sel-employed

Conference Myth Busting

This month, I had the pleasure of attending my first professional conference in the form of the 2019 ITI Conference. Before hand, I was pretty nervous and a little intimidated. Deciding to go to conference was big consideration both in terms of finance and time. Would the benefits really offset the costs? Would I be the weird outsider lurking on the edges of a well-established club? Would anyone want to talk to a new translator when they’re far more distinguished and experienced? Am I finally going to be called out as an imposter and banished from the community?


You’ll be delighted to know that my experience was far from these rhetorical questions. As a result, I’ve decided to explore some of the myths or unhelpful thoughts that can hold us back from professional conferences and counter them with the benefits.


Myth Number 1: No one will talk to me


Before you go to a conference it’s easy to panic and think no one will talk to you. Everyone have their friends and be in a cosy little bubble and you’ll be an outsider looking in. This is the complete opposite of my conference experience. I was delighted to find a warm and welcoming community who were happy to engage with anyone on any subject. Yes, sometimes you have to be brave and make those introductions yourself and start those conversations but isn’t that part of running your own business and networking anyway? And yes, there is a solid core of people who know each other and have genuine friendships with each other but rather than seeing this as a negative, it can be a really positive aspect. Firstly, because it highlights the fact people can and do form real friendships which is encouraging if you struggle with isolation and working alone and secondly, it also means these people can introduce you to their friends and contacts, thus expanding your own circle. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the number of people I “knew” from Twitter and it was such a delight to make those connections in person and gives you a starting point to work from.

 


Myth Number 2: I absolutely have to do everything

 

In one of my first conversations I had at conference, someone helpfully said you don’t have to do everything. It was really useful to hear this advice from someone older, more experienced and with multiple conferences under their belt. Conference is amazing – there’s a buzz of ideas, a wealth of information, hundreds of conversations to be had – but that can also make it overwhelming. A week on and I still feel like my brain is in overdrive and it will take me a long time to untangle everything I’ve absorbed and figure out when to apply it. With this advice in mind, I often popped out at lunch to have a little time to myself, digest the day so far and go back recharged and ready for action. It would be easy to feel guilty about “missing out” but hearing this advice early on was incredibly freeing and lead to a more productive conference for me.


Myth Number 3: Conference success is based on how many people you talk to

If you can talk to over 370 delegates and have a meaningful conversation with each one in approximately 20 hours congratulations – that’s a real skill! However, the reality is that it’s an impossibility for most of us. It can be really tempting to try though and run around like a headless chicken, dashing from one conversation to the next. I learned to slow down. I tried to focus on having one meaningful conversation in each break time and to actually get to know someone and find out a bit more about them. Anything else was a bonus. Cynically, you could say that this is a far better tactic in terms of finding people you want to collaborate with, which could lead to profitable work. Arguably, it is a much better tactic than having a quick two-minute conversation, chucking a business card at someone and moving on to the next person. However, it’s also a better way to build real relationships with people, to building up friendships where you can discuss the reality of your job with people who get it and people who you can have a laugh with. For me, that’s the priority with any work as a result of these connections being a lovely bonus.


Myth Number 4: No one will care what I think I’m too...

Young, old, inexperienced, weird, unconventional… fill in the blank. Sometimes it’s easy to cut yourself out of the conversation. I would encourage you not to. What I found that ITI was a vibrant community where each person had a different viewpoint which was celebrated. The programme itself reflected this, with seminars specifically aimed at a range of career stages – from newcomers, to those looking to diversify, to those wanting to give back or to explore a new field. The other interesting and encouraging thing is the variety of routes people have taken to the translation/interpretation industry. Very often, this isn’t people’s first career which leads to a whole range of opinions and backgrounds which are celebrated and add to the debate, rather than being ignored.


Myth Number 5: Everything will be too highbrow and theoretical and won’t be applicable to my daily life

It’s easy to assume that a conference will all be focused on theory and not be applicable to actual practitioners who are working at the coal face. This simply wasn’t the case. Yes, some talks were more researched focused but virtually all the speakers were practitioners themselves. To me, it appears to be a dynamic community of people wanting to share and exchange ideas and best practices. I was also so encouraged by the generosity of speakers who were happy to share their resources or take time to discuss points further. Furthermore, it provides a forum where you can learn about new developments in the industry, such as machine translation and the implications, and figure out how that looks practically in collaboration with others.


