4 Ways to Find a Mentor for Your Freelance Translation Business

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Mentors are the people we look to when we need advice, guidance or just a sounding board for our ideas and goals. They tend to be people we look up to, because they've accomplished something we feel to be noteworthy. 

It can be hard to find the right mentor in any given profession, but I think this can be especially true for freelance translators. For one thing, we all have different specializations and language pairs, not to mention the fact that everyone is in a unique stage of business at any given time. Encountering someone who works in the same language pair(s), specialization(s) and is in the same (or has been through the same) stage of business as you is a tough combination. 

This is why it's important to be flexible and take your time about finding the right person who can mentor you. You won't always someone who checks off every box. So, consider the option of having a small pool of mentors you can count on.

So, how do you find a freelance translation mentor who is the right fit for you?

Here are several ideas to get started. And if you have some tips of your own, please feel free to share them at the end of this post!

1. Join an association of professional translators.

Professional associations may seem the most obvious place to find a potential mentor for your translation business. Quite simply, you'll be exposed to a larger pool of people who do what you do or at least work in the same language pair(s) and/or specialization(s) as you. But it's not enough to simply join a professional association. You have to get involved and put in the time to get to know others.

Volunteer for the association in a capacity that fits your level of comfort and area of expertise. Take time to talk to colleagues to learn about their experiences as well. Whether or not you ask someone to be your mentor in a more formal capacity, you can still learn an immense amount from colleagues. So, don't put pressure on yourself to give such a mentorship a title. As the sage advice goes, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

If you want to find an association that has its own mentoring program, be sure to do some research about the eligibility criteria for mentees first. The American Translators Association has an excellent Mentoring Program, which is open to all members (regardless of country of residence). If it's important to you to have in-person meetings with your mentor, ask to be paired with someone in your geographical region, or seek a local association near you that also has a mentoring program.

2. Talk to peers and ask those you feel comfortable with for ideas and advice.

Peers are some of the best mentors available to us. Not only do they understand the day in and day out of what we do as translators, but many of our peers have knowledge about specific topics, areas of specialization or business strategies that they've found to be quite useful in their own businesses. This type of practical experience is truly valuable to learn from others. If you find yourself in a certain stage of your business and you think it's time to move into the next stage, talk to peers who have made this transition and ask their advice.

3. Put out a "mentor request" online to see if anyone fits the bill and is willing to mentor you.

If others don't know how they can help you, they probably won't. Be open and honest about what you'd like to learn or improve upon, and lay out expectations ahead of time. Most translators are happy to help their colleagues by imparting wisdom from their own experiences. So, make sure you tap all your channels to find the person or people who could best answer your questions and help you move forward.

You can also join Facebook groups related to freelance translation. If someone in the group seems knowledgeable about something you'd like to learn or accomplish in your business,  send them a message. Let them know that you admire their work and professionalism. Remember that this process might take time, as you need to evoke trust in the person you'd like to have mentor you. You can use this same approach with translators you follow on LinkedIn or Twitter.

4. Request a referral from peers.

Ask others in your language pair or specialization if they know anyone who might be a good fit for you. Let your peers know what you're looking for in a mentor, and ask them if they can refer you to their contacts. Remember to thank the person who referred you by sending them a kind note or returning the favor in some way. 

If there is someone you feel might be a good fit for you in terms of mentoring, offer to pay them for their time. This way, they will not feel like you approached them out of nowhere, requesting their time for nothing in return. Yes, I know mentorships are usually unpaid, but don't forget that mentors often have to stop doing paid work to answer questions from a mentee. So, it's not unheard of to pay someone for their advice. If paying a mentor is not feasible, then the professional association with the free mentoring program, like ATA's, is an excellent solution.

Final Tips for Mentees

Once you have a mentor, keep in mind that mentoring is a two-way street. It should be beneficial for both the mentee and the mentor. If you plan to take up another professional's time with your questions and concerns, be prepared with your questions ahead of time and get to the point quickly. Thank them for their time and try not to extend your meeting past the scheduled time out of respect. Make sure you follow through with any homework or tasks your mentor requests of you. If your mentor doesn't feel like you are listening to their advice, they may not wish to continue the mentor/mentee relationship. 

For more tips on this topic, check out Speaking of Translation's recent episode, How to Learn from Colleagues. It was full of helpful ideas!

Have you ever sought a mentor for your freelance translation business? What tips do you have?

