the Basics is a four-week online course for established translators who want to earn more money, enjoy their work more, pursue new specializations and market to higher-quality agencies and direct clients. This is a “high touch” course in which everyone gets individual feedback from me on weekly homework assignments, we do a one-hour question and answer conference call every week, and everyone gets an hour of individual consulting time with me. Registration is $350 ($50 discount for ATA members) and includes copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation.

A recent participant in this class commented:

I took a four-week online course called Beyond the Basics of Freelancing, developed and taught by Corinne. Though I was more or less satisfied with my business, it had plateaued and I wasn’t sure how to up my game. Corinne’s class was exactly what I needed. She asked questions that forced me to focus on the most important aspects of my business and acted as a sounding board for marketing ideas. I especially appreciated that the class included ample opportunity to ask specific questions about nearly anything. I learned a great deal from Corinne and from the other students and came away from the class with a concrete plan and timeline for the next 6-12 months to take my business to the next level

Hope to see some of you there!

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been enjoying hosting In the Balance (video series on work-life balance). It’s a topic I think about a lot, probably not least of all because I live in a “lifestyle town” (an expression that I learned only recently!) where prioritizing one’s non-work interests is very much the norm.

Today, a student in my class for beginning translators asked an interesting question: how would this advice apply (or not apply) to beginning freelancers, who want to have time to sleep, exercise, etc. outside of work, but who also need to actively build up their businesses.

Here’s the two-word answer: pace yourself. The advice that applies to experienced translators applies a little differently to you, but the goal is the same: don’t burn out, and let yourself enjoy some of the “free” in freelancing. Here’s what I mean: for experienced translators, work-life balance is largely about setting boundaries; it’s about achieving a similar level of financial security to someone who has a traditional job, but with the flexibility and independence of freelancing rolled into the mix. So for example I leave work at 2:30 three days a week so that I can be home when my daughter gets home; every Sunday night I sign up for my exercise classes for the week, and I treat them as I would a client appointment–I do not change them unless it’s absolutely unavoidable; I don’t work on weekends, even for my A-list clients; I try to avoid answering e-mail outside of working hours, because I don’t want my clients to expect that they can e-mail me at 10PM and get a response.

But when I was a beginner, things looked a lot different. When a client e-mailed me at 4 PM on a Friday and offered 8,000 words due Monday morning, I was elated. For years (literally, years) I worked from 7-10 PM, even on weekends. When a client called, I dropped everything, because I couldn’t afford (literally and figuratively) to miss a single job. But at the same time, you cannot work in that kind of “always on” mode all the time and remain excited about the job. So here’s the trick: pace yourself. Realize that when you’re building up your business, you have to go into overdrive sometimes. You have to be available at times and in places that experienced translators are not (month of August: great time to pick up new clients; ditto for the week between Christmas and New Year’s). But you can’t work in perpetual overdrive or you’ll absolutely burn out. So, pay attention to your pace!

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Since the beginning of September, I’ve been doing a video series called In the Balance for Andrew Morris’ Facebook group, Standing Out. The series focuses on work-life balance issues that translators, and freelancers in general, face. It’s been a lot of fun to create the (very basic; I’m not much of an a/v person!) videos, and especially fun to read the discussions about work-life topics.

I’ve decided to start cross-posting the In the Balance videos here, with a one-episode delay. I’ll kick things off with the first three videos (episode four, “dealing with low moments,” comes out on Standing Out tomorrow), and from now on I’ll post a new one every two weeks. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about these topics as well! If you watch until the end of the video, there’s an audience participation component in each one.

In the Balance, Episode 1: Work/life balance and what it means to you to be alive

In the Balance, Episode 2: I can’t, versus I choose not to

In the Balance, Episode 3: Creating positive habits

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Just a little fun thing here: Kidsville News (a “fun family newspaper and educational resource”) recently interviewed me about what it’s like to work as a translator. Here’s the article, and it was actually really interesting to think about how to explain translation to elementary-schoolers!

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A reader asks:

I am a freelancer working largely through agencies. I am retired and a US citizen, and I currently live in Vietnam. I am considering relocating to Europe – more specifically, France – and I am uncertain what the tax consequences would be. Currently I do not pay taxes to anybody except the USA, I am not paid directly in Vietnam for any work I do and none of my agency contacts are in Vietnam. My suspicion is that if I were to relocate to France I would have to pay French taxes on my work (and perhaps charge VAT) even though none of my clients are French and I am paid for all my work by transfer to accounts in the USA or Thailand currently.

