ATA Business Smarts – The Midsummer Slump

Reblogged from ATA Business Practices

Dear Business Smarts:

During the past two weeks, very little work has come in. My regular clients all seem to have gone on a collective beach vacation. Even though I usually have a steady amount of work, I have had to search the online marketplaces for assignments, without much success. I feel like a fraud sitting in my office and not making any money. What should I do?
— Unemployed Workaholic in New York

Dear Unemployed:

Fluctuations in workload, and an ebbing of the tide during the summertime, are inescapable parts of every freelancer’s life. Here are some suggestions for things to do during what seems to be the inevitable “midsummer lull,” which is a perfect time to address many of the management and business chores small business owners often neglect:

Catch Up
  • Make sure you have sent an invoice for every job and logged every payment that has come in. Balance your checkbook and order new checks if you are about to run out.
  • Check that you have current versions of all your essential software: now is the time to spend a couple of hours downloading those enormous upgrade files. Run a utility to defragment your main hard drive. Delete any application programs you never use, along with their preference files and other baggage; there are utilities for this, too.
  • Double-check that your virus protection software is up-to-date, and scan for undetected malware.
  • Enter useful terminology into your translation memory system or terminology management program.
  • Even in the age of Google, you might still want to order some new dictionaries or reference books. Check through those discussion list printouts and book reviews you stuffed into a folder a few months ago.
  • Look through your Internet browser bookmarks or favorites to see whether there are any useful sites you have not visited recently.
  • Check your supplies of printer paper, toner, staples, etc.
Clean Up
  • Do something about all the stuff that piled up around the office while you had no time to do anything but work.
  • Sort through your e-mail IN box and confirm that every meancial records for seven years, but anything older can now be recycled. Be sure to shred all documents that include confidential data, such as your Social Security number.
  • If you have not decided to keep copies of every translation you have ever done, add the old ones to the recycling bin.ssage requiring a response has been answered.
  • The IRS requires that you retain financial records for seven years, but anything older can now be recycled. Be sure to shred all documents that include confidential data, such as your Social Security number.
  • If you have not decided to keep copies of every translation you have ever done, add the old ones to the recycling bin.
  • Are you happy with your present assortment of clients? Are some of them more trouble than they are worth? Consider refining your client mix using the “portfolio management techniques” discussed in this column a few months ago.
  • Are there new subject areas you would like to explore so that you can expand your expertise and take on new kinds of work?
  • Think about the types of translations you love and hate (engineering drawings? magazine articles? lab reports?) and act accordingly.
  • Is your work life in balance with the rest of your life? Are you spending enough time with your family and friends, and on other activities that make you a well-rounded human being?
  • Are you making enough money from your translation or interpretation work? How does your income contribute to the family budget?
  • This is the perfect time to consider your tax situation: should your estimated payments be raised or lowered? How do your business expenses look at mid-year?
Do Not…

… panic. Your favorite client has not forgotten about you, and the phone will ring again.
… check your e-mail every 10 minutes to see whether new work has come in (besides, your
computer is busy downloading all that updated software).
… accept work at a lower rate, or work with clients you do not like, just because there is a
temporary hole in your job calendar.

  • Talk to the people you live with.
  • Pull some weeds out of the flowerbeds.
  • Read a book.
  • Take a walk.
  • Find a new restaurant and go out on a date with your significant other.
  • Buy yourself a nice plant for the office.
  • Go for a bicycle ride.

Keep a folder around to collect “downtime” ideas. Then, the next time you are buried up to your eyeballs in assignments and are wondering how much more coffee you can drink, you can actually look forward to having a little well-deserved time off.

Business Smarts: Fluctuating Workloads

One of the most daunting questions for freelancers – and more so for freelancers-to-be! – is how to handle workload fluctuations. In this great post taken from the ATA website’s Business Practices we find some suggestions to deal with the infamous “dry patch”, coaching on how to use the most feared word for freelancers (“no”), and how to find balance in our work. 


Fluctuating Workloads

This month, we will address the question of fluctuating workloads. There is a certain “feast or famine” factor in self-employment and freelancing, but a strategic approach can help define priorities and ultimately yield greater efficiency and satisfaction.

Dear Business Smarts:

I have been an active freelance translator for more than seven years. For the most part, my workload is steady, even though every now and then I hit a “dry patch.” Occasionally, I have more to do than I can handle, but I am afraid to turn the work away because I worry that agencies or clients will look for another translator, and then I won’t have any work. During those periods, I am overworked, I shout at my kids, and work until I am completely exhausted. I have thought of outsourcing some of the assignments, but don’t know how. Your advice would be much appreciated.
— TIRED in Kansas

Dear Tired:

The situation you describe will be familiar to every self-employed translator. It is very difficult to strike a balance between overloading yourself to the point where the quality of your translations begins to suffer, and worrying that the phone will never ring again. Here are a few suggestions.