Three Ways to Follow Up with Clients on Overdue Payments

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Overdue payments can put a real damper on cash flow in a freelancer's business, especially if they happen often.

While it is the freelancer's responsibility to invoice for their assignments, it is also (I suppose, unfortunately) their responsibility to make sure clients are following through with the agreed upon terms of a contract.

No business is sustainable without proper cash flow, so it's vital that clients understand you mean business (no pun intended!) when it comes to paying on time.

Here are three ways you can follow up with clients on overdue payments and avoid the feeling of awkwardness that can sometimes come with these types of issues. Because let's face it... no one likes to be told they owe money. So, let's make it a smooth and less confrontational process if we can!

1. Send a three-day payment reminder.

I got this idea from the CRM tool I use, and it's simple, but genius. You can automate such messages to go out to clients three days before their payment is due. Most clients will really appreciate the reminder, because they tend to be more concerned with the deliverable you sent them than your invoice. Such a reminder can be seen as both considerate and professional. Of course, make sure to turn off the automation if your client has paid their invoice early!

Take advantage of this three-day reminder check-in to see how the client is doing, how they liked your work and if they need any further help on the project you delivered or a new project. You won't be seen as a pest, I promise!

2. Offer to let clients pay you with a credit card or another form of online payment.

This might not seem like a way to "follow up," but when you offer a client an easy way to
pay their balance and avoid any kind of late fee, they will usually take you up on it. This
offers the client something to make the task of paying you easier… a win for both of you!

These days, many U.S. clients still pay their invoices with checks. But more and more (especially in other parts of the world), there is a clear shift toward using online payment methods. Take some time to research a variety of tools, including direct deposit, Stripe, PayPal, Venmo, Transferwise, etc. so you can get paid online quickly.

This way, when a client's payment is overdue, you can write them a kind email pointing it out and letting them know about the option to click on a link or button to pay their balance right away and avoid a late fee. And if you're not charging (and enforcing) late payment fees, you should be!

For a detailed look at international payment methods, you might want to give the Speaking of Translation episode by Eve Bodeux and Corinne McKay on International Payment Methods for Translators a listen.

3. Request 50% of your payment before you begin the project.

Again, this might not seem like a way to "follow up," but think of it more as being proactive rather than reactive.

If you require a client to pay you 50% of the total fee up front, then you don't have to worry about chasing them down for the full amount later. Instead, let them know when you deliver the project that the other 50% is due upon receipt. Just the fact that you are delivering your project with the invoice tells you that 1) they received the invoice (I know, some clients don't even acknowledge receipt!) and 2) it's time for them to pay their balance. Most clients will do so right away. If a client doesn't pay the balance on time, offer them a 10-day grace period and follow up again with a message along the lines of number 2 above.

If you feel uncomfortable about requesting 50% of your total payment before starting a project, remember that a lot of professions do this regularly. In fact, many creative professionals do not release the deliverables until the client's balance is paid!

For whatever reason, it seems that we are one profession that tends not to request payment in two parts. It could be due to the fact that agencies do not pay translators this way, but if you are working with a lot of direct clients, it makes sense to give this a try. Don't worry that you might scare off a client by asking for a deposit. Good clients will accept your terms, because they know you're the right fit for their project.

Not getting paid for a job you worked hard on can put a real dent in your business income, not to mention put a sour taste in your mouth when it comes to taking on new clients who have never paid you before. But don't let that deter you from putting some processes in place to get paid on time (or early!) so that you can keep the cash in your business flowing smoothly.

For more on this topic, check out my Five Ways to Ensure Clients Pay on Time and Corinne McKay's Five Ways to Minimize the Risk of Not Getting Paid.

Five Ways to Promote Your Freelance Business During Slower Months

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The slower work months can feel a bit miserable in the life of a freelancer. The lulls can seem never-ending. Will the work ever come again? Will I be able to pay my bills in the coming months?

Hopefully you aren't too deeply entrenched in these concerns, but if you are, then this particular post might give you some ideas to get the ball rolling again. Even if you don't have these specific concerns, experiencing slower months in your business is bound to happen at some point.

I'd argue that the slower times are some of the best to take care of the biggest marketing projects that can make an impact in your business.

Today we're going to tackle five ways to promote your freelance business during slower months.