I should say that I’m not an international tax expert, and I don’t live in the EU, so I’m mostly looking for input from other readers here. I have investigated freelancing in Switzerland since my husband is a Swiss citizen, but that’s a different situation since Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Area but not the EU. It seems to me that freelancers who want to do the location-independent thing for a while (and why not…it’s a huge advantage of our profession) have a few issues to think about:

  1. Immigration/visa requirements
  2. Tax requirements
  3. Getting paid

So let’s have at it! Readers, I’m looking to you for tips, so please add them in the comments.

Immigration/visa: this reader didn’t mention whether he’s a citizen of any EU/Schengen Area country, but let’s assume not. If you’re a US-only citizen, you’ll need to figure out how to legally stay for more than 90 days in the EU (after which, on a US passport at least, you have to leave for at least 90 days before you can re-enter). Here’s a post from Nomadic Matt that gives a good summary of the situation and your options. There are EU countries that issue long-stay tourist visas (I know two freelancers currently using that option: one in Spain and one in Italy), but it’s a long process to apply for one, and many countries will require that you have a significant amount of money in savings and that you waive your right to work while you’re there. It’s also a little unclear whether you’re considered to be “working” if, for example, you’re freelancing for clients in the US but living in France? More on that later…

Out-of-the-box options that might be worth investigating: The Savvy Backpacker has a full rundown of these, which may be more or less appealing depending on your financial resources and risk tolerance. Apparently, Germany has a freelancer visa that you can apply for in Germany, as opposed to other countries’ long-stay visas that you must apply for in your home country. If you have even a moderate interest in being a full-time student, you could investigate the student visa requirements for the country where you’d like to stay. There are also ethically dubious, but probably often-used, ways to stay in the EU: finding an inexpensive university program and paying the tuition in order to get a student visa, but never attending classes (or attending only on the first day so that there’s some record that you attended; overstaying your tourist visa, hoping you don’t get arrested for anything, leaving the EU over land or on a ferry (where you’re less likely to have your passport checked), and then flying out of a non-EU country. Not recommended, although many people probably do pursue those options.

Here I’ll have to defer to readers who know more about this than I do. Do not take any of this advice as reliable: always consult an attorney or tax professional before you make any decisions about taxes. Short version: it’s complicated. Basically, if you’re a US citizen, you probably have to file US taxes no matter where you live or earn money. This is unusual: I’ve even seen claims that only the US and Eritrea require non-resident citizens to pay tax on the income they earn while living abroad.

However, there is a substantial (up to $99,200 for the 2014 tax year) exclusion for *earned* income (not pensions, interest, capital gains, etc.). Note that this applies only if you meet the definition of “living outside the US”: currently, you must live outside the US for at least 330 days in the calendar year, not just for a majority of the year. I’m also not clear on whether that exclusion applies to income earned from US clients, because it’s called a “foreign income exclusion.” Here’s an article from The Freelancers Union that touches on some of those issues. Whether freelance work performed in a foreign country for a US client would be considered US-sourced or foreign-sourced, I’m not really sure.

Depending on where you live, you may also have to pay taxes in your country of residence. Here’s the IRS web page for US citizens and resident aliens abroad, and here’s the introduction to taxes abroad page from the American Citizens Abroad organization. Whether you have to pay in-country income tax depends on the US tax treaty with the country where you live. To answer our reader’s question, my impression (see disclaimer above) is that a US citizen in France would have to file a tax return in both the US and France, and pay French tax at least on his/her French-sourced income. Our reader comments that he doesn’t have any clients in France, so this might not be an issue for him.

To address the VAT issue: again, it’s complicated, not least of all because EU-based clients seem to have differing views on paying VAT on non-EU translators’ work. For example, many of my clients have told me that it’s financially advantageous for them to use non-EU translators because translation services procured outside the EU aren’t subject to VAT. But then, other translators have told me that that’s completely false, and that any translation service that an EU client pays for is subject to VAT. No clear answer there, unfortunately. Readers, I’m counting on you for some insights!

Getting paid
If you live abroad, it’s worth thinking about how your clients will pay you: not least of all because the payment method may affect your immigration status (complicated enough for you yet?). For example, if you’re a US citizen living in France, but with no French clients, and all of your clients are paying into your US bank account, it seems that you could make a reasonable argument that you’re not “working on the local economy.” But if you do have French clients and they’re paying into a French bank account, it might be hard to make that same argument. I think that it’s ethically fairly straightforward if your clients are in the US and paying into a US bank account; it’s less straightforward if you have clients in the country where you live. For example if you direct those in-country clients to pay into your US account, that might look fishy (tax evasion) if the in-country tax authorities investigate you.

The bottom line

Like lots of other things in life, this whole process is easier if you have a significant savings cushion. If you have enough money in savings or enough income from other sources (retirement accounts, investments, etc.) that you can present yourself as not needing to work in order to pay your basic living expenses, you have a much better chance of getting a long-stay tourist visa from an EU country. If you have all of your clients pay into your US bank account, with no income funneled through the EU country and no EU-based bank accounts, and you pay US taxes on what you earn, the chances are probably slim that you’ll run into trouble. The situation gets more complicated if a) you’re dependent on your freelance income to support yourself (as most of us are!) and/or b) you have clients in the country where you’re hoping to live.

