November - Month Five

I feel like I'm increasingly struggle to remember what happened the month before... I think I'll have to start taking notes as I go along! However, here are the things I learnt this month (which I still remember!)

1.        Make hay while the sun's shining

Firstly, what a delightful idiom, I had great fun attempting to explain this to a child I was tutoring recently who kept trying to tell me that hay wasn't man made (we muddled through the confusion eventually!). However, the principle is so true. Maybe one day my life will be super organised, I'll have jobs booked for the month ahead, everything will run smoothly and life won't throw up any curveballs..... maybe. Until that day, I intend to make the most of my time working and off. It's very easy to hate the days you don't have "assigned work" and stress the days you do but this is not overly productive! As a result, I've found making a list of tasks to do for days where I don't have projects and allocating myself more time then I think I need for a project where possible to remove a little bit of pressure. You also never know when life will throw up another curveball - I'm learning it's important to give yourself grace and it's ok to reject jobs too (it's a work in progress!)

2.      Being an adult is hard

Sorting out accounting software and your finances is hard. Sending payment reminders for overdue payment is hard. Telling someone their rate is completely unreasonable (politely) is hard. But it part of being an adult. One thing I find helpful is knowing everyone hates these jobs and I'm not the only one. It also means there's always people you can ask for advice who have also struggled with it and found ways to overcome their problems. Having said that, a bit of free advice, Taylor Swift and gin make adult tasks easier!

3.     There will never be enough hours in the day/week/month/year

Sometimes it feels like you're going from one job to another and simply doing damage control on what absolutely needs to be done (like invoices!) and neglecting everything else. However, this is the nature of the beast. As discussed last month, there's always something which can be improved or changed so it's about prioritising what needs to be done and what can wait. And allowing yourself to switch off and be ok with leaving things until tomorrow!

4.     Find out what you love... and what you hate...

And build the services you offer around this! I quickly realised while I was accepting work as a student that I hate transcription. It doesn't matter whether it's from foreign language to English or simply English to English. I cannot stand it. It's time consuming and a huge faff and it takes me far too long for it to ever be profitable. So I point blank reject transcription jobs. I take on subtitling jobs but only if they have a written script which needs translated into English subtitles. I have a friend who loves proofreading but would never want to be a translator. This is my idea if a nightmare but it's about finding what works for you and not being afraid to refuse jobs/not offer services which will cause you more stress than satisfaction. In the end of the day, I partly decided to be freelance to give myself more freedom and create a job which works for me, it would be silly to restrict that!

5. Always keep an eye on ever-changing language guidelines

Recently I've been reading a lot of articles on gender neutral language which is particularly interesting to me. In fact, I wrote my final year dissertation on whether there's a need for a gender-neutral pronoun in English. However, accepted language and guidelines around this are constantly changing as our knowledge and understanding changes and it's even harder to explain this to clients. For instance, it's not acceptable to use 'he' generically in English to refer to both genders but some clients request this. 'Padres' in Spanish is an incredibly complex word to translate. The author could mean parents, mother and father, fathers, or (less likely) mothers. Therefore, it's incredibly important to keep your finger on the industry pulse in order to accurately reflect the text's meaning but also to make sure it's as inclusive to society as possible. Maybe I'll write more on the subject another day, but it's a thought for you to ponder for now!

Those are five things I learnt in November. I'll update my blog in 2018 (that's terrifying!) with what I learnt in December. Until then, have a fantastic Christmas and a wonderful New Year - and make sure you enjoy some well-earned time off!

 

October – Month Four

Another month and another summary of what I’ve learnt…

1.      There is always something which can be improved

Maybe I feel this particularly acutely as a slight perfectionist, but I find I’m never ever short of things to do or improve. Whether that’s updating my website, redesigning invoices so they’re more aesthetically pleasing, looking into bookkeeping software, working on terminology or finding new clients there’s always something I can be doing! I love this aspect of the job as it means that there are always challenges and areas to push myself in. However, it can also be daunting and feel insurmountable sometimes so I’m finding it increasingly more necessary to prioritise and approach my ever-growing to-do list one item at a time to avoid a minor meltdown!

