Freelance Translator Life: Putting the Freedom Back into Freelance

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I've had many conversations over the past few months with other freelance translators who have designed their work schedules to accommodate their non-work life. In this post, I'll share how two translators put the freedom back into freelance based on their unique life circumstances.

How many days per week do freelance translators work?

First, I was interested in seeing how many days per week other freelance translators work. I knew that answers would vary, but rather than make any assumptions, I decided to share a poll on Twitter for three days to get some feedback. Here are the results from the 60 people who responded to the poll.

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While I know this is a relatively small sample of freelance translators, it helped me to see that I’m not alone when it comes to working five days a week, and sometimes more when things are busy! This is something I expected, of course. But I was not expecting to learn that a fifth of those who voted work six days a week.

Perhaps this surprises me because I don’t know too many other professionals whose bosses make them work more than five days a week. So, why do freelancers, who are essentially their own bosses? The fact that 10% reported that they work seven days a week was also unexpected. I don’t know about you, but I cannot produce my best work if I’m pounding away at the keyboard every day of the week.

Yes, of course there are going to be weeks when a certain project takes longer to complete. And most certainly, there will be times when life happens and we have to readjust our schedules to take care of family-related matters during the week. We may, at times, have to work later and longer days. But if you’re anything like me, you know that once your mind has reached the threshold of more than six to eight hours on an intense project, the quality of what we produce can start to decline.

So, how do freelance translators schedule their work hours?

I recently chatted with Matt Baird about work-life balance and burnout. It’s probably safe to say, we all struggle with these two issues from time to time, right? I was intrigued by an idea Matt shared with me: a four-day workweek! Matt told me that he tries to take every Friday off from his freelance work.

Matt is a German to English translator and father of two living in Germany. He was gracious enough to answer some questions for this post about how he makes his schedule work to fit his lifestyle and avoid burnout.

Have you been able to take Fridays off from work consistently?

Yes, pretty much. I was very strict about it in the beginning, but have worked on a couple of Fridays more recently. But never for more than a few hours. I knew that going in. You have to be flexible. That’s just the reality of a freelance life, especially when you work primarily with direct clients.

What positives and negatives have you experienced as a result of shifting to a four-day workweek?

Having a day – even just a few hours of one day – each week for me has made a huge difference. I feel much more balanced. I use the time to hop on my road bike, take a longer run, play golf (what a concept!) or get things done around the house and don’t feel like I’m neglecting my family. With two small kids and a wife who also works, it’s sometimes hard to find time to yourself to clear the mind and recharge your batteries. But that time is so important. Having a day off during the week and while the kids are in daycare means I reserve time for me each week – it’s amazing what a positive impact that can have.

It’s also meant more time with my wife, who has Fridays off, too. We’ve biked several times together or used the time to simply get things done that have been on our to-do list for weeks.

Another positive has been more time with my kids. My wife works part-time and normally picks up the kids from daycare in the afternoon. Now I pick them up on Fridays and get them to myself for a couple of hours. It’s special time that I didn’t have before.

One challenging aspect is that accepting work becomes a bit trickier. I’m obviously accepting less work, but I also have to be extra diligent about getting my work done in four days. So I feel more pressure Monday through Thursday, but my reward is freedom on Friday and the weekend with my family.

Wow, it sounds like the positives definitely outweigh any negatives. Do you have any tips for other freelance translators who might want to switch to a four-day workweek? 

I made the switch right after a major project came to an end, which meant my workload was lower than usual. That made the transition easier. I also let all my clients know about my new schedule. I’m fortunate to live in a country (Germany) where free time is not frowned upon and to have great relationships with my clients. Everyone was super supportive and understanding.

I suggest being both transparent and flexible. My clients know that they can still reach me by phone on Fridays if it’s urgent. And my out-of-office response reminds them of this, letting them know that I’ll respond on Monday if it’s not.

I would say just try it. Tell your best clients you’ll be out of the office this coming Friday, then turn on your autoresponder. Then do it again the next week.

Thanks to Matt for sharing how he's putting the freedom back into his own freelance work and life!

Now I want to shift gears a bit and give a slightly different perspective… that of the freelance translator mom.

How do freelance translator moms find time to work?

I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sarah Symons Glegorio recently, and her own situation hit very close to home for me, as I imagine it will for many who read this blog. Sarah is a Spanish and Portuguese to English translator, living in Portland, Oregon. She has a two-year-old daughter, and she shared with me how she fits in work around her time with her family and mom duties. Our daughters are the same age!

What kind of flexibility did you have to incorporate into your schedule once you became a freelance working mom? What does your schedule look like?

Once I became a freelance working mom, I quickly figured out that it’s a struggle to get uninterrupted “computer time.” So I learned to reserve the most focused tasks (i.e., translating, research, billable hours) for when we have childcare. We’re lucky that we have family nearby, so my mom, dad and grandma each take 1 day/week for about 5-6 hours in the afternoon. I just go to their homes and work from a back office or spare room while they play. Then we do 1 day/week of paid daycare so it’s not crazy expensive.

I also try to do admin and emails in the morning before childcare starts in the afternoon. I used to do social media and email drafts on my phone during breastfeeding sessions (and now, during toddler playtime sessions).

How do you fit in your work around toddler duties?

One big thing I changed was my mindset on deadlines. I am a master procrastinator and would push things to the wire, delivering projects within an hour (or even 5 minutes) of being due. Now I try to have things done a day or half day early (depending on the project itself of course) because things come up (childcare flakes, an unexpected trip to urgent care, etc.). Usually there aren’t issues and I end up delivering projects early but it’s saved me on several occasions having that extra cushion of time.

Have you had to let anything go or do you find you can still fit everything in?

