My blog of March 2017, headed by a roller coaster photograph, was intended to illustrate the up-and-down nature of the workload experienced by many people working on a self-employed basis who, like me, are faced with huge variations in the length, content and number of projects to be tackled each month. I have since come to regard the stages of my working year as more closely resembling two or three turns of another fairground attraction: the big wheel, and the picture above was taken while walking past Luna park on the famous Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn, NY.
Although this was a fascinating holiday in a wonderful city I’m determined to revisit, it was probably not taken at the most convenient time of year, for reasons explained below.
A few years into this now not-so-new line of work, I have a much clearer view of the rise and fall in demand. There’s still a degree of uncertainty, but it’s more predictable. I’ll describe my observations in calendar order.
For me, Januarys have been quiet, really quiet. Perhaps it takes a while for the companies and businesses who generate documents to warm up and get going again after the festivities, but for the past 3 years I’ve found that this is a good opportunity to take a well-earned rest after the flat-out autumn period. Heading for the southern hemisphere or equator to get some winter sun while demand is slack is a great way to capitalise. February to July are busy, with a slight lull over Easter but without the dip in activity around the end of the financial year that I had expected. August can be another calm period, and there is some evidence that demand for translation loosely follows the academic year. However, this factor is complicated by variations in dates and lengths of school and university holidays across Europe. Furthermore, translators also take holidays, making it more difficult to find someone to do the work, therefore the apparent fall in demand is somewhat compensated by a fall in competition.
I have now got used to taking a deep breath, in the form of a long, restful weekend away, before the inevitable onslaught that occurs each year from the beginning of September to mid-December. This is my most hectic period, when I barely have time look up from my computer and effective time-management becomes essential. One might expect the build up to Christmas to be quiet due to a reluctance of clients to take on new projects or a shortage of money towards year-end, but this is offset by a rush to complete tasks before the new year.
Another observation is the definite increase in requirements towards the end of the week, often making it difficult to avoid working over weekends. It’s rarely possible to take an actual holiday on a bank holiday either.
Despite this apparent trend, which facilitates planning to some extent, there is still a randomness to the flow of emails that land in my inbox. Two or even three working days can pass without a single request, then the tap is turned back on and I receive more than I can possibly complete by the suggested deadlines. In the initial stages I felt a sense of emptiness and doubt during slow periods, but these never last long and I don’t worry any more. As I mentioned in that March 2017 post, it’s an opportunity to delete closed projects and obsolete documents - which is a highly satisfying way to “clean up” the computer and can take a surprising amount of time - catch up with accounting, invoicing and filing, or allow the computer to perform the updates held in a queue.
If I’m honest, the workload ups and downs are matched by emotional swings. At one end, there is the excitement of getting a new project, especially if it’s a long one that will take weeks, the anticipation of working on something intriguing, and the pleasant sensation of being valued and appreciated when able to accept work from an efficient, reliable client with good communication and courtesy, or the nice feeling of being able to share someone’s relief when, at 6.30 on a Friday evening, they have finally found someone to translate something in a hurry. But there is also the guilt and the anxiety. I can’t help feeling guilt pangs when I receive a translation request while on holiday and haven’t brought my computer, particularly when it’s something I would love to have worked on. Or anxiety when I am already so booked up that I can’t meet the requirements of someone I’d really like to help. As a former schoolteacher, I would always try to do everything I was asked to do. It was demanding and hectic, sometimes bordering on the unreasonable, but really a question of organising the available time. I’m not used to declining tasks, but it’s sometimes inevitable now.
Nevertheless, I enjoy this work immensely and have never regretted making this step. One simple solution to the frustration of having to let someone down is to reply honestly, saying that whilst there's no immediate availability, the translation could be delivered on a later, specified date. It’s not always possible for a client to push back a deadline, but at least it shows willingness to collaborate.
If you are reading this and have comments or can contribute your own observations, please do get in touch, by emailing:
or simply send me some details via the contact page on this site.