Archive for the ‘Getting started as a translator’ Category

Congratulations to English-Swedish translator Tess Whitty on the launch of her new podcast, Marketing tips for translators! Tess has a degree in marketing, and in each episode of her podcast she’ll be interviewing a guest about a niche aspect of marketing for translators. Tess has four episodes currently available:

Right this minute, I’m sitting in the New Orleans airport, listening to Tess’ interview with Anne about LinkedIn tips, and it’s really great material. I’m looking forward to listening to Marta’s interview on the plane! Tess’ hosting style is very natural and conversational, and she’s targeted guests who are very passionate about their topics. You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes (I just did this, so I can attest that it works). Thanks Tess for this great initiative, and here’s to a long and happy life for this new podcast!

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Here’s a quick burst of inspiration for beginning and aspiring translators. I haven’t been a translation beginner for a long time, but over the past couple of years I’ve had the urge to learn a new musical instrument. I played piano for lots of years as a kid (but never loved it) and then I played a little recorder when we lived in Boston. A few months ago, we went to a lute concert and I was completely hooked: what a cool instrument. Plus it’s portable, unique, and lends itself to playing with other people. So, as my end of year bonus, I got myself a lute and lute lessons.

But first, I stressed out. I’m 42, I’m not a naturally gifted musician, I don’t really improvise or play by ear, I’ve never played a string instrument, and on and on. And then, a translator friend who’s a very accomplished recorder player said this: Look; every musician was once a beginner. No matter how good they are now, they once picked up that instrument for the first time and gave it a shot. So why not you? And that struck me as very simple but very profound: right, why not me?

Flash forward a few months, and now I can actually play the lute a little. Better yet, I love it. It is seriously fun and a really great outlet when you’ve been reading and writing all day. So then, my recorder-playing translator friend suggests that I go play some duets with a friend of hers who plays the viola da gamba. Sounds fun, but again I stress out. I get to the friend’s house with my lute, and immediately start explaining my real and perceived deficiencies (I’ve had five lute lessons, I’m not a naturally gifted musician, I can’t play by ear…stop me if you’ve heard this before). And the friend laughs, and says that she’s been playing viola da gamba for thirtysomething years, and she doesn’t improvise or play by ear,  and she enjoys encouraging beginners, so let’s just get out some easy music and try it, and have some fun. And guess what, I could actually sort of play a super easy duet with her and have it sound like music, and it was really fun.

So here’s the takeaway for translators: every single person in this industry was once a beginner. Even if today, someone like Chris Durban is (as I call her, much to her chagrin) the Michael Jordan of freelance translators, she once sat down to do her first translation, to see if she was any good at it. Even the Officers and Board of ATA once walked into their first ATA conference and thought “Maybe I’ll just head for the exit rather than face this crowd of strangers.” If the “big names” in the industry can make it, why not you?


PS: If you’ve never encountered a lute before, here’s what it looks like! This is me playing “The Holly and the Ivy” at our Christmas Eve house concert.

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The beginning of the year is always a good opportunity to take stock: what went right in 2013, what needs to go better in 2014, and where do you want to be a year from now? Let’s look at some questions that every freelance translator should ask. I’ll kick things off with my own answers, and please add yours in the comments.

Think of where you were at this time last year and what your goals were; by comparison, how are things going now?
In January 2013, I made a major change and joined a co-working office, in which I’m sitting right now. This has made a huge and positive change in both my work and home lives, since I now rarely work at home and try to maintain a fairly rigid separation between the work day and the non-work day. I surmised (correctly, as it turns out) that at the office, I would get more done in less time and potentially earn more money. So, overall, this year was a very successful one.