  1. Reach out to previous clients you enjoyed working with and let them know about your upcoming availability.

You don't have to let anyone know that you don't currently have work in the pipeline. Instead, be strategic about the way you let clients know that you're available for work they might have for you. One good way to do this is to write something like this:

"Dear [insert the name of your client],

I hope all is well since the last time we spoke. I wanted to let you know that I just finished working on a large project and I have some upcoming availability. I'm filling in my calendar for the rest of the month and thought I'd send you a note in case you have any projects you'd like me to make time for."

By tapping into your current client base first when the work isn't steadily trickling in, you pick the low-hanging fruit. Remember, it's easier to market to existing clients since you've already converted them into paying customers.

2. Update your website.

This might seem like a no-brainer to some. What better time to work on your website than when you don't have any client projects to handle? But so many freelance translators put off their website updates for so long that their sites start to become truly outdated.

The next time work is slow, do a website audit! Look at every page of your site and decide what should stay, what should change and mark your calendar for exactly when you're going to make these changes happen.

For a few website-related tips, check out How to Use Your Website to Build Trust with Your T&I Clients and 13 Must-Know Tips to Nailing Your T&I Website and Converting Leads into Clients.

3. Update your LinkedIn profile and create an outreach strategy for this platform.

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I feel very strongly about the power of LinkedIn, especially for freelance professionals. LinkedIn—but more specifically, LinkedIn messaging—is one of the best ways to gain new clients and to continue marketing to existing ones over time. I would say that if you have a LinkedIn profile and you're not using the platform to market your services, you are leaving money on the table. Full stop.

For loads of ideas on how to use LinkedIn to market your translation services, make sure to read this blog post and check out my on-demand webinar on the topic.

4. Start sending out several LOIs (letters of introduction) each day to clients in your target market.

You may have heard the term LOI referred to by others as warm email, email marketing, or by another name. Essentially, an LOI is an email to a client in which you introduce yourself and let clients know that you are available to help them by providing translation services. Of course, you have to approach the right clients to make this work, right?

Rather than create a full summary here about how to find the right clients to approach with your LOIs, I would highly suggest reading this blog post by copywriter Jennifer Gregory and listening to her interview with Ed Gandia in this episode of High-Income Business Writing Podcast. And if you're feeling extra excited about this process, I would also very much recommend Jennifer's book on marketing to direct clients. Yes, she writes tips for copywriters, but everything she mentions in the blog post, podcast interview and in her book can be applied to freelance translators seeking new clients.

5. Reach out to those in your own networks and let them know you're looking to expand your portfolio.

When I say "network," I'm talking about everyone you know, people you've met at networking events or social gatherings, relatives, colleagues, other professionals, friends, etc. In a few lines, just mention that you are looking to expand your portfolio as a translator in a certain field or type of project, and ask them to refer others to you if they know anyone. There is no pressure for them to even respond, but if you do this regularly—say, a handful of people per week—, then you can expect for someone to eventually send a referral your way. It's also worth noting that even if these people don't have any suggestions for you right now, they might in the future!

It can be all too easy to fall into the habit of pushing marketing aside, even when work is slow. There are lots of other things that sound much better, right?

Yes, of course, take advantage of a slow month now and then to relax a bit, breathe and slow down, but be careful not to get too comfortable. If you can keep up these regular marketing practices (even during busier months), you will find that the slower months will become fewer and fewer!

What tips do you have for promoting your business during slower seasons of year? Do you keep up your marketing efforts all year long or do you work in spurts?

Why Batch Days Will Make You a More Productive Freelance Translator

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Batching your work, i.e., working on a set of similar tasks in the same block of time, can be a real time saver and lead to more productivity. It takes a little bit of planning ahead, but by batching your tasks, you can avoid distractions and get more done during the work day.

There are many reasons to batch your tasks. First, there is a wide amount of research proving how much time is wasted when we switch back and forth from one task to another, or even between tabs in our web browser. It’s no wonder that we can sometimes work the day away and feel like we’ve accomplished very little. The amount of time it takes to stop and start a task, answer a random email in the middle of a task or creative project, take a client call or even pop on a social media app for a few minutes (which we all know can turn into much more than a few minutes!) takes away from valuable time we could be spending on business-related tasks that move the needle forward.

How does a batch day work?

The ideal batch day consists of putting all your related projects together in one large "batch" and working on them back to back, taking breaks as needed, and not allowing anyone to interrupt that planned work time. Yes, boundaries are key!

