The Why and How of Setting Standards for Your Freelance Translation Business

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I recently heard someone refer to a freelancer's mindset as needing to be split in two parts: the entrepreneur and the freelancer. The entrepreneur tells the freelancer how to work. He/she actually runs the business. The freelancer is the one who does the actual work that is produced as a deliverable for a client. Both parts are needed to bring in the revenue and keep the business afloat.

By allowing yourself to separate these mindsets in your business, it becomes easier to realize that you should be treating your business the way a larger business might operate… with policies or standards set in place in order to keep things running smoothly.

It is essential to maintain a set of professional and personal standards with regard to your freelance business. Ed Gandia has an excellent podcast episode related to setting standards as a freelancer. Just as you set standards around the way you like to work and the type of work you do, you'll want to have some standards in mind when it comes to the clients you agree to take on.

You can set as many or as few standards as you wish. The number is really not important here. What is important is that your standards protect you as a freelancer from business practices you find to be less than ideal for your line of work and lifestyle. Here are some potential standards to consider setting for your freelance translation business.

  • Working hours

    Decide what hours you will work and what times of day or days of the week you will take off. Try to stick to these and accept client work that falls into these hours so that you can use your non-working hours to rest and recharge. The same goes for vacation. Set your vacation "rules" in advance so that you are not tempted to work when you should be resting your mind and getting in a little rest and relaxation.

  • Types of projects you will (and won't) accept

    You know that type of project you took on one too many times, and then you kicked yourself later for taking it? The one that didn't pay well or that left you drained and exhausted, having to turn down all the projects you'd rather be doing? That's the one you might want to consider setting a standard for. If you have certain projects you no longer wish to take on, set a standard in your business to refer that kind of work to a colleague who enjoys it.

And by the same token, set some standards for the work you do want to take on. This could be documents you translate that align with something you believe in, or projects you receive from an organization you truly admire. Of course, there will likely be exceptions to this standard, as it's nearly impossible to always have projects in the pipeline from organizations you strongly value. Impossible? No, of course not. But probably unlikely until you build up a strong set of regular clients you truly value.

  • Minimum rate requirements

This one may seem obvious, but it should be one of the top priorities on your list of standards. If you haven't already set the standard to only take on projects that meet your ideal minimum rates, it might be time to do that. Of course, just like any of these standards, you may need to make an exception from time to time. The key is to be aware of making the exception and to always try to return the standard for the majority of your work.

  • Rush jobs and fees

    I know some translators who simply do not take on rush jobs. If your lifestyle is such that rush jobs are something of the past, then it might be one of your standards to never take on a rush job. Or, if you're okay with taking on the occasional rush job, you could go ahead and set a rush fee for your freelance business and hold yourself to charging that fee every time, no matter how attractive the project that lands in your inbox. It's important to know these numbers before the request is made by a client so that you are prepared.

  • Payment terms

    Go ahead and decide what you find to be an acceptable amount of time for a client to settle an invoice. Your payment terms should be set before you take on a project, but they also shouldn't be different for every client. Yes, some clients may not budge when it comes to payment terms, but trying to get all your clients on the same page as far as when they pay you is key to maintaining cash flow. If you aren't happy with a client's payment terms, it might be time to have a conversation with them and be ready to move on if they are not willing to meet you in the middle.

  • Other qualifying methods for clients

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the types of clients they prefer to work with on a regular basis. Sit down and make a brief list of the the ways in which you qualify a client. If you find that a pattern comes up in this process, you may want to set a standard for your freelance business with regard to what makes a client ideal for you and vice versa. You should also determine what "disqualifies" a client from working with you. This is much easier than it sounds. Just stick to what you value as a business owner and freelancer, and remember that the goal is to have a long-term working relationship with your clients.


Once you have a list of business standards, review them from time to time in order to see how well you're sticking to them and whether you need to readjust any. As Ed puts it, "The purpose of your list of standards isn’t 100% compliance. The purpose is to have an objective measure for making good decisions."

The best we can do is to hope we take on clients by making good decisions and choosing them carefully. But the truth is, we cannot always control who reaches out to us with a new project or when we will have those inevitable periods of famine in our work. This is when you may make an exception to a standard you've set for your freelance business.