If you’re stuck in a rut (in terms of income, clients, workflow), what needs to change?
I’m not currently stuck in a rut, but I was at this time last year. So here’s my advice: look for the root cause of the rut. At this time last year, I was feeling relatively blah about work in general: wanting to break through to the next level of income, find more direct clients, and earn a larger percentage of my income from teaching, consulting and writing. I realized that I really needed to shake things up, and that the root cause was that I needed an office outside the house. For you, maybe it’s something different. But it’s important to realize when you need a big revamp rather than some small tweaks. Also, accept your reasons for wanting a change, even if they seem weird or superficial. One thing I love about the co-working office: it’s an excuse to wear nice clothes. If I feel like wearing a new dress, or fun shoes, or a cute hair style that I saw in a magazine, I do. So there.

Did you earn what you wanted to earn?
It’s OK, and even positive, to admit/accept that you translate primarily for the money. I love the work that I do as a translator. I love getting paid to read and write all day, and I love learning about new subject areas. I even (mostly) love interacting with clients and colleagues. But I also love that I can earn a healthy income while working largely on my own schedule and living in a place where there are few, if any, in-house jobs for what I do. Over the years, I’ve seen that for me at least, earning a good living doesn’t make life better, but it does make it easier. So be honest with yourself: are you making as much as you want to? Or do you need to up your income in 2014?

Who did you work for?
This one is critical: what are your revenue streams? You can probably name your top two or three clients without looking at your accounting records, because they’re the ones you hear from all the time. But you might be surprised to see who your mid-level clients are. If you do work other than translation, you also might be surprised to see what percentage of your income the “other” work generates. For example this year, every session of my online course was full and I taught 7 sessions of the class, meaning that the class is now one of my top “clients.”

How much did you enjoy the work that you did?
If you’re earning what you want to earn, working for yourself is generally pretty great. But ask yourself this (and I know I’ve harped on this topic lately, so bear with me!): did you take what landed in the inbox, or go looking for work that really turns you on? Was it another day, another dollar/euro/yen, or did you really look forward to diving in to your work on Monday morning?

What are you getting sick of?
I’m generally a very positive person, almost to a fault. Meaning that I tend to ignore the negative until it’s staring me right in the face. But think about this: what aspects of your work are making you nuts, and what can you do about them? For example I’ve recently talked to a couple of translators who are retiring, and who said “I’m not sick of translating, but I’m sick of deadlines, and rush jobs, and clients who want a miracle for yesterday.” Now that I’m over 40, I hear that. I realize that in another, say, 10 years, I’d like to be focused on work that is really, really on my own schedule, such as teaching, writing books and translating books. I’m not really at the “had it” point yet, but I see it on the horizon.

Should you outsource anything?
A couple of years ago, I realized that doing my own accounting was counterproductive. Although my accountant charges more than I do, it takes me approximately 57 times as long to do payroll taxes as it takes her. So I decided to allocate about $1,000 a year to accounting fees and I now pay my accountant to do almost everything. I keep my own income and expense records, but other than that it’s all her, and it’s well worth it.

Where do you want to be at this time next year?
I’m not a big one for resolutions because they’re kind of a setup for failure (for me at least). Also I’m fairly disciplined, so I tend to follow through on long-term goals. So I think more in terms of goals for the new year rather than resolutions. Here are some of mine: I’m planning to launch a more advanced-level online course (Beyond the basics of freelancing) within the first quarter; then I’d like to do a third edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. I also really, really need to work on connecting in person with more direct clients. I work primarily with direct clients, but most of them have fallen into my lap; I need to make more of an effort to actively seek them out.

Now, over to you? How did 2013 go? What’s on tap for the new year?

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I spend a lot of time explaining the merits of agencies to translators who work with direct clients, and explaining the merits of direct clients to translators who work with agencies. So, I thought I’d offer my explanation to the whole translation blogosphere and solicit your thoughts! Here we go:

Translation agencies are great, because:

  • If the agency does its job right, you just translate. You are freed from such tasks as explaining to the client why the words aren’t in the same order in the translation as they are in the original document, or explaining to the client that words like “software” and “information” are not pluralized as “softwares” and “informations” in English.
  • If the agency likes you, they will keep you busy. They will fill your inbox with requests, rather than the other way around.
  • They have a sense of what you do, and what the constraints of your job are. They know not to ask whether you could translate 25,000 words for 3 days from now, or whether you charge “for the little words.” By the way, that was an actual question I received from a potential client. I apologize if my answer, “Only if you want them translated,” sounded rude or glib.