2.      Getting paid on time is the bain of my life.

It’s great when you look at your spread sheet and you see how many billable hours you’ve done so far. It’s less fun when you compare this to the money in your account and realise how many outstanding invoices you have to chase up. I’m incredibly glad that the ITI SUFT course has a whole week dedicated to this as it is far and away the biggest challenge I face. I can now fully understand why so many small businesses struggle to survive! I’m also glad I don’t have the pressure of making rent right now as unfortunately I can’t default on payments just because someone has defaulted on me!

3.      A word log is the single best thing I’ve done.

This was another top tip from SUFT but applying it has made such a difference. It’s such a confidence boost to be able to say I’ve translated X thousand words on this subject when applying for jobs or negotiating with a client. It’s also a great way to track your progress, the types of jobs you’re getting and the sheer volume of words you’ve translated. I’m utterly amazed that I’ve translated over 240K words already since starting! However, even just knowing this helps me to be more confident in my ability (imposter syndrome is real!) and also gives me lots of material to look over and areas of terminology to improve based on how long each job took. Definitely easier to do as you go along rather than retrospectively though!

4.      A simple email of thanks can have a huge impact

There is nothing more encouraging than receiving an email to thank you for working on a job – particularly if it’s caused a lot of stress or taken up a lot of time. I know how much I appreciate it (although I am also very words orientated!) and this is definitely something I’m going to try and remember to do both within the industry and in my life in general. As ever, a little can go a long way.

5.      Curiosity is a translator’s greatest asset

Most children have that phase where they ask “why” to everything and I don’t think I’ve ever really grown out of this phase! While this may occasionally be irritating for my family and friends who have to put up with the many hypothetical questions, debates and verbal processing I’ve found it comes into its own in translation! It’s great for CPD, learning more about the industry, being motivated to find out the context of a translation or the perfect word or phrase depending on the subject matter. I’ve also found it incredibly helpful as a freelancer and making all my business decisions myself (being an adult is scary!) as I find even subconsciously I’ve asked myself multiple questions before every decision so if a client ever asks me “why?” I know the reason instantly.

6.      I hate when people say I don’t have a real job!

I genuinely didn’t think this would annoy me, but it really does! It’s particularly annoying if someone says this after you’ve been tutoring, stayed up late to finish a big job, spent hours proofreading, had formatting/technical issues, created and billed an invoice yourself and dealt with a particularly demanding client. If there’s a freelancer in your life, please show them some love instead of ribbing them for still being in their pjs (there has to be some advantages of working from home, right?!)

So those are the 6 things I’ve learnt in month 4, as ever, comments, questions, entertaining anecdotes are very welcome. See you in December for month 5!

September – Month Three

First of all, apologies for the late post. October has been crazy busy but we’ll get to that next month! The end of September marks the end of my first quarter trading as a freelancer which is utterly mad but very exciting. Here are the things I learnt in month three.

1.      People are the best

Last month I feel like I was super negative about people so this month I have a story to counteract that from September. I had the total joy of working with a client who paid me on the same day as I delivered the translation. If every client was like this life would be sweet.

2.      CPD is essential

CPD is often complained about throughout people’s careers. However, if you find the CPD it can be incredibly rewarding and invaluable instead of being a slog. I’m currently enrolled on ITI’s Starting Up as a Freelance Translator course and this is proving to be a goldmine of resources. The course covers all sorts of aspects from working from home to CVs to marketing to networking – if you’re considering setting up as a freelance translator I highly recommend this excellent course which is delivered by a whole range of experienced translators with a good mixture of seminars, discussions and practical tasks. The one downside is I now have an ever-growing list of things to do! My next point is also linked to the benefits of this course…

3.      Networking is key

Through the course, I’ve had a brilliant opportunity to get to know both the teachers, who are very experienced and have fantastic insight, and my fellow students. This is incredibly valuable as this group of people are at the same stage as me. Therefore, we can share triumphs and commiserate together as we all try and figure out this new venture together! Indeed, in such a solitary job, online networking becomes increasingly more important in terms of establishing relationships, a few of these have even lead to work which is amazing! Therefore, you can expect to see a brand-new work based Twitter account in the near future as I explore more avenues to connect and engage with the industry.

