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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The next session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator starts on April 1, and registrations are starting to roll in. This is a four-week online course for beginning translators (in any language combination) who want to launch and run a successful freelance business. I take a maximum of ten students per session, and everyone gets individualized feedback from me on four assignments: your resumé and cover letter, your marketing plan, your rates and billable hours sheet and your online presence. In addition, we do a one-hour question and answer conference call every week, and you receive free copies of my books How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation. Registration is $350, or $300 if you’re an ATA member. A recent participant in the course commented:
I learned so much about the translation industry and general business practices and the personal feedback from Corinne was absolutely priceless. I would highly recommend this course and I will take another class from Corinne in the future.
You can read the full course description or register on my website. Hope to see some of you there!
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A reader asks: I’d like to apply to more translation agencies, but how do I find good agencies to apply to?
This question applies to a lot of people who want to work with agencies, so let’s talk about it. There are various online databases of translation agencies; for example I launched my freelance business back when ATA still mailed every member a paper membership directory, like a phone book for the translation industry. I opened it to the agencies section, started at A, and applied to a couple of agencies every day. By the time I had gotten to M or so, work started coming in from the As and Bs. It was a spaghetti-against-the-wall system, but it worked. But many translators want to know how to find good agencies to apply to. This is important, and tricky, because you can’t just Google “high-quality translation agencies” or “agencies that will treat me like a professional and value my work.”
If you’d like to pursue a less spaghetti-against-the-wall system, you could use the system I used, but with some improvements. Resources like the ATA directory are great for finding a heap of agencies, but you need to vet them somehow, to determine a) whether they’re hiring new translators, b) whether you fit what the agency is looking for and c) whether the agency is credit-worthy. So, you could:
- Use a resource like the ATA directory to find agencies’ names and websites
- Never contact the agency directly by using the contact information in the directory (don’t e-mail the person whose e-mail address is there, because it’s often a violation of public directories’ use policies to use them for marketing purposes)
- Take a look at the agency’s website: are they hiring freelancers, and do you fit what they might need? If it’s a financial translation agency and you do IT and patents, move on.
- If the agency seems like a potentially good fit, then check their creditworthiness. Because when you do a job for an agency without being paid in advance, you are extending credit. My favorite translation agency rating service is Payment Practices (not an affiliate deal, I just love them). A subscription is $19.99 per year, and you can get 25% off and a 7-day free trial through the ATA member-to-member program. Other potential resources are the ProZ Blue Board (some access with the free ProZ membership; full access requires the paying membership or payment with ProZ points), or various industry blacklists (I won’t list those here because I don’t use them and thus can’t vouch for their trustworthiness, but they’re easy to find on Google).
- If the agency is hiring, looks like a potentially good fit and is creditworthy, then visit the agency’s website and apply to them. Most agencies now use online forms or even an online vendor management portal, but some still use a dedicated e-mail address where you send your resume.
Or, especially if you want to target agencies in a specific geographic area, you can start with a database like Payment Practices. For example you could search only for agencies in Switzerland, or Boston, or Florida, that are rated 4.0 or higher in both of the categories that Payment Practices rates. Again, do not use the agency’s direct contact information as you find it on Payment Practices; go to the agency’s website and use the application information that’s there.
A few other potential ways to find better-quality agencies to apply to:
- Ask translators who work in a different language pair or specialization than you do. Approaching people whose profile is relatively similar to yours is always tricky, because it looks like you might poach their clients. But if you translate German, ask some French translators; if you do legal translation, ask some medical translators (as long as the agencies aren’t medical-only).
- Ask translators who work primarily or exclusively for direct clients: what agencies have they heard good things about? If these translators don’t actively apply to agencies any more, or if they charge more than most agencies will pay, they’re not likely to view you as competition.
- Look at agencies that exhibit or present at industry conferences. You still want to check them out on a site like Payment Practices, but this is an indication that the agency could be good to work for.
If you’re interested in what happens after you do this marketing campaign and get some bites from good agencies, check out our Speaking of Translation podcast, Insider tips for working with translation agencies.
Readers, any other thoughts on finding quality agencies?
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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 student in my online course asks: How do I decide if a translation specialization is viable?
Hmm, interesting question, and one that nearly all freelancers have to grapple with at some point. Short answer: nearly any specialization is viable, depending on your marketing zeal and income needs. Longer answer follows.
When you’re looking at potential specializations, here are a few factors to consider (and readers, please add your thoughts in the Comments):
- What’s your knowledge of/interest in this specialization? That’s undoubtedly the most important factor, and one that outweighs most other factors if you’re looking at a technical subject area.
- What’s the demand? Some specializations (like legal translation) are so content-heavy that having enough work isn’t much of a concern. Others (restaurant menus) may have a lot of demand in terms of the *number* of clients, but not in terms of the size of each individual project.
- Who are the clients? This is one that a lot of translators overlook. Some specializations (software, pharmaceuticals) are almost exclusively the domain of agencies, because most of the end client companies are so huge that they tend not to use individual freelancers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there an infinite number of niche specializations that are almost exclusively the domain of direct clients. I’ve met translators who specialize in horses, cross-country skiing, stamps, cookbooks, and so on. If you’re outside the scope of the big business areas like legal, financial, medical, pharmaceutical, IT, patents, etc., you need to consider whether you are OK with working only or primarily with direct clients.
- How much are you willing to market? Again, this is a big one. Law firms and legal translation companies are easy to find, and there are lots of them out there. Cookbook publishers that need a Russian translator? They’re out there too, but you’ll have to work harder to find them.
- What’s the income potential? Of course, there’s a huge variation within every specialization. But in general, you can’t translate poetry if you need to make money from it, and you wouldn’t translate financial documents just for personal enjoyment.
- How much do you care about doing work that is meaningful to you? Again, mileage varies widely. But many clients in, say, legal or IT translation are only translating because they have to, not because they really want to. But one of the things I particularly enjoy about international development translation is that the documents affect real people’s lives, and are commissioned by clients that really, really care about the quality of the translation.
Readers, your thoughts?
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