But translation agencies have their drawbacks, such as:

  • In the agency market, a translator can only compete on quality to a certain extent. It’s in an agency’s best interest to use the cheapest translator whose quality and reliability fit the agency’s purposes. An agency that really likes you might pay you 10% more than what they pay their other translators, but they’re not going to pay you 100% more, whereas a direct client might.
  • They can’t afford to be loyal to you. A direct client might shuffle deadlines, pay rush printing charges or have their own staff work on a weekend in order to snag a translator who they really love. But agencies rarely will: if you’re not available within a reasonable amount of time, they’ll call the next person on their list.
  • Many agencies are not transparent about their teams and processes. When you work on a large project for an agency, the agency may refuse to let you communicate with the other translators. They may decline to tell you whether your work is being proofed a) by another translator in your language pair, b) by a speaker of the target language only or c) not at all.

Direct clients are great, because:

  • At a certain point, you will reach “terminal velocity” in the agency market. You will be charging as much as even the highest-paying agencies will pay, and you can’t increase your speed beyond a certain point if you want to maintain quality. So, the next logical place to look is the direct client market, where the price ceiling is much higher.
  • The business relationship is between you and them. Normally, you can communicate either with the person who wrote the source document or the person who is going to use the target document. In 11+ years of working with agencies, I’ve been in contact with the document’s writer or end user exactly zero times. To put it diplomatically, this model has its problems.
  • Quality is a major competitive advantage. I know for sure (and Chris Durban has said this as well), that some of my direct clients use me for their mission-critical translations; when they’re applying for a large grant or producing a report that will go to potential donors, they’re willing to pay my rate. But for other, less mission-critical things, they use either agencies or less expensive freelancers.
  • Questions and feedback are not only possible, but welcome. In the agency model, there’s pretty much an impenetrable membrane between the translator and the end client; in the direct client market, the back-and-forth flow is what makes the work more satisfying and the translation more accurate and more readable.

But direct clients have their drawbacks, such as:

  • Sometimes, they have no idea how you work, other than that you change documents from one language to another. 12,000 words for tomorrow? Some direct clients don’t know that that’s laughable. And while you’re at it, why don’t you translate into your non-native language? Or interpret for their upcoming conference? It’s not their fault, it’s just not their industry.
  • They may need you only sporadically, or for huge amounts of work at one time. Some direct clients only need a translator for a small job a couple of times a year, for example when they issue earnings reports or press releases. Others may have an onslaught of documents (grant applications, RFPs) a couple of times a year, and then they need 100,000 words in a month. So you absolutely must have a partner or backup person (more on that in another post).
  • Corollary: you really don’t want to turn down their work if you can help it. In the agency market, you can pretty much accept and decline projects at will. As long as you accept at least some of the time, the agency will likely call you again. But if you bail out on a direct client at a key time, your relationship with them may be over, because they have to find someone else immediately (see reference to partner/backup above).

Now, over to you! Thoughts?

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The next session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator starts on November 13; all other sessions this year have filled up before the start date, so please hop on over and register if you’d like to join us. It’s a four-week online course with a maximum of 10 people, and we focus on the basics of launching and running a successful freelance business. You leave the class with four main projects: your resumé and cover letter, marketing plan, rates and billable hours sheet and online presence plan. Everyone gets individualized feedback from me on all of those projects, plus we do a one-hour question and answer conference call every week (recordings provided if you can’t attend live). Whether you’re totally new to the industry or need a nudge to reach your business goals, I think it’s a good resource. The registration fee is $305, or $255 if you are a member of the American Translators Association. For a full description or to register, please visit my website.

