Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

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

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

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…well, a “really long time” in Internet years. When I click “Publish” on this post, WordPress will cheerfully tell me that it’s the 552nd post that I’ve written since February of 2008, which is when I took Beth Hayden’s introductory blogging class and decided to give it a go. So my blog will be six (awww… it’s growing up so fast!): it gets about a thousand visitors on most days and has won a couple of awards, so I guess I’ve gleaned a few tips along the way, for anyone who wants to create or invigorate their presence in the blogosphere. How do you keep flapping your lips (or I guess, your fingertips) for 552 posts that at least some people seem to want to read?

Pick a topic that you really, really like to talk/write/read about. Here’s how you know I need to get out more: I actually have more ideas for this blog than when I started, and it’s really only limited by my available time. I really want to do a series of video interviews, like Live from Daryl’s House, but with translators–and you just found out about one of my secret addictions, so I should probably move on. Reader questions could provide inspiration for at least 552 more posts; I feel like I should do more with topics that relate to translation technique, research skills, how do you know when you’re OK at this job, and so on. As a counterpoint, I frequently get asked to write articles for translation clients/buyers. And once I get beyond the basics (how to set the project up for success, what to do before contacting a translator, how to choose between a freelancer and an agency), I kind of draw a blank. I sure couldn’t write 552 articles that clients would want to read. Why? I don’t really know why; I just like to write about topics that other freelancers can relate to.

Write something substantive, at least once in a while. I’m not opposed to the occasional post that consists of links, a contest, a request to vote for the blogger for some award, a reblog from another site, etc. But lots of blogs are 96% that stuff and 4% original, substantive stuff.

It’s OK to be kind of low-rent. This blog still uses the exact same template and technical platform as the day I launched it. I still spend the grandiose sum of maybe $25 a year so that it has its own domain name and a custom header image. It wouldn’t be outside my budget to hire a designer to make the site more commercial, and shoot a popup in your face every time you arrived here, or stick some ads in the sidebars, or put buy buttons on here for my books and classes. Partially I’m too cheap and lazy to do that, but partially I think that the site’s emphasis on content shows the truth of it: that I really write it not to make money, but to share ideas with other people and provide an outlet for my own writing.

Just keep on clacking the keys. If you’re in blogging, or any kind of writing, for the long haul, sometimes you’ll feel inspired and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes I write posts that I think are really hot, and no one except my mom seems to notice them. Sometimes I write posts that I think are relatively basic, or even boring, and they go viral. So, as long as some people seem to like what you write some of the time, just keep on churning and some of it will stick.

Keep in mind that it’s the Internet. I don’t write about particularly controversial topics, and I’m a pretty mellow person who gets along with most other people, mellow or not. But when you put your writing out there for anyone to see, people are going to rip into you in ways they haven’t since middle school, unless you went to law school, and in that case your skin is way thicker than mine. Fairly routinely, people comment on my blog and tell me I should take posts down, or that my advice is reckless, or based on my own experience which isn’t representative (probably true), or that they used to like me/want to sit at my lunch table, but now they most definitely do not. And I have one thing to say about that: it’s the Internet, folks. Just as I got to blow off some steam by writing a one-star review of the $800 washing machine that we ended up trashing just after it went out of warranty, people get to say whatever they want on my blog. And as long as it’s not totally off the wall, I publish it.

I could go on…but after 552 posts, you probably need a break…I sure do!

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Let’s just dive in to this one: bad habits that may be putting the brakes on your freelance ambitions. Feel free to add your own in the comments! And for the record, I’m not getting all superior here…I culled many of these bad habits from my own experiences!