I have not been able to keep up with marketing, networking, blogging, volunteering and professional development (basically the non-billable hours) as much as I would like. It’s made me more picky and directed with my efforts in those areas. I’ve had to let a few career opportunities slip by. In the end, the hustle and career opportunities will always be there but your baby won’t be in that phase, or doing that same cute thing, for very long.

How many days/hours a week do you tend to work? And how do you protect your time away from work?

I used to work A LOT. Even when I was pregnant, I was working something like 55 hours a week. Now I work about 35 hours a week but actually making more money. Basically I learned (was forced!) to condense 8 hours of work into 5 and am always looking for workflow efficiencies. I spend MUCH less time on emails, think twice about what projects I’ll accept, and always try to allow for more time than I think is needed for a project.

I usually work Mondays through Fridays, though I like to have 1 day off per week with my daughter when my workload permits. If needed, I’ll do midnight shifts but I really strive to not have to. 

My daughter basically protects my time away from work for me because she gets upset when she sees me sit down at the computer. Plus I promised my family I’d quit working nights and weekends (except for rare occasions), and they have held me accountable! It’s resulted in a much better work-life balance.  

Do you have any tips for other freelance translators/interpreters on this topic that you'd like to share?

Remember self-care! In the early days of being a freelancing mom it’s nearly impossible, but whenever you can and as often as you can, GET ENOUGH REST. Even a 20-minute nap can make you feel human again.

And thanks to Sarah for sharing her own way of juggling the different roles in her life. I love that she shared how she works less now but makes more money. And both she and Matt gave us a lot to think about when it comes to shifting our mindsets to make room for more freedom in our freelance schedules.

How to be a more productive freelance translator and put the freedom back into freelancing

Here are seven tips to help you make the most of your workweek. Whether you want to work four days a week like Matt, or if you prefer to stick to the regular 9-to-5 schedule and take all evenings and weekends off, these tips will help you do more in less time.

  • Leave all errands and personal projects that are not urgent for your day off or for the weekend.

  • Consider using online services to handle some of your weekly tasks, like depositing payments through your bank's mobile app or trying a grocery delivery service.

  • Take Matt’s advice and let clients know about your plans in advance if your work hours will be different from the “norm.” This sets expectations and boundaries. And your clients will be more inclined to offer you work on the days they know you’re in the office.

  • Delegate administrative tasks to a virtual assistant or hire a bookkeeper to handle accounting so you can spend more time on billable projects.

  • Batch related tasks together to complete in specific blocks of time.

  • Take Sarah's ideas about scheduling certain tasks for certain times of the day and adapt your tasks to fit your schedule and work-life circumstances.

  • Be flexible! If you know there will be weeks when you simply have to work longer hours than usual to finish a big project, plan to hit the “reset button” and jump back into your ideal schedule again the following week.

What are your thoughts? How do you put the freedom back into freelancing in ways that others might find useful? Please share your comments and ideas below!

Can a 10% Increase Change the Course of Your T&I Business?

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I was recently listening to an episode of The Rise Podcast in which Rachel Hollis was discussing the topic of a 10% increase in three areas of business, and I found it very intriguing. She said "Imagine what a 10% increase in your business could do for the growth of your business and your confidence in sales."

To clarify, she was talking about a 10% increase in these three areas:

    • 10% increase in number of customers;

    • 10% increase in average sale per customer;

    • 10% increase in the frequency of customer transactions

and how they could potentially increase your revenue significantly over a few years.

So, this got me thinking… what about for freelancers? Could a 10% increase in these areas be that significant? Let's unpack this a bit.

For our purposes, let's hypothesize about a freelancer who is currently making about $60,000 a year with about 15 clients (both agency and direct clients), and each of the 15 clients sends this freelancer about 3 projects a month. Of course, these are all hypothetical numbers, but that comes to about 45 projects a month. These could be mostly small projects with a few large ones mixed in.

A 10% increase in the number of this freelancer's customers means that she goes from having 15 clients to gaining only about 1 to 2 more (since we won't count .5 as a client). And a 10% increase in the average sale per customer, means that this freelancer should make at least $6,000 more the following year. But remember, she's gained 1 to 2 customers this year as part of her goal to increase the number of customers by 10%.

A 10% increase in the frequency of her customer transactions, means that her workload goes from about 45 projects a month to about 49 or 50 projects a month. That sounds doable, if you ask me. It's not the same as adding 10 or 20 more projects a month, so if these are small projects and still bring in more revenue than before, then this is a positive change.

While a 10% increase in each of these areas seems small, imagine doing this year after year. If the freelancer starts out making $60,000 the first year of trying to execute this strategy, she would ideally make $66,000 the next year, and then $72,600 the following year. This type of increase equates to more of a raise than a lot of people receive in a corporate job from one year to the next. To think about it another way, it's certainly more of a raise than most faculty members receive in academia.

Imagine setting a goal to increase your freelance revenue by 10% each year in these three areas. How would you feel about these results? It definitely seems doable to add a few more clients, and to seek out those who can send a few more projects over the course of the year, right? Now, imagine if you also raised your translation or interpreting rate a little bit every couple of years or every few years. This number would definitely become higher over time.

I continue to be intrigued by this notion. I think it's a tangible goal most of us can set for ourselves. I certainly would like to test it over a span of a few years. What about you? Are you willing to give it a try?

To read more about increasing your T&I sales revenue, check out How to Project and Track Sales Revenue in Your T&I Business to Start Earning More.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Working hours

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

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

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

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

  • Minimum rate requirements

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

  • Rush jobs and fees

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

  • Payment terms

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

  • Other qualifying methods for clients

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


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

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

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

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Translator or Interpreter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose to be proactive instead of inactive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Five Mindset Shifts Worth Making in Your Translation Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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