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Here’s a very common question from my beginning translation students: “Do I need a…(Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, translation certificate, translator certification, etc.)” with corollaries such as “Am I better off getting a foreign language MA or a translation certificate?” “If I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree but I’m ATA-certified, is that OK?” and so on.

I can answer all of these questions with two words: it depends. There you go! That’s somewhat tongue in cheek, but it does really depend on your background, your goals, who you work for and what you do. And in this post, I’m talking about the norm, not the exception; I know a couple of self-taught conference interpreters who have tons of work, people without Bachelor’s degrees who are doing fine, and lots of people who are not ATA-certified and still make a squadrillion dollars a year. But here I’m talking in general, and I apologize in advance if this gets long!

Also, there are some very notable exceptions to these observations. For example let’s say that you want to be a court interpreter at the state level. In many U.S. states, the only pre-requisite to take the court interpreter exam is that you have to be 18 and legally eligible to work in the US. In theory, even a smart and motivated high school student could study for and pass the exam. And once you’re certified, everyone generally is paid the same rate. So in that case, and for that specific job, there may be absolutely no advantage to having a Bachelor’s degree.

Do you need a Bachelor’s degree? Yes, in most cases, I really think that you do. As with the court interpreter scenario above, of course there are exceptions. But at least in the US, I think that if you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, you are seen as A Person Who Did Not Go to College; whereas whether you have a BA, MA, PhD, law degree, whatever, you are A Person Who Went to College. Corollary: if you’re not 18 and your parents aren’t going to fund this educational endeavor, is a Bachelor’s from an online university better than, say, a high school degree or an Associate’s, plus a certificate from a reputable translation certificate program? Honestly, I don’t really know. First, you’d need to find a reputable translation certificate program to accept you without an undergraduate degree, but that might be doable if your language skills are strong.

Are translation/interpreting MA programs worth the investment? You had to ask a tough one, didn’t you… Here’s my opinion: before you undertake a graduate degree, ask yourself, “What do I want to do, that I cannot do now, that I can do if I earn this degree?” If your answer is that you want a job as a staff translator or interpreter at a high-level entity such as the U.N., Department of State, European Union, etc. then yes, I think that a translation/interpreting MA, preferably from the top program in your country, is probably a good investment. If you are completely convinced that you want to do conference interpreting, ditto: go for the interpreting-specific MA if possible.

On the other hand, consider this: in the US, tuition, fees, meals and housing at a private university will run you about $50,000 a year; an MA will generally last two years. Schools in Europe generally charge less in tuition, but the cost of living in the European capitals will bump the total cost up significantly. And you also have to consider the issue of lost income, especially if your other option is to simply start freelancing right away. Statistics tell us that the average full-time freelance translator/interpreter in the US earns about $75,000 per year. So during those two years, you’ll forgo some $150,000 in income, giving you a total investment of about $250,000 in your degree. That’s a pretty big number by anyone’s standards, but it’s probably worth it if your heart is set on a staff position at a major international organization; hopefully you’ll get an outstanding education, you’ll be taught by highly experienced professors, you’ll make great contacts, you’ll probably have a leg up in terms of internships, and so on.

However, in my opinion, and I apologize if this verges on “rant” territory, most translation/interpreting MA programs do not offer nearly enough education in business and entrepreneurship, given the career paths that a lot of their students will take. Will some of their students work on staff at places like the UN for their entire careers? Sure. Are there enough of those jobs open every year to employ the majority of graduates? I would say not. So, realistically, a lot of people with translation/interpreting MAs, even from top-tier schools, will become freelancers.  A lot of people who earn translation/interpreting MAs want to be freelancers, whether in-house jobs are available or not. And if I invested a quarter of a million dollars in that type of degree, in an industry that is highly freelance-oriented, I would expect a top-tier education in language entrepreneurship in addition to my language skills education. Here’s an example: several top-tier music schools in the US have music entrepreneurship centers. The University of Colorado here in Boulder has one. So does Manhattan School of Music, with the lead-in, “In today’s marketplace, musicians need more than artistic excellence: they need the added edge of entrepreneurial skills to create opportunities and build successful, sustainable careers.” Substitute “linguistic” for “artistic” and I think you’ve got the idea of what our industry needs; and to my knowledge, none of the major translation MA programs in the US or Europe are really addressing this. (End of rant!)

