Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

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

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This is a guest post by Dorothee Racette; Dorothee is a past president of the American Translators Association. Based on over 20 years of experience as a successful freelance writer and translator, she trains small business owners in time management and productivity. In her blog, she shares her insights in making the most of her time. She invites you follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or to like her Facebook page for more practical time management advice.

Getting beyond Feast or Famine – Planning for 2016

As independent contractors and freelancers, we often make the mistake of passively accepting whatever workload comes our way. We tell ourselves that “feast or famine” is part of the experience, perpetuating the myth that there is little we can do to plan ahead or manage the flow of our business. Such myths often put us at a disadvantage when it comes to optimizing our own working conditions.

Early January is a perfect time to plan your business capacity for the coming year to make targeted decisions about the work you want to accept and solicit. While there will undoubtedly be some fluctuation in the demand for your services, here are some planning steps you can take at the beginning of the year to make the most of your freelance business.

Look at past years for patterns

Your business statistics of past years (e.g. in the report function of your accounting software) probably show certain patterns. For instance, business may be slower in July and August when clients are on vacation, followed by an uptick in September. Knowing the cyclical properties of your workload makes it easier to schedule breaks, predict cash flow, and plan specific marketing activities.

The order history of past years is also a good indicator for your true daily output. It is not uncommon to overestimate the daily hours we can work without disruptions and in full concentration. (I had to learn that lesson the hard way one year when I accepted a job without looking at the calendar and had to work on a major holiday). Taking into consideration steps such as reviewing and finalizing high-quality work along with invoicing and client correspondence, your output may be smaller than you think. It is helpful to base your sustainable capacity–the volume you can reliably produce every day–on a conservative average.

Plan ahead for the year:

Armed with a better understanding of your business cycle and daily output, you can now set informed goals. Where would you like to be in financial, technical, and professional terms by the end of the year?

In many ways, time and financial planning is the easiest of these tasks. When you look back on 2016 a year from now, you will probably want to have positive memories of vacations and quality time spent away from your desk. Because you may feel compelled to work with few breaks, mark your annual vacation and other days off in your calendar now. Blocking certain weeks and dates at the start of the year will be particularly helpful in situations when you have to decline urgent projects from key clients. In addition, knowing in advance how much time you want to take off makes your income projections more realistic. Industry-specific calculators such as US Calpro can help define how much you can expect to earn.

Unless your business is still in the start-up phase, your freelance activities should yield enough income to save for retirement and other financial goals. That should also include funds to pay for professional memberships and to attend local, regional or national industry events.

With scheduling and financial cornerstones in place, you can now take a good look at the technical side of your work. Technical proficiency not only offers an important competitive edge in fields with high price pressure, but can also save significant time. Outdated hardware and software may put you at a disadvantage when it comes to working efficiently and reliably. For example, if your CAT tool version does not have an autosuggest function, you may be spending unnecessary time and effort typing the same text over and over. Similarly, the failure of your old computer that “still works” could cause major headaches in a tight deadline situation.

Learning about your equipment should not be limited to Googling an error message (“X has encountered a fatal error. Details saved to crash.txt”). Define specific steps you will take to learn more about your equipment. Are there functions you haven’t had a chance to explore? Did you hear about new apps from colleagues, but haven’t looked at them? The time invested in getting a better understanding of your work software easily pays off in higher productivity.

Professional goals are the third and most important aspect of planning ahead for the year. Without professional growth, your business is likely to remain stagnant. Since freelancers work in relative isolation, staying at the cutting edge of your field requires a special effort. If you don’t have a specialty area yet, pick the most interesting or challenging project of the past year. What do you need to learn/change to acquire more projects of the same kind? If you already have a niche or specialization, plan specific ways to advance it further, through groups, online courses or reading. Although social media can offer a lot of useful information, nothing beats face-to-face networking. Make it a point to schedule and attend local networking events, both with other freelancers and with representatives of the industries that use your services.

In addition to expanding your expertise in your chosen field, make plans now to sharpen your business skills in 2016. Freelancers who understand the principles of marketing, networking, and cost calculation are in a much better position to find good clients and make a steady income. To plan realistically, keep in mind that professional advancement requires continuous investments of time and money.

Whether you want to make new networking connections, send applications to interesting clients, share ideas at events, or write about your work practice, you will need to dedicate a portion of your working time to these goals. The good news is that the daily practice of continuous improvement is the best way to end the feast or famine cycle. Here’s to you!

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Here’s a 30-second summary of this post: as a freelancer, you’ll find that some things feel effortless and some things feel like pushing a cement mixer up a hill. Analyze the difficult things and figure out how to make them less difficult, and your life will be much easier.

