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!

How to Leverage Testimonials When Marketing Your T&I Business

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Testimonials are powerful. There's no denying that. But I keep hearing from translators and interpreters that they feel uncomfortable asking their clients for testimonials. "Do you really think they will give me one? Am I overthinking this?" My response to these questions: "Yes and yes."

We all purchase services or products and then receive messages to leave a review. How is that different from asking a client for a testimonial? Why do we feel uncomfortable asking our clients to give us a few words of praise? I can only surmise that part of this discomfort stems from the nature of the work we do. We like to stay behind the scenes for the most part. But when it comes to growing our T&I businesses, we have to step up to the plate and make the "ask." 

Your potential clients, just like you, want to make sure they are purchasing a sound product or service. Who wouldn't? That's just one of the many reasons why providing client testimonials is an effective way to market your T&I business. But you have to be smart about how you request and use testimonials so that one client's words can impact the decision making of another.

Here are my top tips for leveraging testimonials for your T&I business.

● Use client testimonials and avoid simply requesting them from colleagues.

Show how you helped a client solve a problem they had. This is how other potential clients will be able to connect with such a testimonial. They want to know what you are capable of doing for them! If you simply share testimonials your colleagues write for you, then you're not really showing those who pay for your services anything other than what your peers think. And while peer support is important in other aspects of your business, the last thing you want is for a potential customer to think you've padded your testimonials with kind words from well-meaning friends.

● Share a variety of testimonials (shoot for three to five!).

Your client testimonials should be varied, i.e. they shouldn't all say the same thing. And they should definitely go into more detail than simply "She always delivers on time!" Well, gosh, I hope so. While this may be a positive aspect of working with you, it's not going to set you apart from others in your language pair or specialization. Make sure that your testimonials have some substance to them and that they cover a range of positive experiences a client can expect if they choose to hire you.

● Dedicate a very clear space for client testimonials on your website.

You can choose to share one on every page or dedicate an entire page of your website to client testimonials. If you choose the latter, be sure to create a clear heading in your navigation menu. Don't make it hard for clients to find testimonials about your work!

● Translate them into your target language only if your clients are contacting you in that language to begin with.

I get asked this question fairly often. And my answer is always the same. It doesn't make sense to translate anything on your website unless your ideal clients are contacting you in that language from the start. Put your testimonials in the language your ideal clients speak and use when they enter search terms online.

● Ask for them!

This may be the one that so many people avoid. The "ask." The worst a client might
tell you is that you haven't worked with them long enough for them to give you a solid testimonial, or they don't have time at the moment. In both of these scenarios, all you have to do is wait, work a little more for them on assignments and ask again. Is that really so bad? I didn't think so. ;)

Write to your top five clients today, and ask them to write a testimonial for you. If they don't have time, offer to write one for them to approve. A lot of clients actually prefer this, and some may even ask you to do this in response to your request!
 

● Make sure your testimonials are brief and to the point.

Whatever you do, don't fill up your testimonials page with long-winded praise. Try to stick to around three sentences per testimonial. Anything longer than this means you run the risk of someone bypassing the testimonial completely.

● Be clear with clients about what you plan to do with their testimonials.

Make sure that your clients understand where you will be using their name and testimonial. Try to use these on your website and any online profiles you use for business that allow for this type of content, like LinkedIn.

For more tips on how to use LinkedIn for your T&I business, check out Seven Ways to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile and Gain More Leads.

● Offer to give testimonials to others as a way to pay it forward.

I'm not saying to offer a testimonial exchange to your clients! Although, that could be interesting. ;) Instead, make some time once a month to do others the favor of writing a testimonial for them. Other professionals appreciate the praise, too. Consider writing testimonials for your accountant, your bookkeeper, instructors or trainers you've learned from in the past, other translators or editors you actually hire/pay for work, etc. Just remember to be careful these don't come off as friends doing each other the favor of padding each other's testimonials page on a website!

Make it a point to ask for a testimonial once a month. That's an easy business goal to set, no? And don't feel badly about asking for testimonials. It's a very common practice, and most people are more than happy to do it! Just make sure you also let them know by when you need the testimonial, as a lot of people don't see this type of thing as a priority and they may forget, or your request may get lost in their inbox.

Use testimonials wherever you can, even if it is in the body of an email response. If a potential client reaches out to you, and something they mention reminds you of a testimonial you received, it's not awkward to share something like, "Oh, you have this issue, too? Here's what another client said about the service I provided to them when they were in the same situation." Slip a solid testimonial in where you can, and make sure it feels natural to do so. It's not in poor taste to do some self promotion like this. After all, you have a business to run!