How about certification? Being certified, by ATA or any other national translators association, will never be a negative. Compensation surveys tell us that ATA-certified translators earn more than non-certified translators.  I have also heard from several translation companies with government contracts that they are under more pressure to use ATA-certified translators whenever possible. If a client is browsing the ATA online directory, they will probably contact the certified people first. So I think that the ATA exam is absolutely worth attempting if it’s in your budget. However, translator certification, in any country, is not like the bar exam for lawyers or the CPA exam for accountants. Lots of people make lots of money without ever becoming certified. I would consider certification a definite plus, but not a must.

Translation certificate programs? Translation certificate programs are great, because they teach you how to actually translate. They’ll help you avoid the litany of mistakes that I, and lots of other beginning translators, committed early in our careers. They’re also a good deal less expensive and less time-consuming than graduate degree programs. Most translation certificate programs are taught by practicing translators and interpreters who teach in their areas of specialization, so you’ll get real-world feedback from the instructors. Caveats: expect to pay $700-$1,500 per class, and don’t assume that completing a translation certificate program will enable you to pass the ATA certification exam.

What about subject-area degrees or training? I think this is the cutting edge in terms of credentials in our industry. Subject-area knowledge has always been important, but I think it’s becoming more so. For example, translation now seems to be a popular option for career-changing lawyers: possibly because lawyers have some of the lowest job satisfaction rates and some of the highest rates of substance abuse and depression of any white-collar profession. Whatever the case, if you’re already established in the profession and want to take your credentials up a notch, subject-area training would be my pick. Whether you do free, online courses through an entity like Coursera or enroll in a full-on graduate program in your specialization, I think it would be energy well spent.

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Disclaimer: I’m not an accountant or an attorney; these are just some tips from my own experience and what works for me in my freelance business. Managing your freelance finances is a) time-consuming and b) absolutely critical to your survival as a freelancer. So, it’s worth taking some time to consider whether you’re optimally managing your money. And those of you who are more financially oriented than I am, please chime in in the comments.