This post was inspired by a question from a student in one of my classes. “How do you stay so organized?,” she asked. “You seem to do a lot, but never get stressed or frazzled. What’s the secret?” And two answers popped into my head: 1) I’m probably somewhat less organized than I seem, and I do sometimes get stressed and frazzled (ask my husband!), and b) I don’t know: it just doesn’t feel that hard. I look at my day or my week, and think “What absolutely has to get done?,” then I do that first. Then I think “What should probably get done?,” and then I do that. And then if there’s any time left, I do the “as time allows” tasks. In 13 years of freelancing, I’ve never missed a deadline; a “late” day for me is when I finish work half an hour later than planned. So, when I talk to translators who report that they are routinely up until 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM finishing deadlines, I’m essentially never in that boat. I don’t use time tracking software, or a rigid schedule; I just eyeball it and everything seems to get done, in the available amount of time.

And there are other things that don’t feel that hard. I’m good with managing money: at my first job out of college, I made…wait for it…$750 a month plus room and board, and I had some money left at the end of the year. I’ve never carried a credit card balance in my life. In the same vein as time/productivity management, I just look at how much money I have available, and I spend a little less than that so that I can save some.

But…the fact is that everyone has facets of freelancing, or of life in general, that just come naturally. It’s hard to explain how you do them successfully, because you don’t know what you do: they’re just never a problem. Then there are the ‘cement mixer’ facets, which are things that you have to have a strategy for, because your natural tendency is to work against your own best interests. For me, food is one of those things. On the positive side, I’m a vegetarian and I love to exercise (another one of those “comes easily” things; I just don’t get what’s not to love about exercising!); on the negative side, I have the metabolism of a hibernating bear and I love good food; I’m also “fortunate” to be surrounded by people who are incredible cooks–my husband, my parents who live near us, various friends. So there’s never a lack of something tempting to eat. It’s not a crisis, but, like a translator routinely finishing deadlines at 3 AM, or never paying off the last $1,000 of the credit card debt, I gain-lose-gain-lose-gain-lose the same 10 pounds, over and over again.

For me, food is my “can’t just eyeball it” issue. I find diets depressing and counterproductive, but without a system, I chronically eat a little too much, a little too often. Because I’ve recognized this tendency in myself, I’ve developed some systems to protect against it, and to keep the chronic 10 pounds from becoming 50 or 100. I think you can apply this system to your “can’t just eyeball it” issues as well, so that if you can’t overcome them completely, you can at least keep them from dominating your life:

    • Avoid unrealistic rigidity, or anything that involves the words “never again.” You’re not going to immediately start following a to-the-minute time tracking plan, or a to-the-penny budget, or a no-peanut-butter-cheesecake-ever-again-in-this-lifetime rule. Pick small adjustments that you think you can stick to: no Facebook during the work day; no non-paying work until the paying work is done; let non-critical e-mail wait until the end of the day; put $50 in an envelope at the beginning of the month, and that’s your coffee money; leave your credit card at home in a drawer so that you cannot use it for impulse purchases.
    • But create a system that overrides your natural tendencies. For example I have some simple guidelines I try to follow: no more than two cups of coffee a day (because I drink it with cream and sugar), otherwise only water and herb tea; only raw fruits and vegetables for snacks; no eating straight out of a bag or box, only out of a single serving in a bowl, etc. To me, these don’t feel punitive: they feel like the speedometer on a car; just a little tool that helps you stay in bounds.

Whatever your problematic tendency is, you can create a system like this to help you: make a simple checklist of small adjustments that you need to make in order to be successful. Don’t look at it as a punishment, or as if you can’t be trusted to manage your own actions. In my experience, that will only make you more obsessive about the problematic issue. Just give yourself a dashboard gauge so that you can slow down when you’re five miles an hour over the speed limit instead of 30.

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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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Book translation has been on my radar screen lately; Eve Bodeux and I translated a novel together last year, and I’ve just finished translating another novel and a mountaineering memoir (more on these when they’re published!). Then, as if there were something in the air, a couple of readers e-mailed me questions about book translation. So, let’s have a crack at this interesting topic.

First, almost everything I know about the business of book translation, I learned from Lisa Carter. Her blog is truly a gold mine of advice for aspiring literary translators, especially those who want to make some money while they’re at it. So, for the authoritative word on literary translation, listen to Lisa! You can literally listen to her, in an interview on Tess Whitty’s podcast, which I also recommend!

The harsh reality is that unless you get in on the ground floor of the next Harry Potter series (and maybe not even then), book translation will never pay as well as commercial translation. It just won’t. Because the people who need book translations (authors and publishers) mostly earn a lot less than the people who need commercial translations. But a) if you look carefully, book translation can pay enough to be a viable addition to your commercial translation business, and b) it’s appealing for other reasons, which I’ll address later.