  • Waiting for the big block of time that is never coming. That book you’ve been planning to write; that marketing campaign you’ve been meaning to launch; that blog that you’ve been on the verge of creating…but not until you can take a week and focus only on that task. News flash: unless you’re independently wealthy and have no responsibilities to anyone except yourself, the big block of time is never coming. I tell you this because I waited (literally) two years to write the second edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, because I was going to take a month off and just blaze away at it. After two years of waiting for that elusive month, I decided that even if I only wrote one sentence, I had to work on the second edition every single day. And guess what; in another six months, it was done. So, whatever your long-term goals are, chip away at them in small, regular increments.
  • Publicly ranting about clients or colleagues. When I see people doing this, mostly in the form of Facebook or Twitter posts, I have one question for them: Why? I agree, everyone needs to vent now and again. But that’s what your e-mail and phone connections to your most trusted colleagues are for. Public ranting has so many downsides, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, nothing on social media is private, and someone may forward the rant to the client or colleague at whom it’s directed, even if you don’t actually name them in the post. Second, social media is there forever. You can delete the ranting post, but lots of people have already seen it. Third, it’s off-putting to other people who might refer work to you. I would never take the risk of referring a client to someone who is a habitual ranter. Also, I think that most clients run away from translators who have a reputation as being high-drama or difficult to work with. The emotional release of publicly flaming someone just isn’t worth the risk. Fourth: that whole thing about people in glass houses. I definitely get irritated when clients or colleagues inconvenience me because of their own bad planning, or send the wrong file, or don’t understand a question or instruction that seems simple to me. But I try to keep the perspective that undoubtedly, I do those same things sometimes, possibly without even realizing it. Fifth, it’s a waste of your time and energy. With the time you spend being aggravated at a client who bugs you, you could proactively go look for a new client who pays more and is less annoying. So, keep the complaints offline, and only to a few colleagues who you really, really trust.
  • Feeling that other people have all the luck in this industry. Everyone else lands the plum direct clients. Everyone else gets asked to speak at the cool conferences. Everyone else’s webinars sell out. My take: it’s not luck.  If you want to be jealous of something, be jealous that those “lucky” people work harder than you are willing to. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So go out there and perspire; just don’t wait for the big block of time to do it!
  • Overestimating your marketing/networking/professional development efforts. I bet that if you asked most translators to honestly audit themselves, most people are doing *no* outbound marketing at all: zero. And even those of us who are doing outbound marketing are likely to be radically overestimating how much we’re doing. For example, I think I’m pretty good at outbound marketing, and I have a database of potential clients who I regularly send stuff too. But, I ordered a set of 100 marketing postcards about 10 months ago, and I have at least 40 of them left. I aim to send out one postcard per day, and I’m actually achieving more like one and a half per week. Ditto with professional development: let’s say that we recommended that freelancers spend the extravagant sum of 5% of their yearly gross income on professional development. So if you’re making 70K, that would be $3,500…here again, I’m guessing that even translators who attend something like the ATA conference are not hitting that mark. Result: if you don’t move forward, neither will your business, in terms of new clients and new opportunities (see “some people have all the luck” for more on this).

I could go on…but, over to you!

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In my Beyond the Basics of Freelancing class, a student asked a really good question: how to stay sane while working on an insane project. No matter how carefully you manage your work flow and your routine, everyone has “one of those weeks” once in a while. A good client needs 15,000 words in a week, and you’re the only person they can trust it to…then the kid gets sick and the car breaks down and the dog has ear mites and the washing machine overflows.

Certainly, the best defense is a good offense: if I were to give one piece of advice to premium-market translators, it would be market in consistent, small increments, even when, or especially when, you have enough or too much work. Hopefully, that will smooth out some of the Everest-Death Valley cycle. But when you have one of those weeks, you need a freelance sanity routine: a few, small things that you do every single day, no matter how crazy the day is.

Here’s mine: I find that it makes me really nuts to be on the computer as soon as I wake up, or immediately before I go to bed. So, no matter how insane the day promises to be, I give myself some time in the morning to drink coffee (my one lifestyle vice) and have breakfast with my family. I never check e-mail or answer my work phone during that time, and this helps me get my day off to a relatively calm start. At the other end of the day, I’m often finishing up work or answering e-mail while my daughter does her homework after dinner. But I never let myself work until the second before I go to bed: otherwise I’m lying there awake, obsessing about some work-related thing. So my end-of-day sanity routine is that I try to log off all of my work stuff an hour before I want to go to bed. Then I practice my lute for half an hour and do a yoga podcast for half an hour, and no matter how insane the 15 hours between my morning coffee time and my evening music/yoga time were, I at least have that little oasis to look forward to.

The secret to a sanity routine is that you can compress it, but you never skip it completely. On a really bad day, like say yesterday, I might head to the office as soon as my daughter leaves for school, and the lute/yoga time might be 10 minutes of lute and 10 minutes of yoga instead of an hour total. But I really try to never, ever skip the sanity routine completely, or it really affects my happiness and productivity right away.

