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Taking mini retirements, can I do it and continue successfully?
Thread poster: David Jessop

David Jessop  Identity Verified
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jun 7, 2009


I have been reading a fascinating book called "The 4-Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferriss. One of his suggestions is to take "mini-retirements." These mini-retirements are periods of a few months when you pursue other activities besides your primary job. I have taken several of these in my 28 years from hiking the Appalachian Trail to volunteering as an interpreter for an community ecotourism project in the Ecuadorian jungle to cycling around southern Argentina for a couple months. I love doing this sort of thing in part for a major reason I love freelancing: the freedom!

With a significant workload I am now looking to freelance full time. At this point, I will be continuing to work primarily with agencies. Somewhere down the road, perhaps within a year, I would like to take a couple months off to pursue a mini-retirement of my choosing. My question and concern is, how do you think this would effect my relationship with my agency clients? Do you have any suggestions with this or similar experience you can share? I am most concerned with my major agency clients with whom I work hard to build good relationships and who, in turn, regularly send me in excess of 15,000 words a month.

I´m very interested in this topic and would love to hear any thoughts you may have!!



The Misha
Local time: 04:06
Russian to English
+ ...
Unfortunately, we are not like a corner grocery or bakery Jun 8, 2009

whose owner can easily put a "Closed for Vacation" sign in the window and go enjoy himself. Think more in terms of an internet service provider. Would you want one that shuts down for a few months in summer? Don't get me wrong, I am in the same boat. What I do instead is try to utilize my inevitable - and plentiful - downtime to the max. But then again, my hobbies - I oil paint and write fiction - are nowhere near as exotic as yours.


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:06
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Go for it Jun 8, 2009

Just inform your customers in due time. You could look out for colleagues who would be ready and qualified to take your work during holidays.
I myself take holidays frequently and inform my customers along with the latest invoice. Of course you'll loose some customers, but what the heck! Age 28: nothing to worry about.


KathyT  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:06
Japanese to English
sounds a bit like maternity (paternity) leave Jun 8, 2009

I hesitate to mention this after the controversy sparked by the recent mega-thread about whether to have an exclusive forum for "parenting tips/concerns" (yes, I'm paraphrasing!), but your proposal is actually a common concern for freelancing mums or dads wanting to take a break from work to care for a newborn.
Try searching the forums for maternity / parental leave and I'm sure you'll find lots of helpful suggestions and examples of how people have managed these situations in the past.icon_smile.gif


Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:06
Japanese to English
Other names for it Jun 8, 2009

"Mini-retirement" makes you sound like an old geezer, not just a lazy young pup who wants some time to swan off. Wasn't the word "sabbatical" coined to justify buzzing off and doing sweet FA every once in a while?

In Japanese, it's called "puu suru" or "purapura", which sounds a bit less hoity-toity than "sabbatical", and maybe closer to the truth.

Actually, I'm just envious. If I tried it, I'd never come back.

When I used to live where it snowed, I generally maintained a 4-day week over the winter with a day off midweek for snowboarding, but a 4-hour work week is pushing it a bit.


Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:06
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
4 hour work week Jun 8, 2009

If yiu closed shop for a couple of weeks / months, you clients will at some point have to contact another translator. Obviously he/she cannot be as good as you are (since you have done several jobs for this client already and you known their "tone of voice",... So the client is likely to come back to you when you return.
However if your replacement does a good job, and you keep going "on holiday", an agency will look for a stable relationship somewhere else....
So you might want to find some clients who have plenty of work, individual assignments (like subtitling, etc, or books maybe (long term, fixed period of time)...instead of stuff that need continuous tranlations, updates. etc....

It's your life, so I would go for it...


Niraja Nanjundan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:36
German to English
Not a 4 hour week.... Jun 8, 2009

Rod Walters wrote:
a 4-hour work week is pushing it a bit.

....but you could work intensively for about six months and then take two or three months off for all the things you want to do. That way, you would have established a good working relationship with your clients and they would easily be able to find someone to substitute you for the couple of months you are away (especially in your language pair) and probably be glad to have you back when you're ready for translation work again.


Sarah Wood  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:06
French to English
. Jun 8, 2009

Hi David,

I read the same book a while back, and it was very inspirational. Tim doesn't actually stop working while he's travelling, but has created a lifestyle where his money is still being earned while he is travelling, or taking mini-retirements. This is what allows him to keep doing the things he loves, and seeing the world at the same time.

Is there any way you can continue to work while you're travelling? It depends on what sort of life you want of course but I think it would be more than possible to live and travel on the income just 15,000 words brings in - which I take it from your post is your part-time level of work.

An excellent example of this is Nora Dunn. She freelances 'on the road' and has been doing so for at least a couple of years now. It'd be a challenge of course, and you'd have to really work it all out in advance, but there are people already doing it so it must be possible!!

Good luck,


Cetacea  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:06
English to German
+ ...
Yes, you can. ;-) Jun 8, 2009

I have done it before, and I'm doing it again this summer. Just do as Heinrich suggested and inform your regular clients ahead of time. If you give them additional information about the purpose of your intended sabbatical, the response is usually very good. You may lose the occasional client, but you will gain others in return. At least that's been the case for me. Of course, when I join whale or bear researchers in the field for a couple of months, I have the advantage of saying that it's all in the interest of extending my expertise in my specialty fields...icon_wink.gif


Local time: 10:06
English to French
+ ...
No worries! Jun 8, 2009

I've also read this great book.icon_smile.gif And I totally agree with the author's viewpoint.
We have one life, no one knows when it will be over, so follow your heart!