If you found this post useful, you may also like How to Use Referrals to Grow Your Client List.

Another Argument for Making the Switch from Generalist to Niche Translator

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This topic is nothing new. But at the same time, I keep coming across translators who resist making the shift to a niche market or specialization. I understand. I did the same thing for a while when I first started out as a translator. You want to take just about anything that a client will send your way, because it helps your bottom line while you gain experience. Soon enough, though, you'll reach a point when the generalist translator life doesn't feel so pleasant. Why? Because many times, these general jobs are one-offs. Clients come to you, ask you to complete a task, you do, and then you never hear from them again. If you're lucky, you'll have a few clients who send semi-regular work in general areas, but none of these allow you to be really specialized in any one area or serve any one market really, really well.

Then issue becomes, how do we know when to stop taking all of those general jobs and make the shift from generalist to niche? I have some thoughts on this, and I've broken them down into three questions to ask yourself.

Question 1: Who is your ideal client?

This may be the hardest question you'll have to ask yourself if you're still marking yourself as a generalist. That's why it's first on the list!

If you don't know who your ideal client is, then how can you possibly market your services effectively to anyone? I recently had my T&I Website Blueprint Course students create Ideal Client Profiles before they even started to work on writing new web copy or designing their websites. Why is this vital to get right? Because, quite frankly, you need to know who you're talking to if you're going to market to them effectively.

If you tell me that you don't need to know who your ideal client is to market your services well, then I would ask, "Then, who are you marketing to in the generalist market?" I would be willing to bet that the answer does not come all that easily. If you cannot clearly explain who you work with or the work you do, then you are probably trying to appeal to too large of an audience. And this can be both confusing to clients and even off-putting. After all, no one is truly a jack of all trades.

When someone outside our industry asks you who your clients are, what do you tell them? Please don't say "Anyone who needs a translation in (insert your language pair)." PLEASE. When you say things like this, you make your job sound a) easy and b) like you are willing to take any job that is sent your way. This type of response, while maybe fine for you, doesn't exactly make the rest of your colleagues look very good. Successful professional translators spend years honing their craft in specific fields for a reason.

For more on this topic, check out How to Determine and Attract Your Ideal Client and How to Create an Ideal Client Profile to Market Your T&I Services.

Question 2: Do you want to raise your rates over time/in the future?

If so, then you cannot continue to be a generalist forever. You could try, but can you imagine how wide the net you cast will have to be? If you narrow down your niche, you can focus on a market that pays well and that needs solid translators like you.

In addition, you can market to clients who have repeat work. Let go of those one-off projects that come and go, leaving you in a feast or famine state. Sure, you can tell me, "But I like the general projects, and I get them frequently." Well, yes, we all get these requests. And they're fine "filler" projects for the times that we aren't busy, but I would argue that they aren't exactly sustainable for the long term. You simply cannot project where a general market will go. But with a niche market, you have a better chance of watching market trends and making long-term projections.

Take my specialization, for example. I am a medical and life sciences translator. I love my niche, and not just because of the subject matter. I also really like knowing that clinical trials last for years (years!), so I will undoubtedly have ongoing work for at least a year when I take on a new client that is a Clinical Research Organization (CRO) or whose client is one. This kind of peace of mind is very valuable to me. I have worked on some trials for a minimum of three years for the same drug. This is the kind of work that allows me to be very specialized and to learn subject matter well so that I can translate at a faster rate.

For more thoughts about rates and pricing, check out How to Stop Competing on Price As a Translator or Interpreter.

Question 3: If you constantly take on general work, how can you improve in any one area?

Remember what I tell my blog readers and students all the time: When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Don't try to take on all the projects. Be selective, and keep an open mindset. More projects will come your way in that niche area if you take the time to nurture your client relationships!

For more ideas on ways to nurture client relationships, check out More is Not Better When it Comes to Your T&I Client List.

I’ll leave you with an example from one of my T&I Website Blueprint Course students. She started the course with a very firm belief that she was a generalist. And by the time she finished working on her Ideal Client Profiles (she has two types), she realized, "Wait! I have two solid specializations, and they are both in high demand!" YES. Now, when she markets her services, she knows exactly who she's talking to and how to appeal to them.