I’m sure that there are some social/cultural factors at work as well. For example in our reader’s case, the fact that he’s retired from another career is probably a plus: he has an ostensible source of income in the form of personal savings, Social Security or a pension. I’d say that in the EU, it’s also more common for people to completely retire in their 60s, so people probably won’t wonder how our reader supports himself; that situation would be different for a younger person and certainly for a family. So, lots to think about here!

Readers, over to you (help!).

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The reality of a translator’s work day is that most of it is spent at the computer. This falls into the “great” category in terms of location-independence and the ability to work from nearly anywhere with a reliable Internet connection. But it falls into the “not great” category in terms of the effect on one’s eyes, hands, spine, and overall health. Here are a few suggestions for mitigating the damage, and feel free to add your own in the comments!

Think about your desk setup
In 13 years of freelancing, I’ve tried various setups; standard desk with a standard chair, standard desk with a yoga ball, a treadmill desk, and now a standing-height desk with a high stool. I do think that being able to change your position is important; if you want to see a sit-stand desk in action, you can check out this video interview with Karen Tkaczyk, who uses an Ikea Bekant motorized multi-position desk.

All of these desk setups have their pluses and minuses: I like sitting on a yoga ball because you can’t slouch (or you fall off the ball…) and you can’t sit with your legs crossed, unless you have unusually good balance on one leg. Treadmill desks are excellent for your health, but can be loud and large, and can also leave you feeling just exercised enough that you don’t feel motivated to do more vigorous exercise when you’re not working.

At my co-working office, we have Ikea Linnmon trestle desks, which look like this:
They’re an interesting solution because they allow you to change from sitting to standing by using a high chair or stool, rather than by changing the desk height. I use a wooden stool as a desk chair, which a) prevents slouching since there’s no back, and b) is just uncomfortable enough that I have to walk around or stand up regularly, which I like. If I had a Herman Miller Aeron, I might never get up again, whereas the wooden stool kind of forces me into activity.

Think about your hands and eyes

As translators, we type *a lot*. Unless you use speech recognition software, your fingers are working overtime, so make sure you have a really good keyboard. I am an evangelist for Unicomp keyboards; I have the classic buckling spring model at home, but it’s so loud that I purchased the quiet touch model for my office (it’s still pretty loud compared to something like an Apple keyboard, but it’s doable). Using the Unicomp keyboards, I have had zero repetitive strain problems in 13 years of translating, so I think they’re well worth it.

If you have a laptop as your primary work computer, invest in a good-quality, large monitor so that you’re not squinting at a little screen. And look at some basic ergonomic guidelines when you set everything up in your office: adjust the monitor so that your head is in a neutral/level position when you look at the center of the screen, and place the monitor so that your fingertips just touch the screen if you reach your arm out straight in your normal sitting/standing position.

Make exercising a habit
I once told an audience of freelancers, “Do something physical for at least an hour a day.” To which someone in the audience responded, “That sounds kind of X-rated, don’t you think?” I’m not going to judge your choice of physical activity, but I’ll give you my doctor’s advice: if you are completely sedentary at work, you have to consider an hour of exercise as part of your work day. I know…you don’t have time, you hate Jazzercise, and so on. Here’s how I do it: I consider a gym membership to be a business expense. I mean, in the IRS’ mind, and thus on my actual taxes, it’s not a business expense. But in my own mind, it’s a cost of doing business in a job that I love, but in which I do a lot of sitting on my tail. I deliberately sought out a gym that is a five-minute walk from my office, and that offers “lunchtime express” exercise classes. The class varies by the day: one day it’s power yoga, one day it’s TRX, one day it’s kettlebells. Honestly, I don’t even look at what the class is: I just go on the gym website and sign up, and that’s my lunch break. The gym is so close that I can change clothes, walk there, do the class, take a quick shower, change, walk back, and be back at my desk in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Maybe there’s not a gym right near you, or maybe you loathe the thought of group exercise classes, or whatever, but if you are at all avoidant about exercising, you need to find a “hook” that forces you to keep up with it.

If you work at home, you can try all kinds of little tricks to force yourself to exercise: when your phone rings, stand up before you answer it, and walk around while you talk on the phone. Keep a set of dumbbells on your desk, and lift them while you’re listening to a webinar. Set a timer and work for 50 minutes, then “work out” for 10 minutes by doing jumping jacks, squats, or running in place in your office.

I’m sure you have some great tips on freelance health, so let’s hear them!

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