Myth Number 6: Translators and interpreters are super boring and introverted

Safe to say this one is easy to disprove! The lovely thing about the ITI Conference is the range of fringe events which show there really is something for everyone! From sake tasting, to running, to singing, to yoga, to hiking… it’s all covered! Once again, it goes to show how varied and interesting the whole community is. It’s also a lovely opportunity to get to know people personally which is essential to combat isolation and loneliness.


Myth Number 7: I can’t take time off my work, it’s far too important

It would be easy to argue that taking time off work is a luxury, that clients will suffer and that the cost will never outweigh the benefits. I’d like to suggest to you that this isn’t true. Firstly, it’s absolutely key to take time off work – whether for holiday or CPD. As a freelancer, it’s easy to feel guilty, especially as a newcomer, but one of the joys of freelancing is that freedom. Secondly, taking time off can be exceedingly beneficial. It can help get you out of a rut, it can be energising and restful and ultimately, lead to you being more productive. Thirdly, there’s the issue of expense. Yes, conferences can be expensive. However, this cost is justifiable for a number of reasons. Investing in CPD distinguishes you as a professional, it shows you take your job seriously which can be very attractive to clients. The benefits from attending conference in terms of career progression, client acquisition, diversification and networking also hugely outweigh the costs.

Ultimately, I had a fantastic, energising and stimulating time at my first conference experience. I hope that if you’re considering investing in a conference that this helps ease some of your worries and encourages you to take the plunge!

 

 

How do you keep the black dog away?

Being a freelancer can have its ups and downs and this can take a toll on our mental health. The challenges are numerous: isolation, distressing content, financial strains, long hours, short deadlines, loneliness, pressure from social media… so how can we manage all of this and keep ourselves well?

This question is particularly pertinent to me and one I spend a lot of time thinking about. During my time at university, I struggled with depression and anxiety, cumulating in having to take a year out of my studies in order to get my head back on track. Throughout this year, I also questioned whether I wanted to continue with my studies, the idea of a year abroad was terrifying. But ultimately, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It took a lot of hard work, courage and support to return to university but ultimately, it was the right decision. When graduation was fast approaching, I had the same choice again. Do I choose something safe, low risk, secure? Or do I pursue my ideal job, doing the thing I love with the freedom and flexibility of freelancing?

You can guess what I decided.

So how do we keep ourselves well and how do we make sure we value ourselves and our mental health above our jobs?

1.      Talk to people

Let people in. Talk. Share. Listen.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved. So, let’s reach out to our colleagues and ask for their opinion. They may well have dealt with a similar situation and have incredible insight to offer. Talking breaks the silence and shatters loneliness. It reminds us that we don’t have to have all the answers and shares the burden.

This is particularly crucial if we’ve dealt with distressing subject matter. I once had a pro bono job looking at the impact of Boko Harem on local communities. It was eye opening and harrowing and possibly the most important text I’ve translated to date. But it was hard. It was draining. It was relentless. For me, it was essential to have this conversation with others, to be able to feel it, acknowledge it, discuss it and move on.

 

2.      Give yourself safety nets

One of the best things I’ve done is to be kind to myself and put things in place to take the pressure off. I’m outgoing and can have a tendency to push myself to the limit. To stop myself crashing and burning, I’ve incorporated safety nets into my business structure. I have a month’s salary set aside so that should I ever want to leave the industry, or it didn’t work out for me, I had enough to cover my essentials. I set money aside so that I never run my accounts down completely and give myself a buffer for late payments. Wherever possible, I build a buffer into my deadlines, meaning I’m not working to the last possible minute and that I can usually deliver jobs earlier than expected.

 

3.      Give yourself perspective

It’s important to take a step back and reflect on what you’ve achieved: where you started and where you are now. It’s also important to remember that social media is a double-edged sword. We all present the best versions of ourselves on it and gloss over some of the challenges and set backs we face. It’s easy to compare our worst points with everyone else’s best points. Part of the skill is being able to recognise when we do this so that we can stop these unhelpful thought patterns.

