Reflections on transitioning to full-time freelance

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In the beautiful month of September, it’s my new year. I finalize my annual trip around the sun as well as celebrate a full year of returning to being a full-time freelance translator. I’ve lived the dream of being a full-time freelancer before, but it was always translation complemented by teaching or vice versa. I also worked part-time as a translator while holding down a day job as a bilingual loan officer during the global financial crisis and ensuing recession.  But today I’m thankful to be back doing what I love full-time, deciding when, how and where I work. To top it off, September ends on International Translation Day.

Reflecting on the past year, one thing I never gave my day job much credit for was how much the hustle and bustle of getting ready for and going to work in the morning really helped me to wake up and be alert.  Leaving the house every morning, the rush of cold air on my eyeballs, as much as I despised being up before sunrise and out in the cold, it really did help me kick into gear. At my 9-6 job I would arrive ready to hit the ground running, answering emails and calling people back. Now, my office is located 7 steps from where I sleep. I could literally somersault from bed to my work station and start pecking the keyboard. When you’re working as what you really want to be when you grow up, you need to do it well. Thus I’ve found establishing a morning routine to be essential for saving clients and myself the embarrassment of tired, groggy replies. For me, screen time helps my eyes and brain adjust to daytime activities. I spend the first few minutes of my workday scrolling the news, twitter, reading emails or anything else that piques my interest and gets my brain firing. No output yet, just pondering, drifting and planning.

Another stark change is the appearance of making time vs. killing time. Working for yourself, there’s no pressure to “look busy”. You don’t have coworkers or bosses walking by potentially getting a glimpse of your screen. Even if you are being productive, just having an article off to the side while waiting for the circles to churn the screen you need doesn’t look good in a corporate environment. As my own boss, I can allow tangents of distracted thought reach their eventual conclusions before getting back to the task at hand (deadlines permitting). Sometimes distractions are very helpful when I’m stuck on a term or tripwire in a translation. Allowing for such distractions with others watching over your shoulder can generate tension so I’m grateful to not have to worry about that anymore.

On the other end of that pendulum is that because I am my own boss and have control of my time, people think I have free time all the time and don’t hesitate to interrupt or soak it up. It’s a constant challenge to establish boundaries on concentration vs. interruptions but since my husband tends to be just as busy as I am, we’ve made it work. We’ve learned to keep our phones in the other room and have had to give up vast amounts of socializing to stay on top of things. There are several articles that talk about prioritizing your time as an entrepreneur boiling it down to having to choose 3 of the following 5: Work, Sleep, Fitness, Family & Friends. My take on that is that work is a given if you’re going to be successful running your business. If you want to be on top of your game, you shouldn't sacrifice sleep too much. I’ve balanced fitness and family but unfortunately have neglected my friends. This coming year we’ll be learning how to juggle all of that along with parenthood.

An area I aim to improve in over the next year is blogging. My goal was to start off blogging quarterly. I was later advised it’s better to do it monthly or weekly and me agobié. I got overwhelmed and life happens and I crapped on my blogging goals. All of them. I blogged a miserable 2 times in the past year. I started two more posts that I never finished. The lesson learned, or reinforced, is that goals need to be realistic. I knew in the beginning that quarterly would be attainable but listened to some very well-intentioned marketing gurus and although their advice is solid, I couldn’t keep up. I seriously admire those who can blog on a regular, frequent basis with original, thought-provoking content.

Along those lines, another area I want to develop is finding my ideal marketing mix. I’ve dabbled in a little of everything over the past year from in-person networking to warm emails to social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest), and paid advertising. It’s been fun and I’ve made some great contacts exploring each of these avenues. Now I want to hone in and find my balance between what I like and what’s effective. There’s a great article by Capital Trans based on a translator’s survey about marketing efforts. In the end it’s to each their own so by this time next year I hope to have established my ideal mix.

I would love to hear from other freelancers and translators: What adjustments or “culture shocks” did you encounter when transitioning to become a full-time freelancer?