Take the time to discover your niche areas, give them some attention and fight the urge to take on every project that is sent your way. Even within your niche area, you may find that there are certain in-demand projects you aren't willing to take on. Here's an example from my own work. I don't take on projects from my medical and life sciences clients that contain large amounts of handwritten text. I can't stand these projects. I am so slow at translating them. And I simply cannot read some of the handwriting well unless it's pretty close to flawless. If you've ever seen a doctor's handwriting, you know that this is often not the case! So, even though I know I can charge more for these types of jobs, I turn them down. Why? Because I don't need to please everyone. I can be selective, and it's proven to be very beneficial to me. I refer a colleague who handles these jobs well, and I can take on more of the work I'm good at and work at a relatively fast pace. The efficiency in my work alone is a testament to earning better money by working this way.

Okay, now you tell me… what are your thoughts on remaining a generalist vs. niching down?

How to Create Good Marketing Habits for Your Translation or Interpreting Business

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I recently starting listening to more audiobooks to give my eyes a rest after long workdays and to keep my mind active when tidying up the house or while I'm out for a run. One book that has me thinking a lot lately is Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. There are so many "golden nuggets" of wisdom in this book, but there is one quote that really stood out to me.


“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

We all have the best intentions, Clear explains in his book. Many of us also love to set goals for ourselves and for our businesses (I'm raising my hand!). But if we don't also set ourselves up for success by building good habits and systems, then how can we expect to reach these goals? If we were to reach them, it would certainly take much longer without good habits.

He suggests taking small actions so that we can make our big goals more doable and feel like less of a chore. Marketing in a consistent way is the perfect place to start building good habits in our businesses. But it can be overwhelming. That's why, a lot of times, we end up procrastinating instead. Or we spend more time than we'd like to admit not marketing our businesses only to realize that we have made little progress, or worse, we've earned less income than a previous year.

Of course, we know that if we don't market our businesses in some way and on an ongoing basis, then we run the risk of experiencing more times of famine than feast in the future. Sure, our clients might find us. Referrals and a solid web presence make that possible. But we cannot assume that relying on referrals or web traffic will give us a better result next year than they did this year. We can, however, assume that if we market our businesses effectively and consistently, then it is likely we'll have a result to show for it by the end of the year.

Taking small, manageable actions every day to market our businesses, is what will get us the traction and the results we seek. I have heard Ed Gandia, a business strategist and the host of the High-Income Business Writing Podcast, say more than once that even if we have a steady stream of client work, we should be actively and consistently marketing our freelance businesses. He suggests sending several warm emails every week, doing it first thing in the morning and being more concerned about the action of actually sending the emails than the responses we get from them. Because, in the end, the more we put ourselves out there, the higher our chances are of gaining new clients and building more solid business relationships. Seems pretty logical, right?

In addition to Ed's approach, I really like James Clear's suggestion of setting up a cue that triggers the action. The repeated action will, over time, form a good habit that allows you to achieve the results you want in your business. Of course, the opposite is also true. If we have cues that trigger an action that feeds a poor habit, then we will continue to get a poor result. For example, say our cue is delivering a project to a client. This cue then triggers the action of opening up a social media application because we have some time in between projects. We run the risk of forming a poor habit if we are using the social media application only to find ourselves falling down a rabbit hole of tweets, messages and shares. Instead, it would be more effective to use the time spent on the application to engage with clients and actively market our businesses.

Atomic Habits also made me realize all the cues and triggers we experience on a daily basis and what it could mean if we started to consciously and intentionally shape them. For example, a cue to start sending more of the warm emails Ed suggests could be as simple as this. Every morning when you make your coffee and sit down at your desk, open your computer and your email. You don't answer a single inbound message until you've sent a warm email to a prospective client. This allows you to move on with your day and know that you've already handled a marketing task before you even have the chance to get lost in a sea of emails.

Here's one of my own suggestions I'd like you to consider. Commit to spending 20 minutes a day on marketing your business to your clients. Whether that's 10 minutes of engaging on social media each morning and another 10 minutes spent crafting warm emails to potential clients (or following up with those who you've met at networking events, conferences, etc.), the effect of this small habit will certainly add up over time. Let's say you work eight hours a day, five days a week. By committing to 20 minutes a day, that still leaves you 460 minutes every day to handle the rest of your work. How's that for some perspective?

If you spent 20 minutes a day the way I just described, 5 days a week for 48 weeks out of the year, you would essentially engage with clients on social media for 2,400 valuable minutes and send 240 warm emails to prospective clients. I'd be shocked if you told me that this habit yielded few results. In addition to warm emails or engaging with clients on social media, you could use good habits with cues and triggers to sit down and write a blog post or an article to share on LinkedIn over the course of a week. The actual marketing you do depends on your audience, but you get the picture.