If you do make exceptions, at least take a moment to stop and recognize why you're making them. Is this a one-time exception, or is it becoming a habit? Does the standard still reflect the values you have in your business and what you want to get out of it? As long as you do so intentionally, you can feel confident in the fact that you won't make the exception your norm.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Translator or Interpreter

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Imposter Syndrome. Everyone has it at some point in their life and career. Even the most successful translators and interpreters experience imposter syndrome from time to time. It's simply a part of being human.

In case you're not already familiar with this term, imposter syndrome is the fear that we are not good enough at something we set out to do or that we are asked to do, coupled with a fear of being called out as a "fraud". Psychology Today notes, "Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have."

Whether it's a tricky translation job or an interpreting assignment that doesn't exactly fit into our typical wheelhouse of assignments, we all have challenging aspects of our work from time to time, as no two days (or assignments!) are the same. Our work is challenging. Heck, if it weren't, then anyone could do it, right? But we know that's not the case. It takes years of training, practice and professional development to become a successful and well established translator or interpreter.

And even knowing that we have these things under our belts, we still fall prey to that feeling of not being good enough at times. So how can we deal with imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head?

Accept that it's totally normal to doubt yourself at times.

Having Imposter Syndrome is not something that makes you any less of a professional. In fact, it's completely normal to feel like an imposter at some point in your career. Perhaps you want to add a new specialization to your service offerings or study a new language. Perhaps you simply want to market your services better to clients, but you're a bit skeptical about what you could say or do that would feel authentic and not come across as salesy.

Remembering that it's normal to feel like this from time to time is the first step in moving past those bouts of imposter syndrome. In fact, if you ever meet someone who doesn't admit to feeling less than adequate at some point in their career, you might want to start questioning if they are really someone you want to take advice from in the first place. Nobody's perfect, after all.

Choose to be proactive instead of inactive.

Try not to let having the occasional bout of Imposter Syndrome get the better of you. Instead, choose to be proactive. Write down why you feel like an "imposter", whether it has to do with your language skills, your specialization or something completely different. Then, write down what you believe will allow you to feel like less of an imposter, and more like someone who "belongs" or "walks the walk".

Instead of letting Imposter Syndrome take over, you now have the ability to tackle it head on. Keep learning, marketing, and translating or interpreting the hard stuff. Take the items you wrote down that you believe will make you feel like more of someone who "owns" their work and waves their translator/interpreter flag proudly. And continue to nurture those items while you continue your practice.

While recognizing the fact that you feel like an imposter is part of the battle in the first place, the other piece of this puzzle is to keep working and honing your skills as you confront the issues that make you feel like an imposter. The rest will follow!

My top tips for battling imposter syndrome as a translator or interpreter (in no particular order)...

  1. Sign up for more professional development in the area in which you often doubt yourself. This could be a semester-long course in a given area or specialization, or you could take a trip to a country where your target language is spoken in order to immerse yourself in the language on a daily basis. Continue to work while you do these things so that you can immediately apply what you're learning to your work.

  2. Ask a colleague to mentor you. If you're an ATA member, there is a great (and free!) mentoring program you can join. You might also consider paying a colleague to mentor you for a year. When you surround yourself with others who know more than you with regard to an area in which you feel lacking, you can only improve.

  3. Read! Yes, I know you probably read for work, but try to set aside time to review articles by others in your field, topics in your subject matter area(s), etc. The more information you consume related to an area in which you feel less than adequate, the more confidence you will gain.

  4. Make time to think. This is a big one. Don't just accept all the input or information you're consuming without also setting aside some time to produce your own output. It is important to give your brain a chance to think through the information and input you consume so that you can decide what is best for you going forward. This also helps you to keep a check on what you're learning and apply it to your life and work.

  5. Talk to others to discover ways they have found to better themselves in the area in which you feel like an imposter, and surround yourself with these people. Not only is it a good idea to place yourself in the company of others who already do the things you want to do, but it's the best way to learn. And you'll likely have something to offer them as well. Remember, input balanced with output!


In what areas do you feel like an imposter at times? How do you cope with this feeling and turn it around to improve yourself as a professional translator or interpreter?

