Both groups for the January session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator are full (thanks to everyone who registered!), but I’ve added another session in May. In the meantime, you can also sign up for Beyond the Basics of Freelancing or Marketing to Direct Clients by visiting the online courses page on my website. Translate on!

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!

Greetings everyone and happy 2016! Here’s to a happy, healthy, and (why not…) lucrative year for all of us in the translation and interpreting industries. I have a couple of exciting guest posts to kick off the year, but first, a couple of announcements:

On January 14, I’m presenting a webinar on Translating for the International Development Sector for eCPD webinars. Registration is 25 UK pounds, and includes the live webinar and a full recording. This is an overview presentation, mainly for translators who are interested in translating for the international development sector. We’ll look at a history of development players such as the United Nations and its programs and agencies, USAID and other public development agencies, and private charitable foundations, and the types of translations these entities need. We’ll also talk about some of the key concepts and trends in the international development sector today, and what languages and specializations are the best fit for translators who want to explore this sector.

The next session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator starts on January 11 and runs for four weeks. I’ve revamped this course into a new format; you’ll get four weeks of self-paced material, including three video slide shows per week and a 15-30 minute task every weekday. We’ll also do a weekly live question and answer session, and you can participate (or not!) in the course’s online discussion group. Registration is $320 ($305 for ATA members) and you can apply at the link above. A past participant in the course commented that “I took Corinne’s course and I attribute a large portion of my success to her. I could not think of a better way to give your freelancing career a big boost than taking her course. Very inspirational, very valuable information, great program all-round!” One group (10 people) is already full, but I’ve opened a second group and it has about five spots left.

I’m wrapping up my work for 2015, which is always a good chance to take stock of the hits and misses of the past year. This is something I think every freelancer should do: no matter how long you’ve been freelancing, you need to keep moving toward your long-term goals (or risk stagnation!). Following are some questions I think every freelancer should ask, and I’ll answer them here; feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments. And thanks very much to everyone who read and supported my blog this year. It’s up to about 1,200 view on an average day, and over 8,000 subscribers, which is exciting!

Five questions every freelancer should ask at the end of the year:

Question 1: Are you happy with how much you earned, as compared to how much you worked?
My 2015 answer: yes, but with some asterisks. When I was a newly-minted freelancer, I finished several years (definitely 2003 and 2004) feeling that I had worked way (way!) too hard for the amount of money I had made. Now, after 13 years of freelancing, I’m very happy with how much I earn, but my problem is that I want to do everything; and “everything” is way (way!) too much to fit into my available time and energy. Income-wise, I have a range of income that I consider “enough.” And as long as I earn within that range, I’m satisfied. It gives me a similar level of financial security to someone with a traditional job; it allows me to invest in my business by attending conferences, buying new office equipment and participating in professional development.  It allows me to take enough time off that I feel excited to come back to work after a vacation. It’s enough. My problem is that there’s a bottomless pit of interesting projects that I’d like to take on, and I have to limit myself to what I can realistically do an excellent job on.

Question 2: What were the highlights?
Happily, this year had many highlights. To sum it up in one sentence, I translated three books (just submitted the third manuscript on Friday!), published the third edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, and was elected President-Elect of ATA. Definitely some items crossed off the bucket list there; and best of all, I felt happy and energized during nearly every moment of all of those projects. Several of my clients also landed big projects of their own this year, and those were very rewarding to be involved in.

Question 3: Any low points?
As mentioned above, my main problem in life is that I want to do everything. Add that to my subsidiary problem in life, which is that I want everyone to be happy all the time, and that definitely results in some disappointments, because in reality, I can’t do everything, and everyone around me is not going to be happy all the time. The mantra I continually repeat to myself is, “It’s enough…It’s enough…It’s enough,” along with “You can’t do everything…You can’t do everything…You can’t do everything”

And there are always challenges and dilemmas. I’m currently earning about 1/3 of my income from agencies and individuals, 1/3 from direct clients and 1/3 from my online courses, book royalties and consulting; let’s call those “information products.” The challenge/dilemma is that there’s a huge market for information products for translators; enough that I would venture a guess that if I wanted to quit translating and only develop information products for translators, I could. And I *love* teaching and writing. However, I still want to be a translator, not someone who simply pontificates from afar about what other translators should do. It’s a dilemma.

Question 4: Did you do something that challenged you?
This is a resounding “yes” this year. I hate the thought of stagnation, so I really try to do something challenging every year. Branching out into translating books, something I’ve been working on for many years, has been both hugely challenging and hugely rewarding. In addition to the murder mystery I translated for a self-published author, I translated two mountaineering biographies for an outdoor book publisher (more on those when they’re published); I’m an avid mountain sports person in my spare time, so this allowed me to combine something that I’m personally very interested in with my translation skills.

Question 5: Long-term outlook?
I’m a big believer in setting goals for the the short term and the long term, and the very long term. In the short-ish term, I’m excited about the new online courses I’ll be teaching this winter and spring, and I’m excited to start marketing the new edition of my book once it’s in the major distribution channels. This year, I’ve also had a growing sense that in the long term, I’d like to move toward work that is still as demanding as what I do now, but that is less immediately deadline-driven. In concrete terms, if I had to envision what I’d like to be doing in seven or ten years, I’d like to focus on translating books and teaching, so that I can be more location-independent and more flexible with my schedule. But right now, to sum it up in two words, I’m happy!

Thanks again readers, and over to you!

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.

Here’s episode 7 of In the Balance, the series of work-life balance videos that I’m doing for the Standing Out Facebook group (this ‘season’ will feature 10 episodes, then I’ll go on hiatus for a bit). First, let me say that I know the lighting in this episode is really dark and grainy, and I apologize (prepare for excuse…). Normally I film them in the conference room at my office, which was occupied all day, and it was dark by the time I got home, and it turns out that normal home lighting looks really bad on video, but I really wanted to submit this for its usual Friday air time. Anyway…

We often think of money as a “serious” topic and work-life balance as a “soft” topic, but they’re actually quite interconnected. Without a healthy perspective on both of these, you can easily end up with a lot of money and no time, or a lot of time and no money. In this video, I offer various tips on how to align your financial philosophy and your work-life balance philosophy. Enjoy (in the dark)!

Just a reminder that the Early Bird rate ($290) for my four-week online coaching groups ends on December 15. I’m running four groups: Getting Started as a Freelance Translator (January), Beyond the Basics of Freelancing (February), Marketing to Translation Agencies (March), and Marketing to Direct Clients (April). Each runs for four weeks and includes weekly slide show lessons and 20 “tasks of the day” so that you can break your work into manageable chunks; we’ll also do a weekly live question and answer session and have an online discussion group for the class.

To read the full course descriptions or to register, visit the online courses page on my website. Each group is limited to 10 people so that you get plenty of personal attention. One “Getting Started” group is already full and I’ve opened a second one (same dates), Beyond the Basics is filling up, and there’s still plenty of room in both “Marketing to…” classes. Hope to see some of you there!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,171 other followers