I realize this all sounds like logical, common-sense advice, and perhaps as though we just need a little willpower to make these things work. But I do believe it's more than simple willpower. After all, if it were easy, we wouldn't have people writing books on habits and systems. Many of us choose not to market our businesses for fear of rejection. Or because we are overwhelmed at the thought of marketing. Or because we simply don't know where to start. And instead of taking action in spite of rejection, or finding ways to reduce the overwhelm, or learning ways to market our businesses effectively, we often find ourselves simply using these issues as obstacles. We make excuses. These are obstacles that we have essentially created for ourselves. We all do this in some area of our businesses. So, let's commit to changing that by rising to the level of a few newfound habits and systems to achieve the results we want to see in our businesses.

How to Provide Added Value to Your T&I Clients and Build Lasting Relationships

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If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I talk about this topic a lot. And whenever I come across anyone who is resistant to the idea of providing extra value to clients beyond that of the services we already provide as translators/ interpreters, I seem to get the same response. They usually say something along the lines of, "I don't know what kind of value my clients might want." And typically, my answer is, "You know more than you think!"

There are a lot of ways to offer value to your clients beyond the T&I services you already provide. And for some of us who work in language pairs that can have a somewhat saturated market, this is essential! We have to stand out. And to anyone who says, "I don't need to provide any more value than the services I already offer," to that I ask, "Then, what makes you different than any other translator/interpreter who provides the same service?" I know that seems a bit harsh. But if we don't start thinking about the value we provide, both as part of the services we provide and in addition to them, then we may very quickly feel like the market is taking over and we're floundering to raise our rates or find better clients. Everyone is selling something these days. So, it's important to be seen as different. Yes, this is one of those cases in which being different is a good thing!

Of course the translations and interpretations we provide to our clients are incredibly valuable. But they are often thought of as a service that is requested, completed and billed. End of discussion. So, how do we provide even better value so that our clients consider us an integral part of their larger team? How do we keep them coming back to us time and again? Surely, a large part of being valued is due to the services we provide. But it's never just about that. After all, if it were just about the service, our clients would all be shopping around for the least expensive option, right? Who wouldn't be?! So, there has to be something more. By providing more value than other options (i.e. other translators/interpreters in your language pair(s) and area(s) of specialization), we also give our clients more reason to stick with us for the long term.

By building relationships with our clients, we learn how to provide them even more value. We learn how we can serve them best. We learn what their challenges are and how we can help to relieve some of their stresses and challenges. But it doesn't happen overnight. There are plenty of ways to serve our clients in ways other than translation/interpreting that make us even more valuable in their eyes. If you are struggling to come up with some ideas, my best advice is to listen to your clients. Talk to them. Get to know them better so that you can understand the obstacles they face and the goals they have. Then, figure out how you can help them to overcome those obstacles and reach those goals.

When trying to think of additional ways to provide value, first consider your strengths, both as a professional, and in general. 

● Are you a great socializer/connector? Do you know a lot of people and can you connect your clients to others who could help them along in their business/goals? This is valuable.

● Are you an amazing researcher? What can you research or provide that shows even further value to your clients over another translator/interpreter who may not have this superpower? This is valuable.

● Are you a great writer? Can you write for the industry(ies) in which you provide your services so that you can both show your expertise and provide value in another related capacity? This is valuable.

● Are you a wonderful speaker? Could you start speaking at events and conferences that are related to your area(s) of expertise? Not only can you provide knowledge and value to others, but you will soon make even more connections that can open more doors for you! This is valuable.

Notice that none of these suggestions above have anything to do with making a hard sell. That's really not the point here. Providing added value is what allows others to like, know and trust you. From there, people will want to do business with you!

Whatever you do choose to do to provide more value, own it! Don't be shy. Tell people about it. Others will want to help you by connecting you to those they know and who could use your services or gain from the value you are sharing. Here are some ways to spread the word about your added value that will allow you to also shine as an expert translator/interpreter.

● Write a blog post or an article for LinkedIn and send it to your clients' inboxes. Try to do this regularly and watch how much you can engage your target audience.

● Think of what challenges your clients face and try to come up with some clever solutions. Since you know the industries for which you work, something like a guide or tip sheet that could be helpful to your clients in some way is an idea that comes to mind.

● Offer some extras here and there to show that you think more deeply about your clients' projects than just shooting back a translated text. I don't suggest you work for free, but sometimes it's the small and unexpected things we do that people notice the most.

The more you think about the added value you can provide to your clients, the more you will be able to keep their best interests in mind. Your clients will appreciate you even more than they already do. The possibilities here are endless. If you always try to come from a place of serving your clients, the rest will fall into place. You don't have to be salesperson of the year. You just have to think outside the box.