Five Mindset Shifts Worth Making in Your Translation Business

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I talk to a lot of translators and interpreters in our industry. They are amazing colleagues, and the diversity is always so inspiring for me. But one thing we all tend to have in common is that we make excuses when it comes to the things we want to keep putting off in our businesses. What can we say? We're human! But why do we do this? I recently heard this explanation: our brains are wired to avoid the things that feel uncomfortable and to keep on doing what is most comfortable, even if it means we don't grow or improve in the process. But at what point does staying in our comfort zone result in stagnation? I had this discussion with a few translator friends recently, and the conclusion seems to be the same. Going outside of our comfort zone is totally worth it. The outcomes are often better than we expected, and once we've reached the other side, we realize that it wasn't actually all that hard. Most of the difficulty was created from the excuses we made!

These excuses we make for ourselves are not serving us in any way. In reality, we usually just need to make a mindset shift in order to stop making these excuses. We can easily switch these excuses to action items that are less painful by making them a habit--something we do daily or weekly. Here are five excuses I often hear from colleagues and my suggestions on mindset shifts that result in action items to help move the needle forward in our businesses.

1. Excuse: I'll start __________ (marketing, updating my website, etc.) when I'm less busy with client projects.

Action Item: I'll work on __________ (marketing, updating my website, etc.) one morning a week so that I can make progress in this area while still serving my clients and building revenue in my business.

2. Excuse: I'll sign up for that ___________ (webinar, course, conference, etc.) when I am making more money.

Action Item: I'll invest in my professional development now and work hard to pay for this ___________ (webinar, course, conference, etc.), because I know that it will allow me to sharpen my skills, make more money, etc.

3. Excuse: Even though I would prefer better clients, I don't have time to market my business, because I am so busy with the ones I have.

Action Item: I will spend 20 minutes a day marketing my business so that I can slowly replace the difficult-to-work-with or low-paying clients with better ones this year.

4. Excuse: There don't seem to be any direct clients in my area(s) of specialization. All of them prefer to work with large language services companies. So, I'll probably just work for agencies for the rest of my career, unless I change or add a specialization to my service offerings.

Action Item: I'll will brainstorm or talk to a colleague for 15 minutes a week to come up with some ideas of direct clients to whom I could market my translation services. And I will consider developing a second area of specialization that would allow me to market my services to more direct clients.

5. Excuse: I have to be in my email inbox at all times, because I might lose a project if I don't respond right away. (Side note: I had this mentality when I first started as a freelancer. It is not healthy! And it's not true if you have the right clients for you.)

Action Item: I will look at my email three times a day (once in the morning, once before lunch and once at the end of the day before I wrap things up for the evening). I will respond to all client requests at that time, and I will let my clients know what times I'll be in my inbox so that they know when to expect my replies. I will also look for more clients who respect these boundaries and do not expect me to always be available to them.

It's easy to make these and other excuses. I'm guilty of making excuses myself. We all do it in some area of our lives and businesses! It's human nature to take the more comfortable route if given the option. But we will only grow or improve when we decide to take that stroll outside our comfort zone.

What kind of excuses do you make in your business? What mindset shifts can you make to help you overcome the excuses and start taking action?

Five Productivity Hacks for Freelance Translators and Interpreters

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At this time of year, it seems that everyone is looking to better themselves in some way. Some people make resolutions, and some make a list of goals they want to achieve over the course of the year. I tend to fall into the latter category, but either way, I know that there is no way I can come close to achieving my goals if I don't take into account how I spend my days, i.e. my time.

Here is a short list of productivity hacks I have found useful in my freelance business. I hope that you, too, will find them helpful, and I'd love to hear about your own productivity hacks in the comments at the end of this post.

1. Check your email only two or three times a day maximum (!).

This is still something I am working on myself. But I have found that I am so much more productive when I set limits on how often I check my email. Not only is it better to spend more time on the tasks that actually make money in your business, but sometimes just checking our email can lead us down one rabbit hole after another that suck our time and keep us from giving more attention to the tasks that actually move the needle forward in our businesses.

My own plan for 2019 is to check my email three times each day: once first thing in the morning, since I have clients in Europe, once right before lunch and once at the end of the day before calling it quits. With so many commitments, I have found that I can spend endless amounts of time just responding to requests and producing information for others instead of tackling my own tasks. I'm not complaining by any means, but it is a reality I've become more aware of over the past year.

