What to do when things slow down…

By Helen Eby

road-90390_1280As freelancers, we are thrilled when we get a lot of work! Then we go pretty crazy with the load, saying yes to every assignment that comes. Fortunately, there are down times. What do we do with them?

Some colleagues get anxious about their cash flow. “I haven’t had a new assignment for a week! What am I going to do?” That’s a reasonable question. However, if work has been coming steadily, our clients will be coming back.

My mother was a freelancer. She taught English to business people in Argentina. She knew that summer would come, and nobody wanted her services in the summer. Out of every payment she received, she saved 25% for summer expenses. No exceptions. We could be running out of money for the month, but the summer cushion did not get touched. We just had to eat what was on sale for a week, or cook what was in the fridge. In the summer, we always saw the wisdom of that.

However, what can we do to make the slow times work for us? It’s a good time to catch up on many things that usually fall by the wayside, both on a personal and professional level:

Personal Professional
Connect with friends and family. Send cards, visit friends, and keep your humanity alive! Go to free concerts, go see the Christmas lights, make cookies for your neighbors. Get creative, and connect with your community and family!Why mention this? Because our family, neighbors, etc., are our support system in life, and life sometimes does get in the way of work! Strengthen it when you can! Connect with clients. Send your clients thank you cards. The kind that arrive in the mail. This shows them you care! Stop by your clients’ offices with a box of chocolates, a copy of Found in Translation, or some other gift. Or send it by mail. This is the time of year to develop that kind of relationship.

Remember: people work with people they know, like and trust.

Read for fun! I alternate an English book and a Spanish book all the time. I read the news online in Spanish and in English every day. This keeps me in touch with the “linguacultures” I work in (language and culture are so interconnected it is hard to separate them).Really, I work with languages because I love them. Read literature in your target language. Read the news in your target language. Read technical literature in your specialty field.
The more you read, the better your writing will be. As a translator, you need to keep your writing fresh! The more you read in your source language, the better your understanding of nuances in the language will be. Keep reading! Even if you are an interpreter!
Thinking. Take some time to journal, slow down, and think about life. What do you like? What do you want to change? Thinking. And planning. Where do I want to be next? What do I like doing? What could I do better? How can I get there? This is a time to write some of those ideas down, and see if you can freshen up your business plan. You just can’t do some of this analysis when you are buried in a 500 page translation!
Self-care. Many of us are busy taking care of others. It is very common for caregivers to forget to take care of themselves, and become unable to care for those they care about. Human resources. You are your most important resource. Your health is extremely important. This might be a good time to schedule those medical appointments you have been putting off and take care of yourself so that you don’t end up missing work in the future or having to reduce your workload more than you wanted to due to health issues. Develop an exercise routine you can stick to, as many have seen that maintaining their exercise routine helps them think more clearly and do better work… which means you can charge more for your work!
Your personal to-do list. This could be a good time to declutter some of your spaces, read some books, etc. A cluttered space can clutter your mind! Your professional to-do list. Call the clients you haven’t seen in a while. See how your last project helped them! Update your calendar with upcoming business events. Identify new potential clients. Work on your blog and social media presence now that you have some time and thus remind your clients and network who you are and what you do. Watch some training videos, read about linguistics, check in on courses you want to take. Learn how to use a new translation tool (there are free demos for quite a few), update your accounting software, or upgrade your version of Office. Check your website, see what needs to be updated, and match it up with the business plan you are working on!
Volunteer. I just saw that 50% of adults in the U.S. volunteer. This could be a great way to connect with your community, which after all is your support system! Volunteer. At The Savvy Newcomer, we love volunteering. Why? We learn more about our industry, we make friends, we make business connections. Attorneys list their volunteer activities on their web pages. Maybe translators should too! As you volunteer, you will understand the community you serve even better. This will make you a more valuable asset.
Family. Family comes first, but… it’s here to make sure you remember it. Your spouse, children, parents are tremendously important. In our business, it is easy to spend our free time with work things, and our family suffers. It is also easy for them to feel neglected when you have a lot of work, perhaps without you even noticing because you are so busy. Now that you have some free time, be sure to make up for lost time and make sure they know you are there for them. Neglecting your family can create problems down the road. Family. When your family is on your team, it is so much more fun to work together! You can help each other with research, practical aspects of your work, and develop new insights. My family has helped edit my work, clean up tables for use in a CAT tool, understand technical concepts, clarify business concepts, and organize my time. Not bad!

We look forward to your comments to this blog post. Please share your ideas on what to do with the slow times!

About heleneby

Helen Eby grew up in Argentina, the land of the gauchos. She is certified as an English Spanish translator by ATA and as a Spanish interpreter by the Oregon Judicial Department and by the Oregon Health Authority. She co-founded The Savvy Newcomer and the ¡Al rescate del español! blogs, both of which are team efforts to provide resources for other language professionals. She is also a founding board member of the Spanish Editors Association.

2 thoughts on “What to do when things slow down…

  1. Pingback: Weekly translation favorites (Nov 28-Dec 4) | Lingua Greca Translations

  2. Helen, I like the story about your mother. Very practical. Thank you for your helpful advice on how to keep balance of personal life and professional activities.

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