  • Before you do anything else, separate your business and personal finances. Even if you do business as a sole proprietor (meaning that you are not incorporated), open a separate checking account that you use only for business purposes.
  • People use various accounting tools and processes, but at the very least, track your total freelance income for the year. Every time a client pays you, enter that amount into something (a spreadsheet, QuickBooks, Translation Office 3000, etc) so that you have a running total of how much you have earned.
  • Always, always have a savings cushion, especially if you are your (or your family’s) only income. Freelancing has its highs and lows; some months go like gangbusters and other months drip along. Big clients may unexpectedly change their plans or hire an in-house translator. And if you (or a family member) are too sick to work for an extended period, you’re left without income unless you have disability insurance. So don’t let yourself live paycheck to paycheck. Keep at least 3-6 months’ living expenses on hand in cash at all times.
  • Track your total outstanding invoices. For me, this is a big one. Of course you’re going to record your outstanding invoices so that you know whether clients have paid you or not, but you also want to know how much money you should be receiving in the next 30-60 days. This statistic will tell you how aggressive you need to be about looking for or accepting new projects. For example, let’s say that your income goal is $7,000 per month. Every time you issue an invoice, you enter it into an Excel file with a column that totals your outstanding invoices, so that you know how much money clients owe you. So for example if your outstanding invoices only total $5,000, you know that the next month is going to be lean unless you take on a lot more work. But if your outstanding invoices total $9,000, you know that you can afford (at least from the financial point of view) to be choosier about the work that you take on, to work on some non-paying tasks such as updating your website or marketing to higher-paying clients.
  • Track your business expenses. The easiest way to do this is by using a debit or credit card associated with your business bank account. That way, you don’t have to comb through your records at the end of the year, wondering whether that trip to the office supply store was for home or for work.
  • Establish a business savings account. Another big one: at the very least, you need to set money aside for taxes. Depending on your situation and your tax bracket, this could be anywhere from 25-50% of what you earn. Every time a client pays me, I deposit the check in my business checking account and then immediately transfer 40% to my business savings account so that I am never in a bind when tax time rolls around. And also…
  • Use your business savings account as a paid vacation fund. Freelancing doesn’t have many downsides, but one of them is no paid vacation. So, provide yourself with a good quality of life by having a paid vacation fund. For example, if you want to take off 4 weeks per year and work 48 weeks, start by putting $100 a week into your paid vacation fund. Then you’ll have $4,800 to “pay” yourself during your month off.
  • Have some sort of retirement plan. My accountant likes to say that “Everyone has a retirement plan. Either you’re saving for retirement or you’re planning to work until you drop.” Retirement strategies are really diverse, and they depend a lot on your expenses, how long you plan to work, if you have kids and how old you’ll be when they leave home, and so on. Plus the not insignificant question of how long you’re going to live. But whatever you do, have some kind of plan in place.
  • Set money aside for professional development and (why not) bonuses. It amazes me how many translators spend absolutely nothing on professional development and then wonder why their businesses are stagnating. In order to stay current in our industry, you have to keep your skills, knowledge and contact base current. Meaning that you have to learn new things. Take webinars, read books, do teleconferences, attend in-person conferences, join the Chamber of Commerce. But set aside at least 5% of what you make for professional development. And, if you have a good year, you really deserve a bonus. I once had a boss who left $50 in everyone’s mailbox on the last day before winter break; a manageable amount for the company, and an amount that everyone was excited to go and blow on something fun over the holidays. Consider earmarking some “fun money” for yourself, getting a new technology toy or treating your most valuable colleagues to a good meal at the end of the year!

Other ideas??

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A former student recently contacted me to ask some advice about taking maternity leave as a freelancer; she is pregnant with her first baby and her new freelance business has recently been gaining momentum, so she wants to take time off but doesn’t want to lose all of the energy she’s put into her business. My daughter is entering middle school this year so my experience is a bit dated, but I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts as well. Whether you’re taking maternity or paternity leave, taking care of an aging parent or various other reasons, here are some factors to consider:

  • As a freelancer, taking time off is always anxiety-provoking. Let’s just admit that and get it out of the way. Building up a financial cushion to tide you through the period when you’re not working; stressing out about whether clients will find another translator (who, in your paranoid fantasies, is always better, faster and cheaper than you); stressing out about how long is too long to take off, and on and on. That part, you just have to live with, and maybe do a lot of yoga and meditation to help calm the inevitable anxiety!
  • I think it’s best to be up front about the reason for your leave. To me, it’s unnecessarily vague to contact your clients and say “I will be unavailable for the next six months” with no further explanation. If you’re taking a medical leave, I would not provide the details about your health problems; just say you’ll be on medical leave.
  • But you want to keep it a little vague as well. When you have an in-house job, you have to be really, really ready to go back to work before you commit to a return date, because you have to feel up to working a full day, and you have to have child care in place. But as a freelancer, you have no paid leave time, so you don’t want to close the door for longer than you need to. For example you might say “I’m expecting a baby in mid-October and I plan to be on maternity leave until approximately the end of November, but my exact return date will of course depend on how the baby and I are doing by that point. I’ll plan to contact you by November 25 with an update” or “I will be working reduced hours for at least the next two months to care for my ailing father. I anticipate that it may take me longer than usual to respond to e-mails and phone calls and I will probably not be able to handle rush projects. But please let me know if I can help out with any non-rush work during that time.”
  • How long you need to take off depends on a lot of factors that you can’t control. We’re talking about maternity leave here: I commented to my former student that although I felt completely fine within a few weeks of my daughter’s birth, her habit of wanting to be held and nursed for about 23 hours a day kind of precluded doing any substantive work. In addition, she didn’t sleep through the night until she was over a year old, so I was pretty exhausted a lot of the time. Other babies are the opposite: if your kid is happy napping in a crib for hours at a time, you might be working close to full-time within a few months.
  • Be honest with yourself about your choices and tradeoffs. I’ll address this one from the mom/wife point of view because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. At some point during my daughter’s first years of life, I realized that for me, the work/life balance will always swing toward life rather than work. I realized that when my daughter is grown up, I will have gotten some things right, and I will have messed some things up, but mainly I want to have been there, and to have had not only quality time but quantity time with her. Same with my husband: if he’s really sick, I don’t go into the co-working office and I stay home with him; if he has to have some medical procedure, I go along.In a lot of ways we’re pretty traditional: we cook a real dinner and eat together pretty much every night. We mostly socialize as a family; my parents live near us so we basically never use babysitters even if we go out at night, and so on. I recognize that this choice involves tradeoffs. Essentially every moment of my day is scheduled, because I work primarily while my daughter is at school. I could make more money if I didn’t take a month off every summer to go on an extended family vacation; I turn down pretty much every out-of-town speaking engagement request that I receive, because my ATA Board responsibilities already require me to travel at least four times a year. In order to fund our travel habits, we practice freelance frugality to a pretty extreme extent. But I accept that this is the way of life that makes me happy, and that in order to maintain it, I have to prioritize.

    On the other side of the coin, there are lots of moms who need to work full-time, either for financial reasons or because that’s what makes them happy. In a doctor’s office waiting room a while ago, I read an interview with Ivanka Trump in Redbook (I know, that’s not normally where you’d expect enlightenment to come from, but I take it where I can get it!), in which she unapologetically admitted that she spends just an hour and fifteen minutes with her toddler daughter on a typical weeknight because she works up to 16 hours a day. It goes without saying that if you’re Ivanka Trump, part of the reason you can do that is because an armada of nannies and housekeepers and cooks are picking up the slack during those 16 hours. However I really appreciated Ivanka’s candor: she seems to really adore her daughter, but also says that working hard at a job she loves makes her happy, and makes her a better mom when she’s with her kid. So I think it’s not so much a matter of saying “if you’re a mom and a freelancer, you must do this,” but of finding a quasi-balance that works for you.

Any other tips (practical or philosophical) on leaves of absence??

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Dear newbie translator: I know. The first year (or two or three) as a freelancer is/are really hard, and it’s easy to get discouraged. So for those days when you feel really down, here are a few things I want to tell you.

  1. As Dan Savage says about growing up gay, It Gets Better. The first few years as a freelancer are like the first few years of raising a child (which I’ve also done) or maybe like military boot camp (which I haven’t): if you feel totally wrung out but at the same time you’re sure that this is what you’re meant to be doing, you’re on the right track.
  2. It may get better all at once. I distinctly remember that at some point during my third year of freelancing, all of a sudden I realized that the vast majority of the time, I had enough work. Just like that.
  3. Experienced translators stress out too. It’s not just you. If you asked 100 translators whether they panic when a week goes by with no work, I bet that 98 of them would admit that they do, and the other 2 are crossing their fingers behind their backs. But in the end, the tide of work always rises again.
  4. There is well-paying work out there if you actively seek it out. But most people don’t. They wait for the sweet projects to find them, and in the meantime they complain.
  5. You work a lot harder than I do. Seriously. My work flow mainly consists of triage: deciding which project offers I want to accept and which I want to decline, and how much I want to charge. Meanwhile, you’re actively looking for new clients and new projects almost all the time. Mostly, I get to translate interesting projects that pay well or even very well. So if you can do what you’re doing now, you can surely do what you’ll be doing in 10 years.
  6. You’re a lot braver than I am. Again, seriously. When I go to a conference, I usually know most of the people there. Sometimes I’m even the one coordinating the conference. I’m not sweating through the buffet line, wondering who I could sit with, or if I should just eat lunch in the bathroom. Meanwhile, you’re walking in to the opening reception of the ATA conference and wondering which of these 1,500 people would like to have a conversation with you. I give you a lot of credit for that courage.
  7. You’re hungry, and I’m a little lazy (or something like that). When a client who’s not one of my regulars calls on a Friday afternoon with a Monday deadline, or has an icky handwritten document that will make my eyes go bleary, or needs a list of 1,000 five-digit numbers proofread, I don’t care so much about the money. The annoyance and stress just aren’t worth it. I’d rather shut the computer down on Friday afternoon and go biking or kayaking with my family and stick with the work I enjoy. But you? You’re there, bailing the client out and winning huge kudos for it. And that’s why in the end, you’ll be OK.