2. Batch similar tasks/projects/commitments.

If you have read articles or books about productivity, you've probably heard this one (and maybe some others on the list) before. There are a lot of studies that show the amount of time wasted when having to switch tasks is much higher than most of us even realize. Whether we are interrupted by notifications, emails, daily household occurrences, or even when shifting from one task to another, our minds do not immediately jump into the new task right away. These transition periods between tasks can truly add up if we are not cognizant of them. By batching similar tasks or projects on a given day or morning/afternoon, we allow ourselves to focus on one thing at a time, thereby making sure we finish it well before moving on to the next task or project.

For example, I try my best to schedule all calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes it doesn't work out due to scheduling conflicts, but it's something I strive to do as often as possible. I also work on blog posts and content creation the same day each week. This way, I know that when Wednesday comes, I have to write a blog post for the following month or an email to subscribers for the following Friday. Speaking of Fridays… this is the day I do all financial tasks: paying bills and those who work for me, invoicing clients, balancing the books and submitting payroll. If it helps, name the days of the week when you are going to batch certain tasks. I personally love "Finance Fridays" for the hour or so I spend on knocking out those money-related tasks.

3. Turn off all notifications during your scheduled work time.

I'll admit that this is another hard one for me. I really like to make myself available to others as much as possible. This can be both a good and a bad thing at times. I'm typically a very responsive person, but I realize that other people don't necessarily need (or expect!) to hear from me right away. If something is not urgent, then I can probably respond later in the day when I am answering my emails. I love to clean out my emails every single day, and admittedly, having pending emails gives me a bit of stress. The same goes for text messages or other requests. But slowly, I'm finding ways to set more boundaries, and turning off notifications has been a game changer.

I silence my cell phone all day, every day. There are only a few people who can reach me during the day, if absolutely necessary, when I'm working on an important task. If you want to give this a try, go ahead and set your phone to "do not disturb" mode each day during your working hours. Let others know that you'll be more than happy to respond to them once you're finished working for the day, just as you might do if you worked in a traditional office setting and answered to a boss or supervisor.

4. Set a timer for yourself for every type of task, and commit to getting that task done in that amount of time.

Again, this is not a new idea. You'll hear it again and again if you read about productivity and time management. But it is definitely another game changer in my mind, especially for those of us who are perfectionists. Make sure you turn off all distractions when you press "start" on the timer, and do your best to try to beat the clock. Some people like to reward themselves if they can finish a task before the timer goes off. Whatever works for you, do that.

5. Change your scenery from time to time (at least once a week), and especially for those "eat the frog" tasks!

I'm someone who doesn't mind a little bit of background noise while I work. In fact, I often welcome a bit of music or soft noise. It helps me to focus, but I realize this may not work for everyone. Whether you need to hear some noise or you prefer complete silence, changing your workspace or scenery at least once a week can be a really welcome change. You might even notice that you are more productive on the days when you choose to work at a local library or neighborhood coffee shop for a few hours.

Again, try to set a timer for tasks, batch similar items on that day and turn off notifications. All of these things, plus the change of environment could really help you to knock out a few items you've been putting off. If you have one of those "eat the frog" tasks (something tedious or just really unappealing) to do, it might be good to save it for your date with new surroundings so you can tackle it.

Whatever you choose to do to boost your productivity this year, make a mental note of what works best for you and try to be consistent with it. It isn't helpful to try something for a day before you write it off. Try to give a few of these tips a go, and seek out a few more if you are someone who has trouble focusing or avoiding distractions. And don't forget to share your own favorite productivity hacks with me below in the comments!

The Free Project Management Tool You Need for Your Translation or Interpreting Business

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Whether you are a freelancer or a small business owner, you always want to make sure you have systems in place that run efficiently in your business. When your systems work well, you have more time to focus on what you do best, and this means more time for billable hours, too. One of the most essential systems in running a translation or interpreting business is the one in which you manage all of your tasks and projects. I'm not talking only about client projects, but also those projects that don't necessarily bring in any revenue, like invoicing, planning a marketing strategy, preparing social media posts, writing blog posts, reaching out to prospective clients, planning days, you name it.