4.      Work/life balance is impossibly hard to find

There’s often a perception that freelancers are lazy as they can work when they want, where they want and laze about the rest of the time. Yes, this is partially true but in reality, running your own business and working for yourself results in an even poorer work/life balance. This is because I don’t always know when I’ll have a day off as this is work dependent. I also don’t work normal hours. This is great for me as I hate early starts but it can also lead to long nights and (even for me!) early starts in order to ensure a deadline. After all, as a client you wouldn’t be impressed if a business missed a deadline because they wanted a night off. The other main reason the work/life balance is hard to find is because…

5.      Being a freelancer means work is never done

As a freelance translator, I don’t just translate. I proof read, quality check, format, invoice, negotiate, do the marketing, am responsible for the brand’s reputation, time manage, am responsible for my own training, trouble shoot and handle the accounts. This means that inevitably there’s always something waiting to be done/updated/improved. Sometimes this can be overwhelming and feel as though everything is on top of you but I’ve quickly learnt to prioritise which jobs need done most urgently – for example, invoicing trumps marketing as I know I need to ensure I get paid! This last point may sound like a complaint but as much as it’s hard work, it’s taught me that

6.      I love my job

Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, this is super cheesy. However, everything is worth it for the message from a client saying that they’re pleased with your translation and knowing that you managed every step of the request from beginning to end.

Those are the 6 things I learnt in September. Check back to see what I learn in October and feel free to leave any witty/helpful comments/question.

 

August - Month Two

Month two of full time translating has successfully been completed. Here’s what I learnt in this month.

1.      You will always get work at the most inconvenient times

If ever short of work, the best thing to do is make yourself unavailable – whether through sickness or outstanding commitments (like jury duty) as soon as you’d prefer not to have work it will come flooding in. This leads to an exciting balancing act but (the vast majority of the time) a successful one! This leads me to my next point…

2.      Don’t do things when you have the flu

You might fool yourself into thinking you’ll send off a quick invoice before retreating to bed and wallowing in your illness. However, you’d be wrong. You will do something silly like miss two numbers off your iban number and stress for a week that roughly $500 will forever be floating somewhere in the banking system. Thankfully for me, the payment was returned to sender and all the money was recovered – a lesson (and scare) in double checking things and also not trying to do too much when you have a fuzzy head.

3.      People can be the worst

You will have nightmare clients who ask you to do a 10 000 word job asap which you will near kill yourself doing. You will then send the invoice for said job and be told they did not confirm the order and went with another supplier (who happens to be $100 cheaper) despite what their emails may say. You will want to cry and struggle not to reply with a list of expletives. Sadly, this is the nature of the beast and you will inevitably be burnt once or twice. At least I’ll know make sure I get explicit confirmation in writing and consider asking for deposits from private clients!

4.      People can also be the best

For every nightmare client/situation, you also have fantastic clients, agencies and PM who give clear instructions, at fair rates and are generally delightful to work for. They will restore your faith in humanity and general career/life choices! The trick is finding these people and building up a good rapport with them and this obviously takes time and experience in order to distinguish one type of client from the other. Once again – it’s a steep learning curve.

5.      Long payment dates are a killer

The vast majority of companies have a plus 30 payment date at the minimum. This makes forward planning tricky to say the least. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you will receive x amount of money but that you don’t have it yet! For this reason, I am exceedingly grateful for my part time job tutoring – at least I know that basic bills will be covered by that regular income. Seeing business from this perspective makes it evident as to why so many small businesses struggle to survive when covering overheads etc.

Month two seems to be a rather negative view of the industry. However, despite all the potential pitfalls and difficulties this is a fab job which I love. Like any job it has its good and bad points – unfortunately I’ve learnt more about the downsides than the upsides this month. Check back next month to see if the learning experience is more positive!

July – Month One

July 2017 marked the first month of being a real freelance translator. And it certainly wasn’t without its stresses! It’s been a steep learning curve but a very rewarding one so far. Here are 7 things I wish I knew before I started:

1.       You will have to write to so many agencies in order to get any work.

Initially when I got responses from agencies or clients I was so encouraged and rather naively thought I’d be inundated with work. In reality, I’ve contacted over 100 agencies and potential clients, sat various unpaid tests and currently only work with 4 or 5 regularly. Finding clients really is a number game! Furthermore, I’m on the books for many agencies where work is still to materialise. In fact, one company pursued me, added me to their books and said I should receive my first project from them within 6 months! While this can be frustrating, it is very exciting when you build up a rapport with a company or PM and get approached with regular work – particularly when they trust you to fix a slightly shoddy translation for an angry client – no pressure!