And agencies are flexible enough to replace you for a couple of months. If you worked with direct clients, it won't be so easy, but that's the main advantage of working with agencies to my mind.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:06
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Unfortunately... Jun 8, 2009

David Jessop wrote:
My question and concern is, how do you think this would effect my relationship with my agency clients? ... I am most concerned with my major agency clients with whom I work hard to build good relationships...

I haven't really done this myself but my thinking is that you would not be able to do it. Your hope as a freelancer is to become "the translator" for a number of clients, and once they're used to using you, they will resist using someone else. Now, if you disappear (even with notice) and someone else becomes "the translator", you'll find it very difficult to become a (or: the) preferred translator again when you come back.

I can't really give you good advice, but I can speculate.

I suspect you would be saving up for your mini-retirement every time you are unretired. Your hope is that when you return to unretirement, you would be able to continue the same income pattern as you had before your miniretirement. Unfortunately it won't happen that way. What will happen is that every time you come out of miniretirement, you'll be in the same position as you were when you started being a translator many years ago, and you'll have to live off your savings for 6 months (or a year) before you start making a profit.

So if you do want to have a miniretirement, it's not sufficient to save up for just the miniretirement, but you must also save up for the 6 months (or year) after the miniretirement when you will be without a steady income.


Mette Melchior  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:06
English to Danish
+ ...
Probably easier if you make the "mini-retirements" a bit shorter... Jun 8, 2009

I don't have any experience with taking longer time off than 2-3 weeks in a row, but it is normal for everyone to take holidays once in a while. And as long as you do not pretend to offer a 24-hour and all year round service, your clients will also understand that you cannot always be available. If you try to limit your "mini-retirement" periods to about a month and give your clients notice well in advance, I don't think it will be that much of a problem. If they are happy with your services, they will also "remember you" after a month.

However, I do think it might become a bit more problematic if you are away several months in a row, like Samuel suggests. Nevertheless, it is always a risk that your regular clients could start using another translator as their preferred translator, and of course this is more likely to happen if you are unavailable or off on holiday, so they can't reach you and need to use someone else. But don't we all also want some time off sometimes and be able to go on holiday without the laptop? And don't we all also have to turn jobs down from time to time because we are too busy or just don't want to be working overtime or sitting in front of the computer all weekend to meet the deadline?

The idea of working while travelling is also interesting and appealing, but if you do that the picture is completely different since you could then keep in touch with your clients while you're away.


Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:06
French to English
+ ...
My experience Jun 8, 2009

What you are contemplating is not so different from the dilemma faced by every translator who has had a baby while freelancing. I had a similar situation last summer, only my 10-week "mini-retirement" was forced upon me after I had surgery that proved to be more complicated than had been foreseen.

I mainly work for agencies so it really wasn't that complicated. I just let them know beforehand that I would be unavailable for a while (I had planned two weeks off, but just told my agencies that I'd let them know when I was back). Part of an agency's job is to have a pool of qualified people to do its translations, and it would be a very short-sighted agency that only had one suitable person on its books.

I completely reject the idea that we are supposed to act like an ISP, constantly available to our clients. My clients know that I'm human and need some time off sometimes; likewise, I know, and take comfort in the fact, that I am not the only person in the world who can do the kind of work I do.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
I do it sometimes Jun 8, 2009

Of course I would like to emphasize that being 40 years older than you are I am also officially a retired man, but one who still works, and sometimes quite hard. But I do like to take time off to travel, anywhere from a week or two up to six weeks at a time. I am able to enjoy that much freedom, but more than that and I think business would suffer.

My clients are practically all direct and they are extremely loyal and appreciative of the services I provide to them. Through time they have become used to the fact that I do take off now and then. When I am at my home base I invariably provide them with the best service, even with very urgent work. When I am "on the road" I try to stay on top of my e-mail and do the same, although now and then I might have to turn down something urgent because my situation just does not allow it.

I am fortunate that my largest and most lucrative assignments come at predictable times during the year, so I can plan my absences for other times. Of course that is no guarantee that a lot of work could come in at those other times, but that is just a matter of chance. Usually they work out to be relatively slow periods.

For instance, I was recently out of town for a couple of weeks and did a few small jobs and had to turn down one urgent job because was driving down the highway at the time. No problem; they understand.

A few years ago I was even able to change location for over three years (within the same country) and keep things going. Because I do a lot of certified translations of paper documents that meant a lot of use of FedEx, etc., but that service is efficient and delays due to distance were not significant.

Now your situation is very different, so I cannot say how you might do it. I think it would be best to try to remain in business as much as possible while you change locations and activities. It is not so easy to juggle, but you have to think of your own professional future as well as your lifestyle, and those two areas are not always compatible.

But we only go around once, and it would be great if you could start at your age and not have to wait until you reach mine!


Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:06
Spanish to English
+ ...
The only way I could (personally) do it .... Jun 8, 2009

I think lots of people have made valid points, and it probably comes down to the kind of clients you have and your willingness to risk losing some.

And, of course, the risk is also relative to your personal wealth. If you have a cushion, then you could afford to take the risk.

In my case I'd love to take a break, and technically I could, but probably for a maximum of 4-6 weeks, and preferably coinciding with my clients' holidays (August, or December becuase most are academics). I'd give plenty of notice and would also issue a few reminders as the time approached. For any period longer than this I think I would have to work on the road.

As for possibly losing clients, it's not so much about losing one or a few, it's the worry of maybe losing the very kind of client you've waited for years for and finally found (interesting projects, interesting subjects, excellent working relationships, etc).

Having a portfolio of regular private client certainly does limit one, as they often depend entirely on you, so it depends on your own interest in weaning them off you for a while, persuading them to rearrange their work to avoid the time you are away etc.

If you work mostly for agencies, you are less tied, although you'll undoubtedly drop to the bottom of the database in a few cases, as project managers change, someone else comes along who's simply available, etc.

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