I first presented about this free tool at the American Translators Association annual conference in New Orleans (October 2018), and those who attended my session were very excited to learn about it. The audience was made up of a range of professionals, from freelancers to agency owners and committee volunteers to chapter presidents. I was blown away by the number of people who thanked me for suggesting this tool to them. Some of them even downloaded the Asana app right after the session!

Introducing… Asana.

Before I made the switch to Asana, I was using a few different tools to keep everything organized in my business. It didn't seem like a complicated system at the time. It did the job, but I didn't realize how much more organized we could be by keeping everything all in one place until we found Asana. I'd tried several of the project management tools that are meant for T&I businesses, but I found that none of them can do all that we need them to do. And as I don't have the budget to create a custom project management system at this time, I have found Asana to be a truly dynamic and easy-to-use tool both for myself and for my team. I also use Asana to organize my own freelance and volunteer projects. It's so dynamic!

And do you want to know the absolute best part?! It is free. That's right. I don't pay a dime to use it and I can add as many people as I would like to a project within my organization. It is free for them, too! Even if you are a solopreneur and have no plans to hire anyone for your business, this project management tool will change the way you do business for the better. It will keep you organized and planning things from start to finish. It will help you with your workflow and really give you the full picture when it comes to long-term goals and planning.

Here's a view of my Dashboard when I first open Asana in my web browser.

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All of your projects are organized however you like, but what I love is that you can color code them and move them around however you like whenever you need. Besides the Dashboard view, you can easily access all of your projects in the left-hand sidebar by scrolling down. Here's an example of how I organize my blog posts for the blog you're reading right now!

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We use Asana to keep track of our client projects, as well as inquiries we get from prospective clients who might not yet be ready to hire us for a project.

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You can set up a template for the projects you tend to have the same steps for over and over. We've done this with our prospective client and current client pipelines (like the one you see above), and it couldn't be easier. No reinventing the wheel for each inquiry you receive!

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Asana also integrates with so many programs that we already use to keep files organized, like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. We are able to email tasks to ourselves that will show up in Asana, use the app on our smartphones to add tasks and respond to items in the conversations feature, and so much more. And I just found out that I can also turn handwritten notes into tasks and get Siri to add tasks for me on my iPhone. What?!

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I've already told you that we organize the projects we have to do as teams, but I also have projects for which I am the only "team member" (things like administrative tasks, reminders about making tax payments, completing payroll, etc.). Here is a screenshot of a few tasks that would only show up in my own administrative projects view. I'm able to set deadlines and assign them to myself so that I receive a reminder notification on the day they're due.

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If you're someone who likes to be able to see a full calendar view of your tasks (as well as those of anyone you may add to your projects), you can switch to the Calendar View very easily.

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Or you can see everything in a List view, if you prefer.

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There is also an Asana app for Smartphone users, so I can access projects and files from my phone if I'm traveling, running errands or just out of the office. And I can even add tasks to projects straight from my email that will show up in this tool whenever I want.

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Now, I'll be honest and tell you that Asana isn't the most intuitive program to use at first. But! If you stick with it, you will find that it is worth learning how to use it properly. I personally didn't have a lot of time to learn how to use the tool through trial and error, so I did a little research and found an online course that breaks down exactly how to set up your Asana account for your business. This class is the best. I was able to set up my Asana account to be the workhorse for my business. My project managers are also in love with Asana now. And no, that's not an exaggeration.

If you are interested in setting up an organizational system like this for yourself and/or for a team you work with in your T&I business (even if it's just for you and your accountant!), I highly recommend you check out Megan Minns' course Asana HQ. Truly, it is worth taking the course so that you can see the full capacity of Asana and all of its free features. I learned so many things about how to use Asana that I would have had no idea about had it not been for this course. Megan gives tips and tricks that you likely wouldn't be able to figure out just from signing up with a free account and tinkering around in the program.

If you're not sure how Asana can work for you, I would suggest just watching this video and seeing if this type of organizational system would help you in your business. Even if you are a freelancer who usually works as a solopreneur, using Asana to get your operations and client management down pat will make you so much more efficient. Asana can get your processes and workflows so organized, you'll feel like a new person. Again, not an exaggeration. Besides, you may not work alone forever, and if you have everything set up this way already, it will be easy to bring on someone else in the future!

(I have no affiliation with Asana, and I use the free version! So, this is an honest review. I love it that much.)