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!

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.