First of all, outsourcing is unlikely to solve your problem. Remember that your reputation for quality work is your greatest asset: you should never outsource assignments from a translation agency to other translators without the agency’s explicit approval. If you are working for private clients, it would be appropriate to let them know when you cannot complete an assignment on your own. It often takes a lot of effort to adapt another translator’s choice of style to your own, so in the end you may not save any time after all.

A full work schedule is the best possible advertising for your business, and demonstrates your success. So take a deep breath and say the magic word (“No”). A steady workload over seven years proves that your customers appreciate your work, and that they are willing to send you more in the future even if you’re not available right now.

As a long-term time management strategy, resolve to limit yourself to a certain amount of work you can manage every week, and politely decline the rest. This will give you the peace of mind and confidence to produce the quality you are satisfied with.

It may also be time to take a critical look at your clientele. Are there some customers you prefer to work for? Why? Do they pay better, or offer feedback that lets you learn more?

Conversely, are there other clients who are constantly imposing unreasonable deadlines or paying lower rates? Are they really worth neglecting your family for? Don’t be afraid to “fire” the customers you don’t enjoy working for, and to pick the projects that are enjoyable and comfortable for you. In time you will find that you prefer certain types of texts or subject areas over others, and your work satisfaction will improve as you begin to specialize in a certain direction and turn down work that doesn’t meet your criteria.

Finally, try to lose your fear of the “dry patches.” Consider them an unexpected short vacation and enjoy them. You could play with your kids, meet a friend for lunch, or do all the work-related chores that get pushed aside when you’re too busy translating: update your resume, revise your online directory profile, download that software patch, and catch up with the bookkeeping. Who knows, you may have so much fun that you’ll look forward to the next dry patch!

What do you do, Dear Reader, to cope with fluctuating workloads? We would love to hear your comments!

ATA Business Practices: Red Flags For Avoiding Scams

Translators, like other business owners, are susceptible to scams.  Although the internet makes it easier for scammers to find a target, it also helps potential victims to identify scams before it’s too late.  See the article below for 4 red flags that should raise the suspicions of translators looking for new clients.

Red Flags to Look Out For

Before accepting work from a new client, small business owners should always assess the background and payment history of a prospective new account carefully. Although the vast majority of contacts will be legitimate, it is helpful to keep in mind a few “red flags” that may be a warning sign of deceitful intent.

Dear Business Smarts:

Early this year, I received an e-mail from a new contact who asked me to complete an urgent translation for a subsidiary of a well-known international corporation. I did not have any other work at the time and was pleased to accept the order, especially since the client had no problem with my proposed rate. To make a long story short, I delivered the translation and never got paid. I now know that the same outfit scammed a number of other colleagues and that I most likely will have to write this money off. Please tell other colleagues not to work for this “company.”

—Scammed in Boston 

Dear Scammed,

We are sorry to hear your story. Unfortunately, our industry, like any other, has its black sheep who have learned to hide their true identities in cyberspace and have no intention of running a legitimate business. They are a particular threat to less experienced freelancers who are just starting their own business.

No matter how attractive an offer from a new client may sound, business owners are well advised to observe a few basic precautions before entering into a new business relationship. The steps outlined below are generally referred to as “due diligence” and serve to protect your interests as a self-employed contractor. Instead of typing an instant response to an inquiry from a new customer, take a few minutes to do the following:

  1. Check the identity of the person who contacted you. At a minimum, an email message should contain his or her full name, title, and business contact information. A legitimate business should have a proper domain name and would not use a free mail service such as Gmail or Yahoo! for sending out e-mail. Take a quick look at the website of the company and assess how professional it looks. Typos or a “homemade” appearance are red flags, as is the absence of identifying information about the site owner.
  1. Research the business in one or several of the available translator forums that discuss the payment practices of translation outsourcers, such as Payment Practices, the ProZ BlueBoard, or a language-specific forum. Since data on these sites have accumulated for many years, it is possible but somewhat suspicious for a legitimate translation agency not to be listed on at least one of them. Keep in mind that direct clients may not be listed.
  1. Decide how to respond. If your due-diligence research leaves any doubt as to the legitimacy of the offer you received, proceed with great caution and do not accept the work right away. It is perfectly acceptable to politely request further details or even references about the company before finalizing an agreement about a project.
  1. Gauge the response you receive. A legitimate business has nothing to hide and will readily answer questions about its history, location, and other suppliers. Do not let anyone fool you into believing that a translation project is so urgent that there is no time to ask questions or deal with the necessary formalities.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: September 2009, p 36

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