Many self-employed translators will recognise the dilemma: it gets to 6pm on a Friday and the phone rings. An urgent translation deliverable at 9am on Monday morning. I do a quick mental calculation as I go over what I’m already doing that weekend, and try to make a decision. Is it a good excuse not to do the ironing, or will I have to cancel my entire Saturday plans?
For those of us who work for ourselves - or perhaps more accurately, for several clients at once - the business world can feel unpredictable. Projects tend to come in clusters, with slow, sometimes stationary, periods in between. While some deadlines afford a comfortable length of time to work at a moderate pace, very often speed is the priority. Turnaround can be required overnight, or even later that day.
In my most hectic times, when three requests arrive in one afternoon, I often work late into the night. I don’t mind this too much: it’s tranquil, the phone is unlikely to ring and my inbox goes quiet. Working in the evening is peaceful, and I can go at my own pace without interruption. But I sometimes get booked up for lengthy periods, and I don’t like disappointing clients if they want something in a hurry.
While I’m still working out how to tackle the busy times, I can offer a few pointers.
- Don’t reply to group emails, unless you really want the work. You can usually assume that if the email is not directed at you, they’ll find someone else.
- Always ask the word count and the type of work: if it’s a small project, you may be able to squeeze it in, but it’s important to know what you’re agreeing to do.
- Before saying no to new projects, try to negotiate the deadline. Even if your client insists on a quick turnaround and you have to decline, they’ll know you want to work with them in future.
- Remember to take breaks. It’s too easy to squint at a computer screen for hours a day when you’re immersed in a project. Go for a walk, catch up on the news, get enough sleep.
There are also times when the tap is turned off and it all comes to a standstill. This can be a good opportunity to catch up the things that get neglected during the busy times. A chance to:
- Delete files that are cluttering up your laptop, or allow your computer to perform updates.
- Update your profile on your website, social media and other sites you may be registered with.
- Reply to messages that have gone unanswered for a while.
- Catch up with your invoicing, or do admin tasks such as updating your invoice template, or sending out gentle reminders to clients who are late to make payments.
Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I am beginning to notice a pattern emerging over the course of the calendar year. Midsummer tends to be busy, while it can take time to build momentum in the new year, as many companies do not start new projects in December or January. On this basis, I can plan my time effectively, taking care to ensure maximum availability in July and August, and booking holidays in the quieter times. Above all, don't lose heart if two or three days go by and you don't hear anything. There are busy time around the corner.
If you are reading this and have found yourself in a similar position, please do leave a comment or get in touch through my contact form. I would very much like to hear how others go about tackling the feast and famine aspect of the translation workload.