Remember that with batching tasks and your work days, you set the parameters. Let those around you know what you’re working on, and ask them to respect your work time. You can even do this with your clients. Set up an auto-responder on your email to tell recipients that you’re working on a time-sensitive project and you’ll reply to them the next time you check your email, or within 24 hours. If you work from home, ask your family members not to interrupt you during your work hours unless they truly need you for something that cannot wait.

Next, you’ll want to decide what days will work best for you to handle specific tasks. Do you prefer to handle client calls on a specific day of the week? I try to hold calls only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Do you need to set aside time to work on balancing your books or invoicing your clients? I certainly do. I like to handle my accounting-related tasks on what I’ve dubbed “Finance Fridays.”

What kinds of tasks should you batch?

Once you feel comfortable that the right people are notified about your unavailable times, decide what tasks are most essential in helping you grow your business. These tasks can be related to client projects, content creation like writing blog or social media posts, updating your website or directory listings with new information, writing warm emails to clients as part of your marketing efforts, etc.

If you have a set of tasks that you find tedious to handle (think of those that you would rather put off by scrolling social media or checking your inbox every few minutes, even when you’re not waiting on a specific message from anyone!), batch them together and commit to finishing them before you move on to something else. For example, if you dread working on marketing, you can take all of those pesky tasks and handle them on Mondays. "Marketing Mondays," anyone?

Personally, I find batching tasks that are similar in nature to be the best way to make sure I get all of them done. This puts my mind at ease and helps me to do the rest of my work better, too. By taking care of tasks in batches or blocks of time, it ensures that I can stay on top of all the projects I have going on simultaneously.

How do you batch your tasks to maximize your work productivity and time?

You can do it any way you like, but if you're to make the most of your time, it's a good idea to first take a look at all the tasks you do on a regular basis (even those you would rather put off). Once you have things laid out in front of you, it's easier to see which ones are related. You can list them in categories so that you have a clear visual to work with, if you like.

For example, you could put all of your marketing tasks in one batch or break them into two batches if you find that you have several tasks to handle and little time. You could even schedule these tasks on Monday so that you are sure to get them out of the way for the week. It could look something like this.

Marketing Monday

  • Write to 5 new potential clients.

  • Touch base with 3 current clients to say “hello” and send them an article they might appreciate (this keeps you top of mind!).

  • Write a blog post.

  • Send a handwritten note to one of your favorite clients.

  • Prepare your social media posts for the week.

  • Outline your next client newsletter.

Even if you can’t work on all of the items under your marketing category list at once, you can choose two or three to do every Monday. This means that you are consistently marketing your business, something we all need to be doing regardless of how busy we are! This type of progress will continue to compound over time, and you’ll find that the couple of hours you put in every Monday are well worth it.

By blocking time to knock out several tasks of the same kind at once, you also give yourself more freedom to work on other items throughout the day. And you know that you've already handled these items and won't put them off for another week!

Here’s another example.

Finance Friday

  • Pay your business credit card and other business-related bills.

  • Balance your books.

  • Send any invoices or receipts to your bookkeeper or accountant.

  • Invoice clients.

  • Pay estimated taxes.

  • Pay yourself!

If you already know that you handle finance-related tasks every Friday, you won't have to stop during the rest of your work week to handle them. Again, by setting aside this time, you are being proactive instead of reactive!

As I mentioned above, another way that I handle batching is with phone calls and meetings. I try my best to hold calls and meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This way, I'm not spending an hour or two in meetings five days a week. This allows me to schedule specific and dedicated time to my client work, volunteer commitments, colleagues, etc. If this is something you’d like to try, check out Calendly for scheduling calls and Zoom for holding virtual meetings and calls.

Some freelancers I know even batch their client works on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day when they know they're most productive. Whether you do your best work early in the morning or long into the evening, choose the time of day when your brain tends to fire on all cylinders, and use that time for client and creative work. Leave the administrative work for the times when you don’t need as much creativity. This way, you won't be using precious work hours on the behind-the-scenes tasks that don't actually pay the bills.

Now, you tell me. Have you ever tried batching your work or tasks? Do you have certain days of the week when you handle marketing, financial tasks, etc.?

5 Ways to Collaborate With Other T&I Freelancers

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Sometimes we get into the habit of putting our heads down to work and not coming up for air. But perhaps just as important as working hard to grow in our profession is taking the time to develop relationships with others who do what we do for a living.

One of the ways we can do this is to collaborate! Not only does collaborating help you to grow in your craft, but it could very well open the door to new opportunities, even if that isn't your primary intention for the starting a collaboration.

Here are 5 ways to collaborate with other T&I freelancers to grow in your career.