In my experience, there are two kinds of book translation clients: those with budgets so low that they really need a pro bono translator, and those that will pay enough to hire a professional translator. I’m assuming that you’re looking for the second kind of book translation client. If you love translating books and honestly don’t need the money, go forth and translate, because there are tons of authors out there waiting for you (and I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically).

To find decently-paying book translations I recommend a) working with self-published authors who have decent budgets, or b) contacting publishers in your target language, that publish the kinds of books you’re interested in translating. In my experience, non-fiction always pays better than fiction (simply because non-fiction books have a longer shelf life and generally sell more copies). But fiction, especially for the aforementioned self-published authors, can pay decently too. Working with self-published authors isn’t as crazy as it sounds, especially if the author is translating into a language with potentially higher sales than the original. Some authors are willing to self-fund the translation and then recoup the investment through royalties, and others are just interested in getting their book in front of a new audience. For more on working with self-published authors, see Lisa Carter’s interview with Rafa Lombardino on that very topic.

How do you find book translation clients? Of the four books I’ve translated to date, one was a referral from a colleague, one was for an author who found my website, one was through an agency, and one was through a specialized publisher that I cold-contacted (with a warm e-mail). So, just like any other kind of client, you can find book translation clients in lots of ways; but I would definitely recommend having a dedicated page for book translations on your website (here’s mine), and I would definitely recommend proactively contacting publishers that produce the kinds of books you want to translate.

So, if book translation rarely pays as well as commercial translation, what’s the appeal? Well, lots of things. Translating books is really interesting. Although I love my work, it’s rare that I would choose to read one of my commercial translations for pleasure. When I kick back and relax, I don’t crack open a report on performance-based funding of public health programs in West Africa, or a brochure to attract foreign students to a European university. I find them interesting when I translate them, but they’re not something I would read if I weren’t getting paid. But the books I’ve translated have been really, really interesting: the kind of thing I’d read for pleasure. Also, book translations are less immediately-deadline driven than most commercial translation. The books I’ve translated have taken three to five months, during which time I work completely on my own schedule; a nice alternative to 3,000 words for tomorrow. Book translations are also good for translators who want to be location-independent, for that same reason (once you sign the contract, you’re usually not in daily contact with the author or publisher).

A few caveats:
-Always get a deposit; even at a lower rate than your commercial translation work, book translations are a big chunk of money and you don’t want to risk not getting paid.

-Get credit: the gold standard is your name on the cover, in the same font as the author’s; your name might be on the copyright page or somewhere else, but your name should be there somewhere (ditto for the Amazon page: you should be on there).

-Avoid work for hire (with the disclosure that I’ve done a book translation as a work for hire, so I’m talking about the ideal here, not necessarily what I always do). Work for hire, where the client owns all rights to the translation once they pay the invoice, is the norm in commercial translation. In book translation, you want to avoid it. When you own the copyright to the translation, the client can’t deny you credit for it; if they never publish the translation, go out of business, or if the translation goes out of print, you may be able to do something else with it (for example, self-publish it or shop it around to another publisher).

-Negotiate long deadlines. To me, this is the key to making book translation financially viable. I couldn’t live off book translation alone, and I don’t want to tie myself up so that I’m turning down work from my commercial translation clients. So I negotiate a deadline that allows me to fit the book in as I have time; that way I’m not putting my commercial clients on hold for three months while I work on the book.

Readers, other thoughts on translating books?

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These topics have been on my mind lately; it’s summer, I have more time to think, and I have some airplane rides during which to listen to podcasts that are good food for thought. So here we go: a few thoughts on multiple revenue streams, “productizing,” and passive income for translators.

Way back in 2009, I wrote a post on diversifying your income through multiple revenue streams. I’m still a fan of this strategy, and when I ran my numbers for 2014, I found that my income is divided into three fairly equal pie slices: about 1/3 from working for direct clients and individuals, about 1/3 from working for agencies, and about 1/3 from teaching, consulting and book royalties. To me, this means that I’m diversified, but not too diversified. As Walt Kania observed in his post on multiple revenue streams,, “A few prongs is good. With twelve prongs you have a manure fork.” I’m happy with my three prongs, for various reasons:

  • Sometimes when one thing is down, another is up. Or you feel really jazzed by marketing one of your services, but not so much for the others. With multiple revenue streams, it’s harder to let yourself do nothing. Here’s a non-work parallel: a while back, I ran two marathons. Part of the reason the training was a grind was because it involved one thing: running. Then running some more. Later I did a couple of triathlons; it turns out that, for me at least, it’s a lot harder to talk yourself out of swimming, biking, and running, so I trained a lot more. The same is true of marketing multiple revenue streams.
  • You can experiment a little, without too much risk exposure. For example I recently launched two new online courses. I had some questions: would people sign up? Would the new courses draw students away from my existing, more expensive courses? So far the answers to these questions seem to be yes (for #1) and no (for #2), but the point is that I’m not make-or-break dependent on the classes: they’re one component of the 30% of my income that comes from teaching and writing. I translated two books this year: same deal. I couldn’t afford to just translate books, but as one component of my direct client income, it works.
  • You don’t have to deal with all of your frustrations all of the time. Every client base (direct clients, agencies, individuals, publishers, etc.) has its frustrations. Whether it’s price-sensitivity, or not knowing anything about translation, or wanting to know whether translators charge for “the little words” (an actual example!), it can be hard to stay helpful and patient all of the time, and I firmly believe you need to do that if you want to succeed as a freelancer. But with multiple revenue streams, you get to juggle your challenges around a little bit, and that helps.

Which brings us to two associated topics, “productizing” (a word I just learned!) and passive income. On a trip last week, I listened to the Smart Passive Income podcast on productizing your service-based business. Basically this involves taking one service that you offer, and creating a streamlined, repeatable way of delivering it. Productizing it (which is different than commoditizing it). For example let’s say you translate official documents: maybe you create a way that people can see a fixed price for the translation, then upload their document, then pay you, all before you ever have any contact with them. This eliminates the time you’d normally spend talking to the client about their needs, giving a quote, negotiating about the quote, settling on a price and then collecting the client’s payment. Definitely something to think about if you translate documents that lend themselves to that type of thing. Maybe this would work with patents, or real estate leases, or other kinds of documents that are relatively formulaic. The podcast episode is excellent if you’re interested in “productization.” Note that here, I’m referring to the non-translation aspects of the project (quoting, assessing the client’s needs, payment, etc), not to productizing the actual translation (don’t do that!).

Then, there’s passive income. When many people think “passive income,” they think, “making money by doing nothing.” And unless your pet is an Internet celebrity, that’s not going to happen (and actually, having an Internet celebrity pet might be a lot of work…all of that grooming!). To me, passive income means that you invest time and/or money up front, to create a product or service that then generates income with little to no additional effort. I’d put book royalties in this category: I make about $500 a month in royalties from my books for translators, with very little direct marketing. However (big however!) each book took hundreds of hours to write, edit, format and publish up front.

The takeaway: if you’d like to launch yourself into multiple revenue streams, a productized service, or a passive income stream, ask yourself…

  • What are your goals, other than making money? For example, one of my goals is to do work that is not immediately deadline-driven. My least favorite kind of work is 3,000 words due tomorrow; so my additional revenue streams let me make money on my own schedule.
  • What services do you provide that might lend themselves to productization? What steps in your current business model take a lot of time but don’t generate a lot of money, and need to be streamlined?
  • What do you like to do, but you don’t get to do that often in your regular work? For example I love translation, but I miss doing my own writing. So, write a book!
  • What service could you offer, that other translators would pay a decent amount of money for? Personalized software training? Writing their professional bio? Translating their marketing materials into their source language? Designing translator logos? When you work in an industry, you know that that industry needs…then go offer it!

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This is a cross-post from Speaking of Translation, the podcast that I co-host with Eve Bodeux.

Hot on the heels of our Being a freelancer and being a mom episode (which logged almost 1,000 downloads in its first week!), we’ve put three freelancing dads in the hot seat. We asked them about many of the same topics as our freelancing moms: how they managed taking time off when their kids were born, how they handle work, child care/school and family responsibilities now, and what they tell their clients about their family situations. We think you’ll enjoy this episode (lots of inspiration and creative ideas for other freelancing dads!), and thanks very much to our guests:

Miguel Armentia has academic degrees both in biochemistry and translation, and became a full-time freelance translator in 2008. Miguel translates English and French into Spanish and specializes in medical and IT translation. In addition, Miguel is a member of the IT Commission of Tremédica (the International Association of Translators and Editors in Medicine and Applied Science). He is the dad of two daughters, ages 1 and 3 1/2.

Jonathan Downie is a conference interpreter working between French and English, as well as a researcher, writer and speaker. He is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lives with his wife and two children who are 1 ½ and 3. He is currently finishing a PhD on expectations of interpreters at Heriot-Watt University and writing his first book, 10 Challenges for the Future of Interpreting, as well as serving on the board of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

James Perry is a French-to-English freelance translator and lives in a Scottish Highland glen with his wife and 8-year-old adopted daughter. He is an Associate member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. James specializes in subtitle translations for French media companies. He translates current affairs programmes, documentaries, cooking programmes and films: these include police thrillers and romantic comedy! He loves the variety and the fact that he is always learning.

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Being a freelancer and being a dad

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