Archive for the ‘Working from home’ Category

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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Here’s a cross-post from Speaking of Translation, the podcast I co-host with Eve Bodeux:

Running a freelance business and raising a family can be a great fit, but combining those roles can result in a lot of stress, and requires planning, prioritizing, and of course flexibility and a good sense of humor! For this episode on being a freelancer and being a mom (stay tuned for our next episode on being a freelancer and being a dad!), Eve and I spoke with two moms who balance their significant family responsibilities with extremely active professional lives:

Elena Langdon is a Portuguese-English translator and interpreter and a former chair of the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. She grew up in Brazil and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children, ages 2, 4 and 7. Elena specializes in medical, legal and social science work and is an active interpreter and translator trainer.

Jennifer Nielsen is a Spanish-English translator and interpreter and the immediate past president of the Mexican Translators Association. She is originally from Colorado and now lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband and her twin sons who are almost a year old. Jennifer works with Mexican businesses that are expanding into the US market, especially in the areas of law, marketing and academia.

We pulled Jennifer and Elena away from their extremely busy lives and asked them for their insights on:

  • Maternity leave: how long to take off and how to talk to your clients about it
  • Child care: what their child care situations are, and whether they try to work with their kids at home
  • Managing the uncertainty of freelancing with small kids: what happens when the kids are sick, or the babysitter is sick, or there’s a snow day?
  • Client relations: how much their clients know about their personal lives
  • The boiling point: how do they avoid being overwhelmed by stress and exhaustion, and what do they do when they are overwhelmed?

If you’re a freelancer and a mom, we think you’ll really enjoy this episode!

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Being a freelancer and being a mom

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I’ve been wanting to add some videos to this blog for a while, and my very courageous colleague and friend Karen Tkaczyk agreed to be my test interviewee. Karen has an Ikea Bekant sit-stand desk that she really loves. Note from Ikea: The BEKANT sit/stand option is currently unavailable in stores. The delay only affects the sit/stand desk and does not affect the rest of the BEKANT series. There’s a labeling issue on the product, so it’s currently unavailable for sale until this issue can be remedied. Unfortunately we do not yet know how long this will take. IKEA is working this correction, but it is not a quick process. The other sit-stand desk that Karen mentioned in the interview is the Ergotron. Thanks Karen, and hopefully this is the inauguration of a series of interesting video interviews!

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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:

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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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Inspired by Judy Jenner’s post about her first three months of co-working, here’s an update on my own co-working situation.

Brief background: about this time last year, I came to a few realizations.

  • Next year (now this year), my daughter would be starting middle school and would be getting more independent.
  • My husband, who used to work at home, now works at an office.
  • A lot of my longtime friends who used to work part time or be home full time are now working full time or are busy with other things. Of course I still see them, but they aren’t around as much during the day.
  • After 10 years of working at home, I needed a change. What used to seem peaceful and blessedly quiet started to seem isolating and lonely. I realized that I had to take action when I saw a really cute outfit in a store (second hand, naturally!) and then thought “Where would I ever wear that? It’s not like I see anyone during the work day.”

And well, I’m a doer. So I decided to do something about this situation and find myself an office outside the house. Fortuitously, Boulder has no shortage of co-working spaces for all flavors of freelancers, and after touring four or five of them, I found “the one,” in a beautifully renovated old building right in downtown Boulder. I’ve been happily working there/here for the past nine months, so here’s a quick FAQ about the experience.

Q: How do you like co-working in general?
A: Three words: I love it. It gets me out of the house, it gives me some semblance of a boundary between home and work life, it forces me to get my work done in a defined period of time, it gives me an excuse to wear something other than workout clothes and it gives me interesting people to talk to. When I get up in the morning, I feel like I have some place I need to be, which is a feeling I enjoy. I ride my bike to my office, which is also nice: it’s a 20 minute, not too strenuous ride, just enough to get the blood pumping in the morning and the afternoon. When I get home in the afternoon, I feel like something happened during the day; I feel like I have something to talk about, other than “I sat in the office/guest room, then I washed some dishes, then I sat in the office/guest room some more.” Admittedly, a lot of these factors probably have more to do with me than with the objective realities of freelancing, but there you go. Those are my reasons!

Q: How much does the office cost and what do you get?
A: I pay $350 a month for my own desk, and I keep all of my work stuff there. I also get use of the building’s conference rooms, unlimited coffee and tea (plus they wash the cups…that alone is worth $350 a month) and I can eat in the building’s social club for an extra fee.

Q: Who else works there, and did you know them ahead of time?
A: My building has private office suites and a group work room. I have a desk in the group work room; there aren’t any other translators here, and I didn’t know anyone else in the building ahead of time. I really like both of those aspects: it’s interesting to work around people who do totally different jobs than I do (IT, PR, law, corporate writing, etc.) and it’s just enough social interaction. I have something in common with a lot of the people in the building, but I can also get work done without feeling like I have to socialize.

Q: Are there any negatives?
A: So far, not really. I feel that the improvement in my enjoyment of the work day and my increased productivity are well worth $4,000 a year. In fact, this year is on track to be my highest-earning year ever, despite the fact that I took a month off this summer. So I think that my perception that I’m getting more done in the same amount of time is probably accurate.

Q: Any advice for other people considering co-working?
A: Make sure you find the right spot, because all offices are not created equal. The first place I went to look at was everything I *didn’t* want in a co-working space: in a basement with no natural light, empty vodka bottles in the kitchen (seriously) and more of a tech-startup vibe than a word nerd vibe. The office where I ended up has the feel of a really, really nice library with a great garden and a lot of nice art. So the physical space has a lot to do with it; at least more than I thought at the outset.

Other co-workers, any thoughts??

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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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