Archive for the ‘Working from home’ Category

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been enjoying hosting In the Balance (video series on work-life balance). It’s a topic I think about a lot, probably not least of all because I live in a “lifestyle town” (an expression that I learned only recently!) where prioritizing one’s non-work interests is very much the norm.

Today, a student in my class for beginning translators asked an interesting question: how would this advice apply (or not apply) to beginning freelancers, who want to have time to sleep, exercise, etc. outside of work, but who also need to actively build up their businesses.

Here’s the two-word answer: pace yourself. The advice that applies to experienced translators applies a little differently to you, but the goal is the same: don’t burn out, and let yourself enjoy some of the “free” in freelancing. Here’s what I mean: for experienced translators, work-life balance is largely about setting boundaries; it’s about achieving a similar level of financial security to someone who has a traditional job, but with the flexibility and independence of freelancing rolled into the mix. So for example I leave work at 2:30 three days a week so that I can be home when my daughter gets home; every Sunday night I sign up for my exercise classes for the week, and I treat them as I would a client appointment–I do not change them unless it’s absolutely unavoidable; I don’t work on weekends, even for my A-list clients; I try to avoid answering e-mail outside of working hours, because I don’t want my clients to expect that they can e-mail me at 10PM and get a response.

But when I was a beginner, things looked a lot different. When a client e-mailed me at 4 PM on a Friday and offered 8,000 words due Monday morning, I was elated. For years (literally, years) I worked from 7-10 PM, even on weekends. When a client called, I dropped everything, because I couldn’t afford (literally and figuratively) to miss a single job. But at the same time, you cannot work in that kind of “always on” mode all the time and remain excited about the job. So here’s the trick: pace yourself. Realize that when you’re building up your business, you have to go into overdrive sometimes. You have to be available at times and in places that experienced translators are not (month of August: great time to pick up new clients; ditto for the week between Christmas and New Year’s). But you can’t work in perpetual overdrive or you’ll absolutely burn out. So, pay attention to your pace!

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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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