As a perfectionist, I can often get wrapped up in the minor details and stress about the insignificant things. However, it’s essential to see the bigger picture. I often use the 10 rule: Will it still matter in 10 minutes? 10 hours? 10 days? 10 weeks? 10 years?

4.      Value yourself

In the immortal words of my mother, you only have one set of health. As a freelancer, you are your most important resource. Nobody can replace you. We need to make sure that we recognise this and act accordingly. Part of this, is figuring out what matters to us most and acting accordingly. Another part for me, has been learning to say no. To recognise my limits and also to ensure that work doesn’t consume every waking hour. After all, there’s far much more to life than simply work.

 

5.      Do what you love

As freelancers, we are so lucky that we have more freedom than most in terms of work. We should capitalise on it wherever possible. Pursue the jobs you love. Turn down the ones you find soul-destroying. Ditch the clients which give you a headache. Appreciate the clients who make your life easier. Schedule your day so that you can incorporate the things which make your day brighter: yoga, going out for lunch, picking the kids up from school, reading…

Self-care is a phenomenon sweeping the nation but the concept is simple: look after yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Get out. See people. Journal. Drink more water. Take a break from the news and social media. Read great books. Travel. Take time off. And above, be kind to yourself.

 

What are your top tips for looking after yourself and keeping your mental health intact? What are the biggest challenges you face?

March - Month Nine

Three quarters of a way through my first-year freelancing and still learning lots. Here’s what happened in month nine.

1.      One big job can change everything

This never fails to surprise me. You think I would be used to it by now. However, the thrill of signing on for a nice 20k project rather than a few thousand words doesn’t get old. I guess the reasons for this are multiple. One, it’s nice to be able to map out a week or so worth of work rather than a 24/48 hour turn around and not knowing what (if anything) is coming next. Two, it’s nice to have something to get your teeth into. Especially if there’s lots of technical or specialist terms to dig into, it’s easier to motivate yourself to do the in-depth research when you know it’ll be repeated multiple times rather than used once. In a business sense, it’s also easier to see that time as profitable – even when using trados discounts. Three, it’s amazing how much calmer you feel when you know you’ll make a reasonable amount that month based on one job. Especially if it’s near the start of the month, it can take the worry out of the rest of the month and help you to enjoy the pluses of working for yourself more. This leads me onto my next point…

2.      Financial stability is always hard

It’s incredibly hard not knowing how much money you’ll take home at the end of the month. Mainly because you can’t budget a month with any certainty which is hard for future planning. This has become particularly apparent when trying to figure out holiday plans or moving out. In one sense, it’s easy to save at the moment as I have very few outgoings. However, the idea of not being sure whether I’ll make rent or not is not a fun one. As ever, it’s a bit of a mind game but for me, that insecurity is definitely one of the hardest things about freelancing.

3.      Connections are amazing and help keep you sane

So, I’ve written about the importance of networking before but I’m going to keep writing about it because, in all aspects of life, people need people. This is true whether it’s a friend who can recommend you as a freelancer to their company or whether it’s the opportunity to be able to chat things through with someone in a similar position – finding out you’re not the only person who made that mistake or felt that way. I’m so grateful to the people in my life who tell me I can do it when it’s tough or remind me of what I’ve done so far. I’ve got some potential co-working opportunities on the horizon which I’m super excited about as a way to self-improve and develop. I used to think we got a ridiculous amount of feedback and critique at uni… I definitely miss that now!

4.      You can’t stop thinking…ever

Maybe this says more about me as a person than anything else! However, I find that I’m always thinking about what’s next. This can take many forms: what project is next? How will I find new clients? How do I improve a particular practice? What’s the best way to market myself? I’ve also been thinking a lot about diversification and how to best use my skills while slightly branching out of strict translation to add more strings to my bow. This is one aspect which continues to surprise me! I never thought I’d be overly business-minded but I’m loving the challenge of finding solutions to problems, having the authority to make decisions and being able to decide ultimately what direction I go in. Problem solving was never my strong point in maths but I’m finally coming into my own in it!