2.       Save up money before you start.

Man, I wish I’d thought about this. I came out of uni knowing what I wanted to do (unusual I know!) but sadly I hadn’t necessarily planned my finances accordingly. This first month has been incredibly lean as a result! It is particularly frustrating when you know you’re owed money but that payment hasn’t been released yet. Most companies pay 30 days after invoice (often at the end of the month). Plan accordingly so you don’t have to ask mum and dad for money!

3.       Only go freelance if you’re 100% sure you love it/want to do it.

Thankfully for me, I was pretty sure it was what I wanted to do (and I was right!) but the amount of time, stress, late nights and cancelled plans make it completely untenable if you’re not sure. The business can be all consuming – particularly when you’re also completely responsible for the finances etc. and you know you only get paid if you work! However, the rewards, satisfaction and flexibility make it 100% worthwhile for me.

4.       There is loads of help available – and it’s super easy to access!

Help and advice is around every corner – you just need to know where to look! From the business aspect, I’ve had great advice from family friends and Business Gateway. As a result, I applied for a start-up loan and had it approved in less than 2 weeks! Throughout the process the staff were so helpful and they provided multiple guides to aid with the writing of business plans and cash flows etc. which was a completely new experience for me! This loan is a real lifeline and gives me a bit more stability. It also allows me to invest in a new laptop, TM software etc. without having to stress or worry. It’s a fixed term, low interest loan – highly recommend for anyone considering setting up a new business, you even get mentoring during your first year. The translation community is also super vocal and helpful – Facebook groups like Standing Up and Things Translators Don’t Say have been invaluable in providing guidance and support – it’s fab to have a network of people who understand the problems you’re facing! There’s also fantastic support on LinkedIn – you just have to be a little brave finding them and introducing yourself.

5.       Business is super unpredictable.

When starting out and not yet having a good base of regular clients it is impossible to figure out how each month/week/day/hour will look! Initially, any day I didn’t have work I would be incredibly stressed and think I’ll never make it. Now looking at my first month’s turnover, I know I can have dead days and still have a viable business which makes dead days in August a little easier to handle! On the flip side, you’ll inevitably get 3 projects at once which all have a 24 hour turn around – I hated 24-hour assignments at university and thought they were totally unrealistic, I now work on even tighter deadlines! This will lead to late nights and cancelled plans but I know in the long run that it’s how you build a viable business and build good client relationships so the sacrifices will be worth it.

6.       You have to be brave!

Thankfully, I’m naturally a pretty confident and outgoing person but if you’re not you definitely have to fake it. If there’s one bit of advice I’d give it’s knock on every single door. I often message people on LinkedIn which some may think is a little bold but it has led to work, or at least a dialogue and the beginnings of a relationship. You also have to back your abilities. Obviously, the golden rule of checking the text before accepting and not accepting something out with your capabilities completely applies. However, you have to be prepared to test yourself! In my first month, I’ve worked on academic theology papers, technical documents (e.g. how to magnetise a rotor – I didn’t know you could magnetise a rotor!), legal documents and financial documents. Yes, they’re daunting, particularly when you know it’s for a big-name client, but often, when you sit back, take a breath and look at it, you can see its no more complex than other texts and your normal strategies still apply. In fact, the fact that technical and legal texts are often repetitive and predictable can make them easier and more straight-forward than another type of text.

7.       You never stop learning.

I thought finally graduating meant I would be able to relax and not do so much research. I was wrong. The great thing about this job is it’s so varied and unpredictable, particularly as I haven’t specialised yet. This means regularly looking up terms to see if they exist, understanding in depth legal or technical procedures in order to provide an accurate rendering, researching companies and constantly understanding new subjects. Exploring CPD options in the industry, it is also clear that this job involves lifelong learning. Whether that’s learning a new language (any suggestions, let me know!) or studying a legal course if that’s your speciality, it’s clear that you never stop improving. Part of me dreads this, but the other (hopefully bigger) part relishes this opportunity and the fact you should never plateau but always be striving to improve.

That’s the 7 things I learnt in July. Check back to see what I learn in August and feel free to leave any comments/helpful tips/witty replies!

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!