1. Attend client-facing conferences together.

This can be a really wonderful way to work with a colleague in a strategic way. When you find someone who is willing to attend a conference with you in one of your areas of specialization, you can benefit from this experience both in the long term and the short term.

Split up at the event and talk to as many people as you can. Think of one another as your "wingperson" throughout the conference weekend. By pairing up with a colleague at client-facing events, you can promote your own business, as well as theirs, more widely. Circle back to one another every few hours and share ideas, contact information for possible leads, notes to follow up with certain people or companies, etc.

2. Write an article together.

This might be one way to collaborate that most people don't think about. However, when you write an article on a given topic related to your area of specialization or language pair, you are often seen by readers as an authority on that topic.

Split up the work involved in pitching and writing the article. Decide who will do what part of the research and writing process, benefit from editing one another's work, and enjoy seeing your names together in writing. Then share the article with your colleagues and clients!

3. Present together.

This may be another rarely considered form of collaboration among colleagues. Let's say you live near a colleague who is also a translator/interpreter. Take a look at the organizations in your local region and pinpoint a few venues where you could propose a presentation together, including local conferences, chamber of commerce gatherings, local "lunch and learn" events, etc. Just like with the article idea in #2, split up the work involved: pitching, preparing the outline of the presentation, putting slides together, preparing and printing handouts or marketing materials, etc.

After your presentation, split up and talk to as many attendees as you can. Regroup after the presentation and Q&A portion to share notes and ideas for follow-up.

4. Join forces and pitch to similar clients.

Do you know someone who works in the same language pair(s) and specialization(s) as you? Consider becoming a translator/editor team and pitching to clients in the same industry. By embracing a collaboration over competition mentality, you can reach more potential clients and benefit from each other's legwork. When you pick up a new client from this process, hire your colleague to edit your work as part of the scope of the project, and vice versa.

Even if you don't have a close colleague who works in the same language pair(s) and specialization(s), you can still find a colleague who you can refer work to whenever a client inquires about a project you don't feel particularly qualified to handle. When you begin referring work to colleagues, they will remember your kindness and will often return the favor.

5. Volunteer together.

A lot of us meet colleagues who we become friends with simply from volunteering together. If you're a member of a local, regional or national association, consider volunteering a few hours a month with the goal of promoting the profession and meeting like-minded colleagues. I can tell you from my own experience that I have found so many colleagues to collaborate with over the years, and most of them are people I've met through professional volunteer activities.

Other ways to collaborate with T&I colleagues

  • Mentor one another. Let's say that you want to learn something new in your area of specialization, or you might want to establish yourself in a new one. You may have a colleague who could mentor you. In exchange, you could offer to pay this person for their time or mentor them in something you are particularly well skilled in. Another option is to find a mentor through your local, regional or national translators/interpreters association. Whatever you choose, try to find a mentoring program that is mutually beneficial for both the mentor and mentee.

  • Be each other's accountability partner. Is there something you'd like to do in your business this year? I'm guessing there are others who would like to reach certain professional or business goals as well. Look for someone in the same or a similar stage of their career and offer to be one another's accountability partner. Check in with and support one another on a regular basis. Brainstorm new ideas together, and continue to build your professional relationship with that person.

  • Host a social/learning event together for other colleagues. Is there a topic you'd like to learn about that would lend well to a one-day workshop style event? My guess is that if you want to learn about a topic, there are others in your region (or even virtually!) who would like to do the same. Partner with a colleague to organize an event, and invite others to join you to learn about this topic, share their professional experience and exchange advice on a given topic.

I recently heard about this idea from a colleague in France who attended an event hosted by another colleague as part of a larger T&I association. She told me that it was very well organized, and the topic (Machine Translation) drew several attendees in the area. If you're thinking of organizing an event like this on a specific topic, check out this Speaking of Translation podcast episode to hear about the event Eve Bodeux organized for her local translators association colleagues on technology for translators.

There are countless ways to collaborate with other T&I freelancers. If you find yourself feeling stuck or on the verge of burnout, now might be the perfect time to get that extra boost of energy from joining forces with a colleague.

And if you're not sure who that person could be, put out a "call" on Twitter or elsewhere for another serious freelancer who has similar goals. It's doable! And you might just find that you'll meet new people in this process or become closer to a colleague you've already admired and respected for some time. Win-win!

Have you collaborated with other colleagues before? What was your experience, and would you recommend it to others?