5.      Pressure to specialise vs work available is a headache

One thing you constantly hear in the industry is that you have to specialise and find your USP – great advice. However, where I find the tension is knowing what I want to ultimately specialise in, figuring out my dream clients versus the work, and inevitably vital experience, of work available to me day-to-day. This can create a difficult tension as you want to pursue these “dream jobs” but also need the experience to have the credentials to approach clients and be able to offer something of worth. It’s hard to see how a highly technical piece will ultimately help me get a job in sports translation or translating for a museum but I know it hones my skills and that some aspects are applicable to all translation jobs. As with any career, you have to get to know the ropes first.

 

That’s the March round-up. Check back in to see what happened in April.

February - Month Eight

Month eight was a welcome relief after months six and seven and it feels amazing to be back on track and have a steady flow of business. Here’s what I learnt.

1.      Never stop learning

I find that I’m constantly learning new things and it’s one of my favourite things about my job. I can go from researching Spanish property law and the English equivalents to looking at clothing cuts. Both require equal amounts of attention and research and it’s a real privilege to tackle such varied texts and I love being able to challenge and stretch myself constantly. But it’s not just learning subject matter and content – it’s critical to stay on top of linguistic changes. The Académie Française have just announced changes to 2400 spellings and so it’s important to stay on top of both your source and target languages – even if the new spelling ‘ognon’ makes you say, ‘oh non!’

2.      Persistence pays off

Being determined is arguably one of my best and worst qualities but professionally, it is definitely a plus. This month, it’s paid off in a number of ways. My dream speciality is sports translation and I’ve managed to get my foot in the door with a company specialising in it which is a fantastically exciting step and often the first bit of experience is the hardest to come by. Persistence has also lead to the vast majority of unpaid invoices to be recovered. It also gives me the confidence to check in with clients I haven’t worked with in a while and see what the state of play is. If any of these situations are applicable to you right now, be encouraged – persistence does pay off!

3.      I’m actually good at my job

This may be the most arrogant thing I’ve ever written. However, it’s important to celebrate the victories as this often keeps me going during the tougher times. This month, I’ve received some lovely and generous feedback from clients which has been such an important mental boost. It’s easy to get knocked back my rejection or criticism and ignore the positives but that’s not a healthy mindset. So instead, I’m trying to celebrate the wins, learn from the criticisms and find ways to encourage other people – both professionally and personally.

4.      Admin is essential… and keeps me sane

Admin is the least favourite part of my job. It’s slow. It’s painful. It’s time consuming. But it’s hugely important. In fact, I’ve learnt if I don’t set aside time for admin regularly then I actually can’t focus and run any other part of the business. If the admin side is out of control, it stresses me out, makes me feel out of control and distracts me. I’ve also learnt there’s ways to make the process a lot quicker and keep me a lot saner. Having clean, easy to use, clear accounting software is one of the best investments I’ve made. It keeps me on track. It sends payment reminders. It displays all the information I need at the click of a button. All initial scepticism has been transformed into gratitude!

5.      Work always picks up

This never fails to surprise me. After a few quiet days I will automatically assume that everyone thinks I’m a fraud and I’ll never get work again. Thankfully, this is completely untrue. Imposter syndrome is alive and kicking but it’s reassuring to know I’m not only one and that it affects people in all walks of life and professions. It’s a constant battle but knowing I am good at my job and enquires from new clients or return business helps remind me that I can do it and that even when work is slow, it will pick up again. In fact, so far February and March have been pretty busy so no complaints!

That’s the Feb round-up, check back in to see what happens in March. As ever, comments are very welcome!

Rate Hate

Currently far and away the biggest challenge in starting out is determining rates to charge at for translation jobs.

The industry is unregulated which allows anyone to call themselves a translator without any official qualifications.

As a result, the market is incredibly crowded and competitive!

Therefore, the balancing act lies in having a rate which is fair to both myself, as the service provider, and the client. This proves particularly difficult when starting out and not having the same luxury or security to turn down jobs.

There is particularly true when discussing agencies - is it worth lowering initial rates, knowing there are potential future progressions, in order to gain some guaranteed work and build up a portfolio?

Recently I've been reading a lot of articles on the increasingly low translation rates (such as https://www.redlinels.com/translation-rates-race-bottom/ and http://wordsboutique.com/low-translation-rates/). The challenge lies in gaining work without being part of the problem and lowering rates of the industry as a whole and receiving a fair rate for quality work.

Any tips or thoughts greatly appreciated!