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Every now and again, I feel inspired to post a random freelance tip on my Twitter feed. I could say that these are Zen master-esque pearls of wisdom that distill in my mind over the course of a few years, but they’re more like out-of-left-field thoughts that come to me while I’m washing the dishes or folding laundry. Here are two for today; feel free to add a comment with your thoughts on them!

The freelance startup phase: give it time, or pick another business.

One of the most common laments I hear from beginning freelancers is that it’s taking so long to develop a solid client base. “So long” could be defined as anywhere from a month to the better part of a year, depending on the person’s situation. First, I tell the discouraged beginners that for the first year and a half that I was freelancing–a time during which I had planned to work very part-time or not at all, since I had just had a baby–I wondered almost every day if I would be better off getting a full-time job. After about 18 months, I still wasn’t earning a ton of money, but it was enough that I felt encouraged to stay the course. It took about three years of freelancing until I got to the point where I no longer considered the option of returning to full-time work for someone else. Looking back, that was a long three years. But here’s the thing: now, after almost 11 years of freelancing, there is no way that I could replace my freelance income if I worked at an in-house job, especially if I looked for something with similar hours and flexibility. Partially this has to do with location: if I lived in a major East Coast city, there might be in-house jobs that pay more than what I make freelancing and offer generous vacation. But in groovy college towns in the foothills of the Rockies: no way.

If you need quick money–and there’s nothing wrong with that…haven’t we all been there?–pick another business. Another mom from my daughter’s school recently told me that she was in that situation, and although she’s bilingual, in a marketable language, she started a housecleaning business. Within three months, she was bringing in a full-time income. Is the work intellectually stimulating, or creative, or self-directed? Probably not so much. But if you need a source of income ASAP, cleaning houses or walking dogs is a much better option than starting a freelance language business. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, since my fantasy sideline career is to become a service dog trainer!

Well-paying work is out there if you look for it. But most people don’t look for it; they wait for it to find them, and meanwhile they complain.

I’m not sure how much explaining this one needs: it’s all right there. Yes, our industry has its share of low-paying work and bottom-feeding clients. In addition, as freelancers we often take that aspect of the industry very personally, as if it’s a reflection of our personal worth. For more on that, see Walt Kania’s insightful post Charge what you’re worth? Please, no on The Freelancery.

But here’s the thing. There is so much well-paying work out there; even clients who are looking to pay high rates to someone who does a really good job. But those clients are too busy with their own work to comb the web looking for you. Maybe they don’t even know that you exist. Seriously: when I interviewed Joanne Archambault about how to find direct clients at industry conferences, she commented that a lot of her clients said that they never knew that someone like her existed, although they desperately needed her. You can go find those high-paying clients at their industry conferences; you can send them postcards; you can give webinars for them; you can write articles for their industry newsletters. But you cannot wait for them to find you, and meanwhile complain about the bottom-feeders and non-payers. It’s tough love, but there you go.

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