Other ideas for sanity routines?

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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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Last night, Eve Bodeux and I hosted a Speaking of Translation conference call entitled “The freelance juggling act: balancing work, family and the rest of life.” We had the pleasure of interviewing three freelancers: Andy Bell (Scandinavian translator and dad of 3), Marianne Reiner (English to French translator and mom of 2) and Karen Tkaczyk (French to English translator and mom of 3), all of whom have thriving businesses, young families and significant non-work interests and commitments. We asked them three main questions: how they combat the fear of losing clients or not earning enough money if they take time off, how they set boundaries with their families and the outside world so that they can get enough work done, and what their tips and goals are for a better work/life balance in 2014. It was a very informative and enjoyable hour, and we’ve created a podcast recording of it. Here you go:

Click the audio player link to listen online

Right-click the link below to download the MP3.
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Work/Life Balance

And if you’d like to listen to more Speaking of Translation podcasts (international payment methods, finding direct clients through industry conferences, and more!), hop on over to our recordings page. Thanks to Karen, Marianne and Andy for taking the time to talk to us!

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One of my golden rules of freelancing is “Be the best boss/employer you’ve ever had.” Those of us who worked in the salaried world before going freelance are familiar with both sides of this coin: an employer can enhance your quality of life, and an employer can make your life a waking nightmare. As a solopreneur, you get to pick which of those employers you want to emulate.

Hopefully, you’ve had a good year work-wise. If you reached most of your freelance goals, it’s time to think about your end of year bonus, and I’ve got some ideas for you. Let’s focus on a bonus that will improve your quality of life. Such as:

  • Redesign your office. Get the clutter out; paint it a color you love; get a new desk or workspace; buy some plants. This doesn’t have to be super expensive. Hit Craigslist or a thrift store! Depending on your budget, pay someone to do some or all of this for you. Or give yourself a day off from translating and do it yourself.
  • Outsource your most-hated office task. Two years ago, I decided that I had categorically, undeniably had it with doing my payroll taxes myself. So my end of year bonus was to hire my accountant’s bookkeeper to do them for me. It’s not the sexiest gift ever, but in terms of quality of life improvements, it was a huge winner!
  • Rent yourself an office. This was on my “I’ve had it with…” list a year ago. I seem to have “had it” with a lot of things lately, although I assure you I’m actually a very happy person! But I had officially had it with being home alone all day, with very little separation between work and home. Enter a desk at a co-working office, which has very tangibly changed my life for the better. Completely worth every cent of the $4,000 it cost me for the year.
  • Give yourself a new hobby or skill. Having crossed two “had it” items off my list in the past two years, this year I focused on something totally different. I’m a lapsed piano and recorder player, and for a few years I’ve been searching for a new instrument to play. Our house is small so a loud instrument might cause family discord (scratch the trumpet, tuba, etc.) and we don’t have space for a large instrument (scratch the piano, harp, etc.). My daughter plays classical guitar and I’ve always really loved early music. A few months ago, we went to a lute concert sponsored by the guitar studio at the university where my daughter takes lessons and (call me weird…) the lute really enchanted me! Lute is a niche instrument and it took me a while to find a combination of a lute and a teacher, but I’m very excited about my 2013 end of year bonus. Here it is:


Side note: no, this lute is not broken! Until we saw this concert, I never knew that lutes have a 90-degree bend in the neck. Between the bend and the shape of the body (kind of like a watermelon cut in half), the case is not much smaller than a harp, but it’s certainly a beautiful instrument!

This also brings up a couple of tangential topics:

I would never have persevered with my lute ambitions were it not for a friend who I met in our local translators association. She’s a Dutch translator and avid early musician (recorder) who knew exactly where to point me in my search for a lute and a teacher. She also encouraged me that it was totally possible to learn a new instrument over 40. Yet another benefit of being active in your local association! Also, I find that after translating for a whole day, I love the work but I’m just so tired of words. I might listen to a podcast instead of reading, but sometimes it’s just too many words. Music is a totally different neurological activity, and even when I’m really tired of translating…or maybe especially when I’m really tired of translating, music really does the trick! If you feel the same, think about a completely word-free bonus for yourself, whether it’s something sporty, musical or artistic.

Other ideas for good end of year bonuses???

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